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International Day of Happiness – why workplace happiness is good for everyone

It may feel odd to celebrate International Day of Happiness amid COVID-19. Still, in many respects, the ongoing pandemic has made happiness at work evermore important – particularly as the boundaries between work and home have become increasingly blurred over recent months due to lockdowns and the associated shift to remote work.

The United Nations founded International Day of Happiness to recognize the relevance of happiness and wellbeing as universal goals. The truth is, if we were all to take our happiness at work more seriously, regardless of home or office environment, the world would be a better place. 

Unhappiness at work is an opportunity

In 2004, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning psychologist, released a paper introducing a new way of assessing people’s daily happiness. He called it the ‘day reconstruction methodology’. Kahneman asked a group of people what they did during a typical day and to list the amount of time they spent doing it. People responded largely as you would expect — they worked, socialized, ate, relaxed, watched TV, commuted, exercised, took care of the kids etc. Kahneman then asked how much they enjoyed these activities. 

The things that people most enjoyed were again not particularly surprising — stuff like relationships, socializing, relaxing and eating. But, perhaps most significantly, the bottom two of the list were work and commuting.

When you think about happiness in that context, life feels rather grim. We spend most of our waking hours at work but for millions of people, it’s the least enjoyable thing in their lives. 

According to a recent Robert Half employer survey, 20% of the 1,500 executives interviewed across Europe and Latin America feel ‘depressed with low morale’ and 19% are ‘overworked and on the brink of burnout’

Similarly, with a focus on virtual workplace connection, The HOW Institute for Society interviewed a cross section of the U.S workforce and found, since the pandemic started:

  • 44% of workers reported feeling less connected to co-workers
  • 100% of women interviewed felt disconnected to their organizations
  • 57% of younger workers, under the age of 30, are more likely to experience a decrease in connection compared to older workers.

The workplace mood is definitely mixed. It’s no surprise that the Robert Half survey found monitoring workloads (35%) and assessing employee wellbeing and mental health (34%) are currently the top two issues associated with managing ‘hybrid’ teams going into 2021.

So, it’s definitely challenging to ‘compartmentalize’ happiness at home and happiness at work. Often, if we’re unhappy at home, we’re unhappy at work — a scenario that’s likely to be exacerbated by lockdowns, where ‘home’ for many of us is ‘work’.

The case for happiness at work

Happiness is a serious business. We know that workplace stress can cause sickness and illness. When you’re happy at work, you’re less likely to get sick. You’re also more likely to have more energy for your private life. There’s strong evidence that happiness at work can make us more successful, too. Not only more productive and innovative but also a better leader.

It starts with a mirror

Becoming happier at work starts with self-awareness and reflecting on how we’re doing. For starters, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What has gone well this last year in your work?
  • What is worse about your work? 
  • What are you missing the most from before the pandemic? 

Reflecting on the last year provides a starting point — a ‘snapshot’ of you at this moment. For a deeper analysis, consider trying our FridayOne Happiness Test. It’s a five-minute test that provides personalized results on critical areas where you can make improvements. 

Once you’ve reflected on your life and taken the test, it’s essential to recognize that some things are simply out of your control. How someone else treats you, for example, is not something you can directly control. But, that might be a good reason to find new employment. 

How to become happier

Here are five steps to becoming happier at work. An improvement in any of these areas is likely to make your work experience better and more fulfilling. 

Connect
It’s easier to do good work when we’re happy in the company of others. Regardless of whether these interpersonal connections happen in-person or virtually, workplaces which offer friendship, laughter and a strong sense of belonging are more likely to have teams that encourage, support and appreciate each other. Try making a new friend at work. You never know how that friendship will support you later. 

Be fair
Now more so than ever, being treated with fairness and respect is fundamental to happier work. We flourish in spaces where organizations are responsive to our needs. Look for opportunities to be flexible with work and to support team members that need more flexibility – especially as the impact of the pandemic continues to evolve. 

Empower
Trusting others and sharing responsibilities is a great way to connect and grow. When we do work that plays well to our strengths, it’s also a chance to really unleash amazing potential. Find opportunities where you can be yourself and use your own judgement in completing tasks. 

Challenge
We’re happy with our work when we’re absorbed and progressing. Though this means pushing ourselves and stretching into new challenges, this is the sort of practice that keeps our work interesting. When we have the space to challenge each other and ourselves, we’re able to achieve great things. 

Inspire
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of work is feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Do you have pride in what you do? Our purpose at work can sustain us through difficult times. You’re more than a short-term financial goal. 

There’s a common idea that work is a way of accumulating the money you need so you can be happier in the future. Work hard now for happiness later. Yet, is that any way to live? When it comes to being happy at work, it’s 2x more likely that happiness leads to success rather than success leading to happiness. 

How we can help

International Day of Happiness is the perfect time to reflect on our experience of work. While we may feel that we can’t change much in the middle of a pandemic, the reality is that small adjustments to our working lives can have a big impact. However, for real change to happen we must measure happiness. If we don’t track happiness over time, we won’t be able to see how our experience changes.

Friday Pulse is designed to help teams look at how to improve their workplace culture. It measures and tracks happiness scores across teams, helping to identify areas of concern. Right now, it’s available for free for six weeks. So, get in touch today to book your demo. We’d love to help.

And, for further tips, advice and insight which you can use to hire an engaged and productive workforce, or land a challenging and fulfilling job, please visit the Robert Half UK website.