Work has come a long way from partitioned cubicles and rigid hierarchies, to open spaces stuffed with healthy snacks and free lunches where everyone can call each other by their first name. Today, companies of all sizes go beyond these simple office perks. They provide paid sabbaticals, pet insurance, gym membership, on-site kindergartens, even free housing in some cases. All this to retain the top talents in their industry and make sure they work happy.
But is it really worth it?
It is. Companies have begun to base their HR strategies on positive psychology, which links happiness to several benefits. For example, researchers from the Carleton University in Canada found out that people who are happy at work tend to be 15% more productive. They also have an improved mental and physical health, as happiness puts their bodies in a repair and recovery state.
Achieving this goal at the expense of accumulating “goodies” can only go so far though. More money, more benefits, more of anything will short circuit our well-being in the long run. In fact, salaries don’t play such a big role in this equation after a certain threshold has been reached ($75.000/year), when other factors come into play.
That’s because we get used to things pretty easily and fall back on a comfortable cushion known as the “status-quo”. It’s just like the law of diminishing marginal utility: the more you consume something, the less satisfied you’ll be with each unit of consumption.
So we’re not actually happy, but merely satisfied. This is the correct distinction made by Alexander Kjerulf, a Danish management consultant and Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo, at a TEDx talk in Copenhagen.
Satisfaction comes from what we think about our job with our rational brain, nothing sexy or compelling. Meanwhile, happiness stems from what we feel about our work, the small things that fire us up and make us go to the office with joy.
Kjerulf goes on to say that happiness at work is dependent on only two things: results and relationships. Getting results is about making a difference in a field that is meaningful to you, receiving appreciation, and being proud of it at the end of the day. Relationships, on the other hand, are all about having a great time with those you work with, including your clients.
Sounds simple. But in reality, there are certain obstacles that stop us in our tracks. The most common one is the illusion of overwork. We often think that success comes from the number of hours spent at the office. That’s why we’re the first ones to come and leave work, wearing this “working hard” attitude like a badge of honor. This will only cause burnout in the long run and soon become a habit that others will expect from us. Most of the productivity apps out there have their fair share of blame for this, tricking us into thinking that we can squeeze as much work as possible into an hour. The truth is that great, everlasting work takes time, and involves our entire self: mind, body, and energy. Hence, we should guard them as best as we can.
Another obstacle is a misalignment with our core values. We should build our careers on our internal values, like our mission and relationships, and not on the external ones like money and prestige. In fact, millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, choose work happiness over compensation. 64% of them would work at a job they love that pays $40.000/year over a $100.000/year job that bores them.
To get over them and instill happiness at work, consider the next five tips:
- Start your day with a small act of kindness. If you look up the TEDx video mentioned before, Kjerulf gives us the simplest tool in his arsenal: “Good Morning!”. Yes, a simple greeting can make you and your colleagues’ day. But put some work into it to make it genuine. Once you arrive at the office, make eye contact with the colleagues you’re greeting. Also, ask them how they’re doing, even shake their hands, or pat them on the back to make them feel comfortable.
- Hire happy people. Be serious about cultural fit like Zappos is. To choose the right candidates, they use an interviewing technique called the “Nice Guy” test. What they’ll do is pick up the candidates who are from out of town with a shuttle and give them a tour before the actual interviews. If they found out at the end of the day that the shuttle driver wasn’t treated well, the interview process stops there, no matter how well the candidate performed. The lesson? Hire for attitude first, then teach skills.
- Have reasonable working hours. We live in a culture where working hard and getting by with little to no sleep stands for “work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue”, to paraphrase Maria Popova in the book Tools of Titans. Recognize that your employees have a personal life outside their work and respect it.
- Give and ask for feedback. Often times, feedback comes too late. Ask for it when you require it the most to shorten the learning cycle and improve yourself faster. When expressing it, do it in a constructive, actionable way to build team-spirit among your colleagues. Beware the tone though. You don’t want to come off as a snob.
- Focus on the wins. Even the small ones. Like helping out a colleague, finishing that task before its due date, or throwing out a Snickers bar packaging someone left on the kitchen table. These are all actions that impact the company, no matter how small they are. Be more intentional next time and do more of them each day.
In the end, remember that being happy at work doesn’t depend on perks. It’s more about getting meaningful things done and sharing the results with your colleagues and clients. This way, you can all enjoy it together. Something we can all do and benefit from.