Happy Woman Working

How to create happy workplaces

 By Nic Marks, Founder, Happiness Works

Happy work? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Work is serious and hard, while happiness is light and fun. You have to go to work, but you want to be happy. But imagine what life would be like if what you want to do and what you had to do overlapped?

Unfortunately, most people don’t enjoy their work. A recent Gallup survey reports that 87% of employees are not engaged with their jobs. This is bad news for everyone. The average UK full-time employee worked 42.3 hours per week in 2013, and this is increasing. In the capital, the situation is even worse, with Londoner’s putting in an average of eleven and a half hours of overtime each week. Who wants to spend all that time being unhappy?

It’s bad news for business too. Everyone knows that miserable people do miserable work, but less well known is that merely ‘OK’ is not ‘OK’. Gallup’s research showed that the most engaged teams have higher quality of products, customer satisfaction, productivity and profits, as well as lower absenteeism, accidents, thefts and staff turnover. Happy employees build better relationships, have superior teamwork and higher customer satisfaction. They are open, engaged, and creative, with enhanced problem solving and innovative skills. The opportunity cost of just being ‘OK’ is massive.

So what can we do? The science of positive psychology has shown there are intentional activities that individuals can do to improve their happiness. Learning optimism, developing your strengths and helping others all improve our lives. But the environment we live and work in also plays a huge part in our perceptions, and there are many things organisations can do to help or hinder our happiness. Five actions to consider are: be fair, connect, empower, challenge, and inspire.

Be fair…

The first thing for workplaces to get right is fairness, which will free staff from worry, and allow them to focus on their work. There are two types of fairness that are important. The first is about the fair allocation of resources, which in practice means things like paying people fairly and respecting their work life balance. The second is about whether the organisational processes feel fair – a workplace that is more democratic and transparent is likely to have happier employees.


The relationships with people at work play a large part in shaping the environment and culture of the workplace. In fact, research has shown that people often value good relationships at work more than higher pay. Great companies build upon a foundation of fairness, to encourage trusting, supportive relationships. This collaboration between workers aids both creativity and problem solving, and fosters a culture of productive and enjoyable work.


Along with good relationships, many psychological theories (http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/) suggest that people need feel autonomous and in control to do well and feel good. Empowering organisations delegate work and responsibility to staff, allowing them the freedom to do their jobs in the manner they think best. They understand that people who exercise choice about using their unique strengths and skills are more fulfilled. Some autonomy-supportive companies even allow employees to set their own goals and have a say in wider business issues, such as hiring decisions. Companies that get this right thrive, because staff are motivated and productive.


Providing employees with challenging work stretches them and helps them achieve more. Training and personal development is one method to encourage staff to grow towards their potential, especially if employees are empowered to choose training that suits their needs. Additionally, setting the challenge at the right level can trigger a highly productive state that psychologists refer to as “flow” and athletes call “in the zone”. Being challenged can also result in accomplishments, and great organisations capitalise on this opportunity to celebrate success. Companies that challenge staff well will see benefits in motivation, achievements and relationships.


When employees feel that their contribution matters they are more effective in their roles and more loyal to their employers. The very best organisations make sure that all of their staff understands how they contribute, both within the company and to the wider society. With a clear sense of meaning, job roles become more attractive and people are more fulfilled. Great companies do not force workers to be engaged, on the contrary. They inspire people to pursue their purpose within the organisation.

Of course, company culture is nothing but the result of interactions between individuals within the organisation. It is up to all of us to take responsibility for how we interact, so if you want to be happy in work, be fair to others, connect with good relationships, empower and challenge people, and create an inspirational happy workplace.

Nic Marks is the founding director of Happiness Works, a company that focuses on science-based, responsive analytics to kickstart new ways to happiness and productivity within the workplace.

 Nic is also a fellow of the UK think-tank, the New Economics Foundation where he founded the award winning Centre for Wellbeing as well as a board member of Action for Happiness.

A ‘statistician with soul’, Nic is perhaps best known for his trailblazing work on the Happy Planet Index, National Accounts of Well-being and the Five Ways to Well-being which is used extensively within health and education institutions as well as within governmental policy.



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