Why it pays to work on happiness

If you feel more productive at work when you’re happier, you’re not alone.

Research tells us that when people feel happier, they are more successful – especially when it comes to being productive and resilient.

At a time when global events both unpredictable and impactful on our day to day lives, and as people are reassessing their reasons for working for their employers, the happiness of our teams is more important than ever.

It’s not just that individuals are nicer to be around – though positive relationships are of course part of our happiness and workplace wellbeing.

It’s that our quality of happiness has become essential with responding to pressures – both external and internal.

Happiness is a skill

Selin Kesebir, London Business School Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, says there are measures and shifts in attitude we can enact to become happier and support our team members’ happiness.

"Happiness is a skill that can be learned like speaking Spanish or playing guitar,” she says.

“It is a skill of the mind; a capacity to shape the way that we see, process and interpret our reality and the things around us. It can be developed like any other competence."

The quality of our happiness, says Kesebir, is contingent on the health of our relationship to reality, ourselves and other people. And understanding that happiness comes from within.

"Too often we make the mistake of equating happiness with external factors: the fulfillment of certain desires like wealth, love, certain rules; hedonistic pleasure; or other people's approbation," she says.

"The problem with seeking validation from those around you is that you move away from your inner compass and you start measuring your own value in how other people see you – how smart, attractive or successful they think you are.

“That can lead to an inner sense of worthlessness, as well as resentment or even jealousy of others you perceive to be better than you,” she says.

"Life is full of change, of ups and down, surprises and things that we can't control. Equating happiness with pleasure is erroneous because pleasure is fleeting – once you get used to a certain 'high', you will simply be on the lookout for the next one, constantly on the move – but never arriving – on the so-called 'hedonic treadmill'."

"And the same is true for accomplishing or acquiring the things you desire: the job, the marriage, the dream home. These are things we want for ourselves that might not even be good for us, or at least not good for us forever," says Kesebir.

5 guidelines for happiness

In an article for the London Business School, Kesebir says five guidelines can help us feel comfortable with reality and maintain our happiness.

1. Know that life is difficult and suffering is to be expected.
Letting go of expectations about an easy and perfect life and accepting the inevitability of change and loss can mitigate frustration when things go wrong.

2. Expect to have negative experiences and emotions and accept them.
Getting comfortable with sometimes being uncomfortable is key to happiness.

3. Stop arguing with reality.
If something is a fact, fighting or resisting is simply a waste our time and energy. Far better to accept facts and move on.

4. Adopt a positive outlook.
The same event can be interpreted through different lenses, some more positive than others.

5. Don't buy into everything that pops into your head.
Happier people are those who can look at their own thoughts from a distance; who can hear and observe their emotions and inner voice without being carried away by what is going on their heads.

Happiness in the workplace

Bonita Lousich, Senior Consultant Psychologist at Communicorp, says leaders should be aware of the impact of happiness and the risks of not supporting it in the workplace.

“The research on the effects of happiness in the workplace suggest that people who are happy with their jobs are less likely to leave their jobs, less likely to be absent, and less likely to engage in counterproductive behaviours at work,” she says.

“They are also more likely to engage in behaviour that contributes to a happy and productive organisation, and more likely to be both physically and mentally healthy.

“In general, the research suggests that a happier workplace is a more productive and successful workplace.”

Lousich shares her tips for leaders: “Whilst happiness and satisfaction are subjective concepts research indicates that there are things we can do as leaders to support happiness in the workplace.”

10 tips for supporting happiness in the workplace

  1. Encourage regular breaks where staff get the opportunity to get outside. Being outdoors can make us happier.
  2. Encourage a positive mindset – train our brain to think in a happier, more optimistic manner.
  3. Encourage connection and collaboration in the workplace – promote a sense of belonging.
  4. Promote a sense of purpose and meaning in the work being accomplished.
  5. Promote a sense of autonomy – give people more ownership over how they structure their day.
  6. Provide opportunities for development.
  7. Encourage and promote kindness.
  8. Reward and recognition – acknowledge the small wins and achievements.
  9. Encourage people to focus on what is within their control – focusing on one task at a time.
  10. Start every day on a positive note.