Happiness at Work: Should We Take It More Seriously?

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 9th October 2015

Research tells us that some of the common attitudes among leaders and managers are stifling happiness in workplaces across the UK, which in turn limits performance. Is it time to start turning things around?

Outdated ideas

Many senior leaders of today were born and raised in the 1950s and 60s, a time when the social distinctions between classes were clear, and the employment relationship was very much ‘master and servant’. People were expected to keep their head down and be grateful to have a job.

Happiness at Work: Should We Take It More Seriously?

For a lot of these leaders, this has left them with the attitude that productivity, achievement and compliance are the only important things in an organisation. But here’s the thing: those things don’t make us happy, and it’s often quite the reverse that does.

Even the achievement of numerical targets that carry an incentive provide a very short burst of gratification that soon fades. Yet, mention the idea of making people ‘happy at work’ to many senior leaders, and they will look at you as though you have a cuckoo on a spring coming out of your forehead…. “Happiness?” you might hear them snort… “I’m not here to make people happy. There’s work to be done, and I’m here to make sure they do it”. It’s as if they believe that looking after people and enabling them to enjoy their work is somehow ‘letting them off the hook’.

What the numbers say

Consider, though, some significant findings. A recent Global Perspectives Survey from OCR International found that the UK ranked 18th out of 20 countries in terms of employee engagement. Based on a study of more than 7,000 workers, the UK’s engagement levels were higher than only two countries; Japan and China. Alongside this, only 37% of employees in the UK felt encouraged to be innovative in their workplace.

I would suggest that, as leaders, we must recognise our part in this, and also consider some other findings from two of the world’s foremost institutions. The Harvard Business Review analysed hundreds of studies, concluding that happy employees are 31% more productive, make 37% more sales, and are three times as creative. Research from the University of Warwick has also found that happy people are 12% more productive.

Creating happiness at work

So, you might be wondering how you can benefit from the increased performance that comes with happier employees.

Psychologist Shawn Achor, in a TED Talk called ‘the happy secret to better work’, which has so far been viewed more than eleven million times, makes a strong case for reversing many of our perspectives on jobs and motivation to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Shawn makes several suggestions which I commend to you.

Proper recognition

You can make a point of saying thank you to people who have done good work or made significant effort. More to the point, you can actually recognise what they’ve done in your own mind and heart and actually be grateful. That way, when you say thank you, you’ll feel and sound sincere and actually mean it.

Secondly, you can reward good behaviour and positive attitudes. Celebrating these things, and not just hitting targets, encourages others to adopt those behaviours too.

Creating the right environment

You can make changes to make your work environment a happier place. So many organisations have squeezed the life out of their workplaces with a plethora of policies stopping people from doing just about everything. I appreciate that legislation and regulation need to be addressed, but try to think more creatively when you do it. For example, is blocking Facebook really a good idea? It says that you don’t trust your good people to get on with their work, which is insulting to the diligent majority, and doesn’t stop the delinquent few from finding ways to be unproductive and disengaged.

Do you really need to enforce strict time controls on tea breaks or lunches? Are your people really that lazy or exploitative? Research suggests (and common sense will tell you it’s likely to be true) that this sort of nit-picking disengages the most diligent, while failing to curb the disaffected. Take an objective look at your environment. Is it bright & cheerful? Are people able to personalize their space, and listen to music? Do people have somewhere to sit and chat over coffee? Is it too hot or too cold, and can people access fresh air? Do people feel ‘cared for’?

So much of this is just about objective observation and common sense. Look at the way you treat your employees. Is it conducive to happiness? If not, why not, and what can you do?

To find out more about encouraging happiness and productivity in your workplace, find out about our range of leadership and management programmes. If you’d like to know more, get in touch below.

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