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Want to improve your company culture? Try happiness

Happiness seems like an obvious good, but too many workplaces don't value it. Here's how you can change that.

5 min read


Want to improve your company culture? Try happiness

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In his book “The Happiness Advantage,” Shawn Achor explores the role of positive psychology in the workplace. Most of us operate with the assumption that success leads to increased happiness, but Achor’s research proves the opposite. Successful people at work don’t succeed because they want to be happier, they succeed because they are already happy. 

Achor writes that, “Happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement — giving us [a] competitive edge.” There’s an economic case to be made for happiness as well. Multiple studies have shown that happier employees are more efficient, innovative, and produce higher-quality work. 

So if managers want to tap into the competitive edge that happiness brings, how do we make our employees happy? Happiness looks different to all of us, and with 81% of employees claiming to fake happiness at work, the question arises of whether it is a reliable standard for employee performance.

But the positive correlation between happiness and workplace productivity is overwhelming. To not even try to incorporate happiness into our daily management practices is a missed opportunity to gain a true competitive advantage. 

What makes for happy employees?

Some managers might hesitate to devote time thinking about their employees’ happiness because of its elusiveness. We can’t control all of the circumstances of our employees’ lives, and there are situations outside of the workplace that certainly impact a sense of personal happiness and satisfaction. 

But in their research, scholars Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas offer a science-backed profile of what happiness at work looks like. The three primary needs that shape happiness in the workplace are almost identical to the needs that predict happiness in our personal lives:

  1. Being able to easily recover from setbacks
  2. Having close, supportive social connections
  3. Possessing a sense of purpose and meaning

The applications of these central needs to our management-styles are endless. The ability of an employee to recover from a setback is tied to the communication, understanding and mentorship of their leader. A supportive social network can be nurtured or thwarted on any workplace team. Employees feeling that their contributions are central to the success of the organization can be either encouraged or discouraged by upper management. 

For managers who are willing to consider the transformative power of happiness, there are concrete ways to help meet these happiness prerequisites. When managers direct time and effort to implementing more initiatives that address these primary needs, our teams will not only be happier, but will succeed and excel more often.

No. 1: Make forgiveness a part of your management philosophy

The ability to move forward after a mistake is essential to becoming a happier person in life and in work. As managers, we evaluate employee performance, and pairing forgiveness with accountability leads to employees who refine their skills and make mistakes less often.

Being more forgiving doesn’t mean encouraging sloppiness or laziness. In his article, “Forgiveness in the Workplace,” Michael Stone writes that, “When we demonstrate forgiveness at thelevel of team, people feel safe to expressthemselves fully, leading to greater creativity,innovation and risk taking.” Essentially, forgiveness leads to an empowered and higher-functioning workplace.

No. 2: Encourage employees to connect with their teammates

Building strong social connections at work can depend on many things — the size of your team, the physical layout of your office and whether employees work on-site or remotely. But research shows that employees with strong friendships or connections at work are more engaged and more loyal. 

Workplace scholar Julianne Holt-Lunstad writes that, “Workplace environment and policies need to communicate the value of social connections as well as put them into actionable practices and policies.”

My team uses Assembly to encourage employees to recognize and applaud one another on a daily basis. We also give our employees a monthly budget to spend on other members of the team because, as Michael Norton suggests, money can buy happiness, as long as that money is spent on other people.

Managers should invest time in thinking creatively about how they can nurture more meaningful relationships among their teammates. They can also ask their team members for their ideas on ways to improve relationships and connections in their unique workplace environments. 

No. 3: Find a higher mission and build your workplace culture around it

Mission-driven organizations experience benefits at all levels, including better employee retention and more satisfied clients. Employees are also happier when they are connected to a clear corporate or company mission. In order to meet the third happiness standard at work, business leaders should invest time in crafting a clear mission or values statement.

For my team, our LinkGraph Cares program helps instill a sense of higher meaning and purpose. We donate a percentage of our monthly revenue to nonprofits, and we encourage our employees to let us know the organizations that they care about and support. The harder our team pushes, the more we are able to give.

Not every organization can sustain this type of business model, but there are plenty of other ways to instill mission and meaning in your company culture. Because having a sense of purpose is so central to happiness, organizations that make an effort to think about the impact of their brand beyond profits are more primed to keep their employees happy and successful for the long-term. 


Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, an award-winning SEO and digital marketing agency. Through his agency work, thought leadership, and speaking engagements, he helps brands of all sizes grow their digital presence. You can follow him at @madmanick.

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