Avoiding The Pitfalls of Workplace Happiness

The idea of happiness at work has become more of ‘a thing’ now days.  This is wonderful as for years I’ve been talking about it with the mission to raise awareness – mission accomplished!  Woo-hooo!

However, with the raising awareness of happiness science in the workplace, there are also concerns about the application (or misapplication) of happiness science at work.  A few are:

  • Dr. John Sullivan has posted 12 Good Reasons You Should Be Cautious About Employee Happiness – part 1 and part 2.  I have a lot of respect for Dr. Sullivan and have followed him since the way back days when ERE first started.  The view from both pieces seems to point towards issues around mislabeling and measures.  Also, it seems as if the view of workplace happiness is that it is just fluffy stuff that is not tied to the bottom line with fringe benefits being an example. Also, Dr. John posits that productivity drives happiness. This point is debatable as Shawn Achor and Nic Marc have pointed out.
  • Against Happiness |Economist provides a lopsided view of forced happiness which, to no great surprise, is not really a sustainable or a worthy endeavor.

Luckily, these views are addressable if we keep a few basic guidelines in mind according to 5 Pitfalls of Employee Happiness Initiatives by Dr. Aymee Coget:

  1. Avoid ‘happiness pressure’ and ensure employee buy-in.
  2. Avoid stressed out leaders by ensuring leaders are positive and helping to pull the effort forward.
  3. Avoid using surface level techniques and instead use sustainable happiness strategies.
  4. Implementation must be done properly with a clear thought out plan that delivers as designed.
  5. Avoid making happiness superfluous by using rigorous measures of success aimed at the most meaningful needs.

I can say that I have used very similar points in framing up Happywork as a science-based, metrics driven approach with the leaders I work with and they are very helpful.  The most powerful piece from Dr. Aymee’s list to avoid happiness pressure that we use is what we call the opt-in approach.  I am sure to give ample opportunities to opt-out as we go through each phase of the program.  Participants are exposed to program elements in a methodic way over a period of time and invited to participate in the next of four phases.  From every group, there are always a few that opt-out as they are plenty happy already or the approach just isn’t for them or whatever.  Happywork does not seek to be a fix all or one-size-fits-all.  Our approach is customized like a bottom-up engagement program akin to executive coaching made available to everyone.  Not everyone is motivated to do something about their workplace happiness and so coaching would not be helpful.  Putting the employee or worker in the driver’s seat to be able to chose to participate is the key.

Happiness Science: Brain Chemicals

Thanks to Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD for the best overview of what makes our brain happy.  In her book and short presentation provided by Psychology Today, Dr. Graziano Breuning illustrates the roles Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphin play in our happiness.

Dopamine: The awesome feeling you experience from:

  • Achieving something
  • Meeting your needs
  • The expectation of getting or earning something you really love

Serotonin: The splendid feeling you experience from:

  • Being important
  • Others recognizing you as an expert
  • Having social status such as education

Oxytocin: The cool feeling you experience from:

  • Being trusted
  • Being accepted and cherished in your groups
  • Knowing there is certainty in your relationships

Endorphin: The momentary euphoria you experience from

  • Laughter and joy
  • Exercise and excitement
  • Listening to music we love

Happy Brain Chemicals

The tipping point…

The pivot point that became Happywork was the result of this Nancy Etcoff Ted Talk on Happiness viewed early in December of 2012.  I was about to get on the treadmill to run at lunch…I watched it three times in a row!  It changed me forever.  When Nancy and I corresponded about the video, I was pumped up! I knew I was about to set out to do something really special and cool.