Get Happy at Work

Today we celebrate the International Day of Happiness, and challenge other businesses to get happy at work. It’s one thing to be happy as individuals, but what does mandated happiness look like on the corporate level? In this post we consider how businesses can think about happiness as a corporate mandate. We provide thoughts, research, and policies in the hopes of empowering you to take action to get happy at work.

Thinking about Happiness

The biggest ah-ha moments stem from understanding how to think about a topic. For our brains to be able understand concepts and think progressively about them, we benefit greatly from thought leadership and concept scaffolding to guide our thinking. Let’s examine what thought leaders have to say in three main areas: The Psychology of Happiness, Behavioural Economics, and Financial Analysis to understand the importance of happiness.

The Psychology of Happiness

We look to research in The Psychology of Happiness to refine our language and thinking on the concept of happiness and to study what makes people happy.

As a group, nobody is taking happiness more seriously than Bhutan. Bhutan developed a Gross National Happiness Index as a tool for their government to assess and predict the wellness of their nation, and they have investigated and inspired empirical study of happiness. Their aim is to increase the happiness of the nation by taking steps to improve happiness for all citizens, and thus improve the nation itself.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index is based on the idea that happiness itself is multidimensional—it is not measured only by subjective well-being, and it does not begin and end with the self. Happiness is collective. It also accepts that many indicators of happiness are social at their core: giving to and engaging with others promotes happiness, and simply being physically around other people (even distasteful people) makes you happier than being alone.

When thinking about corporate happiness, your company is just a group of people and, as a collective, you have a great opportunity to provide happiness to one another. By thoughtfully improving policy and culture you can lead collective happiness and reap the benefits.

To promote collective happiness, we need to know what makes people happy. The list isn’t that surprising—it’s the same as the things that make you happy: spending time with family and friends, meaningful work, feeling respected, giving to others, personal freedom, and positive thinking. As policymakers, we are in a position of great influence over many of these areas and we have an opportunity to make a difference. Creating policy that increases an individual’s ability to spend time with their family and friends, championing volunteerism and giving to others paired with an environment of high respect and autonomy translates to happier people.

Policies and culture make a huge difference—but, what about the cash? Will higher salaries create happiness? The answer is that money does make people happy…but the more wages increase, the less incrementally happy are their effects. By all means, money talks, but in a high-wage professional services firm, we are aware that raises mean less and less as an employee earns more. In the long-run, job happiness relates to much more than just a wage and in part includes psychological and social factors that determine its existence.

Behavioural Economics

We look to behavioural economics to examine what actually makes people happy (as compared to what people think makes them happy). In his work, Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman documents that people make a distinction between how we feel in the moment and our more evaluative assessment of life satisfaction. There is a difference between happiness in the moment, and life satisfaction on a holistic level. This distinction can guide policymakers to balance that big-picture happiness with lots of little instances of happy moments.

Financial Analysis

If the intrinsic value of promoting happiness to the people you spend all week with isn’t enough, we look to financial analysis to see if mandating happiness actually helps the bottom line. As important as happiness is, we are in business to make money. There is good news: appreciating employees and making them happy makes you money.

A study published by The Jackson Organization, a research consultancy firm, states: “companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity & assets more than triple that experienced by firms that don’t. When looking at Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ stock prices rose an average of 14% per year from 1998-2005, compared to 6% for the overall market.” We recommend Dr. Noelle Nelson’s book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy” for further information on the topic.

So, we can talk-the-talk; but, how do we walk-the-walk? What does this actually look like when applied?

For us, it starts with our values. Happiness is one of seven core values at Metrics. We believe it is key to our culture and performance. We take a calculated approach to happiness, including measurement via our Happiness Index, a tool in our performance review process (posted below for your reference).

On a structural level, the Index includes a progressive HR policy focused on flexibility and independence— unlimited time off, an ability to work remotely, and a plan that supports personal growth and family time. This policy manifests itself in happy employees who care about Metrics and who strive to excel in their roles to live up to our standards of excellence.

When thinking of policy, you are thinking about the ‘life-satisfaction’ happy level which is only part of the picture; the other part is day-to-day happiness.

How do you inject little moments of happiness throughout the day or week? This can be especially hard in a very busy time, working on a very demanding project. Consider what makes people happy and give them more of it. Combining fun with high expectations does produce results. Playing with gifs on internal social networks, celebrating achievements, going for beers, having retreats away from the office, holding staff parties, offering morning smoothies; all of these things make people happy, and happy people are better workers.

Giving back to our community is also an essential part of our pledge to happiness. We do have mandatory volunteer-hours, but more than that, we encourage meaningful participation in groups that matter to us. We don’t want volunteering to just be a once-a-year-requirement (where is the heart?), but rather a lifetime habit of giving to others and getting satisfaction and happiness from knowing we are better people.

Today we are knocking off early to try out Trapped Escape Room in Victoria and to finish the day at our favourite pub. It could be argued that this is not the most productive way to spend work time, especially during a busy tax season, but it is essential to our team’s well-being to unwind together and bond during a time that is demanding and stressful. After long days at the office, a few hours to unplug helps propel us further into work-mode and strengthens our resolve to perform in our roles. Before we go, we’ll have a quick #Festivus—a chance for team members to air any grievances, issues or celebrate any milestones or accomplishments. At this #Festivus, we’ll discuss whether we are meeting our Happiness Index goals, and reaffirm our pledge to our pursuit of happiness.

At Metrics the notion of corporate happiness is collective, and our collective happiness is based on the sum of happiness in each individual. We endeavour to help each other in our individual pursuits of happiness and those acts, in turn, makes us happier people. Positive vibes flowing back and forth continue to feed the corporate happiness machine.

It’s as simple as this: give your employees adequate time to spend with their family and friends, respect your employees, mandate corporate giving and volunteerism, allow flexible work hours and maximize autonomy. Promote positive messaging within the company. Promote happiness!

The Metrics Happiness Index

On a scale of 1 (disagree) to 5 (strongly agree):

  • I feel respected at work.
  • I understand what is required of me in my position.
  • I am an important member of the team.
  • I feel connected to my team professionally.
  • I receive positive feedback when I have done a good job.
  • Negative feedback is communicated clearly and respectfully at work.
  • My job gives me time to dedicate to my family and friends.
  • My job gives me time to dedicate to my health and wellbeing.


Disclaimer: This commentary is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, investment, tax, legal or accounting advice, nor does it constitute solicitation to buy or sell any securities referred to. Any tax information published on this blog is based on the facts provided to us and on current tax law (including judicial and administrative interpretation) during the time of publication. Tax law can change (at times on a retroactive basis) and these changes may result in additional taxes, interest, or penalties. Practice due diligence and if in doubt, speak with a member of our team.

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