Happiness at Work — Why & Where to start?

Baptiste Grand
6 min readApr 24, 2020

DISCLAIMER: Don’t mixed happiness and good mood. I am happy that my car can get quickly fixed after a crash, but that doesn’t really highlight my day

When was the last time you woke up, excited to go to work?

How many people in your team woke up this morning, looking forward to go to work?

The answers to these questions can vary overtime but overall, you should see a trend emerging; and whatever this trend is, there is things to consider to control, boost and manage happy people that will translate into pure productivity gains, reputation gains and tons of indirect effects.

Should we care about H@W as long as the job is getting done?

It turns out we should, as happy companies are more successful and more productive.

Indeed, researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK found that people who are happy at work are about 12% more productive. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, has quantified the benefits of a happy company — sales increase by 37%, productivity 31%, and accuracy on tasks improves by 19%, not to mention the health and quality of life improvements for staff. People work better, longer, are less sick and more committed.

One of world’s biggest H@W think-tank — Delivering Happiness — made a ROI calculator available. It shows you a first and basic estimate of how much you could gain from making your people happy. The estimate is based on a very modest 1% increase in productivity, 1 day of sickness saves and a reduces turnover of 10%, so keep in mind that your results are on the pessimistic side.

But even then, the lever effect behind Happiness at Work is already visible.

People who are happy at work are about 12% more productive.

Sounds great but how?

That’s where it gets tricky. Common thoughts are that providing perks such as free food, massages in the office, on-site medical services and gym facilities, would ensure a happy workforce.

The obvious example is Google. They led the way for some time, even ensuring its building designs are fun, but it seems that the equation is not that simple — it’s not just a case of perks in, happiness out. Perks are helpful in attracting people to work at your firm of course, but they are not as effective at improving company performance as one may think.

For instance, Google’s “passion not perks” initiative seems to be the biggest contributor to their success. Part of the “Why?” is that Humans are incredibly good at adapting. So naturally, we get used to almost anything — good or bad.

Humans are incredibly good at adapting [..] we get used to almost anything — good or bad.

A classic study on this was performed in 1979 was comparing lottery winners to accident survivors who were paraplegics and quadriplegics. They found no significant different in general happiness but people who had won on the lottery were happy about their good fortune but in fact took less pleasure from everyday activities than the accident survivors!

Salary is not the key to happiness either. It actually comes in to play as a factor of unhappiness — we will be unhappy if we think others in our company or industry are being paid more to do the same task. A Princeton study found that people who are highly paid are relatively satisfied but are barely happier day to day, tend to be more tense and do not spend their time doing more enjoyable things, than lower paid people.

Finally, Alexander Kjerulf, a Danish management consultant who styles himself the Chief Happiness Officer and has advised Ikea, Lego, or Oracle, said that the top-most important factors for ensuring people are happy at work are results and relationship. Gallup researches go in the same direction and state that perks are less important than engagement, when staff feel they are contributing to something significant.

Simply put, Happiness is and always was about people!

Exactly, while values are important happiness at work lies in little in the Environnement and more on what one does and how one’s effort are recognized. This is a very challenging goal to achieved as feelings differ from one to another person, and can’t be easily scaled.

The key could be to take inspiration from firms like Valve that builds teams where anybody can jump in our out, depending on the team needs and the impact of each member on the team itself.

If you think you can make a difference in a team, you can join it, influence it, help it and finally, be rewarded by a high customer rating final product. On the opposite, if you feel your impact is limited or null, there should be no barrier to mobility, and you should be able to find what’s best for you.

I should remind that Valve only released 9 video games in the last ten years, and that 7 from them were an absolute hit. An extremely impressive number, for a studio of only 360 employees! (in 2016)

You could of course rely as well on services like the Happy Startup School, which aims to educate entrepreneurs in how to create happy, sustainable and profitable businesses.

Concretely, what can be done?

Overall, I have gathered five vectors that can foster happiness in your organization:

1. Random acts of workplace happiness.

Scientific research shows that the random element of small acts really matters.

The pleasure/reward center of the brain is less active when we know something good, like a monthly bonus, is coming; but it can be stimulated up to three times as much when the act is unexpected.

So, going around unexpected distributing free coffee and ice creams can really make big effect.

2. Give voice to positive people.

It is far easier to train a positive one into a given task then to train someone to change their outlook.

So, capitalize on your happiest people and let them show the way.

3. Stop negative behavior.

Gossip, rudeness and other negative behaviors act like a cancer at the heart of the company if they are unchecked.

Negative emotions can be three times more contagious than positive ones.

4. Celebrate success.

Never ever underestimate the power of a nice word. Emphasis should be put on celebrating each success, releases or project end.

On top of reminding everyone of the ultimate goal of your organization, you will be built happiness, trust and confidence in your teams.

And my favorite by far:

5. Celebrate experiments.

If you do then people will be more open to admitting they have made a mistake. They will do it earlier, and you will have more time to take corrective actions, or simply kill the project.

Your organization wants to make it ok to fail, because the more it fails, the more it can innovate and succeed.


Raise up our work conditions and make happiness a main focus. Celebrate successes and failures and more important, give recognition to the people, not their enablers.

The investment is proven to be worthwhile, as the productivity gain (13–30%) will be more than enough to cover the expenses done to get people happy at work.

Negative behaviors in an organization is not to be neglected as repairing damages can cost up to three times the price of maintaining status quo.

Small efforts with huge ROI can easily be put in place, by applying a couple of key policies and by relying on a network of Happier few.

Don’t underestimate the impact of recognition, trust, empowerment and confidence.




Baptiste Grand

I’m an Agile Coach that wants to inspire you to seek happiness in your work and your life, by changing the way we do stuff.