by Mark Williamson
Director of the UK’s Action for Happiness
It is tragic that so many people say they’re unhappy at work. Here in the UK it was over 50% in a recent survey¹ and there have been similar findings in other countries. Considering most of us spend nearly half our waking hours at work, this is such a waste of human energy and potential.
Our working lives don’t have to be miserable; all workplaces can, and should, be happy and fulfilling places to be. So at Action for Happiness we’re asking people to commit to making their workplace a happier one and to encourage their employers and colleagues to do the same.
Evidence shows that happier workplaces bring very significant benefits, both for the people who work there and, crucially, for organisations too. Happier people not only have better overall health; they’re also more creative, more productive, better to work with and more successful in their careers.
The leaders and line managers in an organisation have the biggest influence on whether or not it’s a happy place to work. But there are lots of simple, day-to-day things that all employees can do to make a difference.
5 actions for leaders and line managers:
- Trust people – give them freedom within guidelines
- Help people see why what they do matters
- Give regular encouragement, praise and thanks
- Help people find and play to their strengths
- Encourage a healthy balance between work and life
5 general actions for a happier workplace:
- Stop to say hello to colleagues and get to know them better
- Find ways to make working together more fun and sociable
- Make a habit of noting good things that happen each day
- Change something that’s making you or colleagues unhappy
- Go out of your way to support others and help them feel good
There is now extensive research showing the health benefits of happiness for individuals. For example, the evidence that positive emotions contribute to better health and longer life is stronger than that linking obesity to reduced longevity.² Happy people are also significantly less likely to catch the cold virus than others who are less happy.³
Similarly, we know that happiness brings big benefits for organizations too. For example, how happy people are has been shown to have a significant causal effect on their productivity. In a recent study, one group received an intervention which increased their happiness levels, while those in a control group did not. Treated subjects were found to have 12% greater productivity in a paid task. ⁴
Happier organisations also outperform their competitors. A study looked at the stock market performance of the “100 Best Workplaces” in the US (based on positive feedback from employees about working there) over a 12 year period from 1998 to 2010. The Best Workplaces achieved an average annual return of 10%, outperforming the benchmark S&P 500 index which returned an average of only 3.8% over the same period.⁵
Perhaps most importantly, our individual attitudes and actions really do make a difference. Taking a more positive approach at work doesn’t just increase our own happiness, it affects those we work with too. Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend’s friend) increases it by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%.⁶
We can all play a part in creating a happier workplace, by encouraging our employers to take happiness seriously and by doing what we can personally to create a more fulfilling, positive and collaborative working environment. Let’s start today!
Guest blogger Mark Williamson is Director of Action for Happiness, a movement of 20,000 people and organisations taking action to create a happier society for everyone.
 Mercer (2011), “What’s Working” survey http://uk.mercer.com/press-releases/1420025
 Diener, E., Chan, M.Y., Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity, Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, 2011
 Cohen, S et al, Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2006
 Oswald, A.J., Proto, E., Sgroi, D (2009), Happiness and Productivity, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) http://ftp.iza.org/dp4645.pdf
 Russell Investment Group for Fortune Magazine (2011), How does trust affect the bottom line?
 J.H. Fowler and N.A. Christakis, Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years, British Medical Journal, December 2008