A happy workplace – is it the elusive nirvana or an unattainable goal?

Does employee happiness really make a difference to the success of the organisation?

During this article we look at these questions and the 6 key components to creating a happy workplace that organisations often ignore.


A 2014 study from the University of Warwick found that happiness made people 12% more productive at work with companies like Google finding that their investments in employee support has increased their employee satisfaction by 37%.

A worldwide Gallup poll in 2012 found that ‘only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work and are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organisations. The bulk of employees worldwide — 63% — are “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes. And 24% are “actively disengaged,” indicating they are unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to co-workers.’


No wonder there is so much emphasis on creating a positive work culture and maximising employee motivation. I see more and more companies starting to understand that investing in their employee’s emotional and physical welfare is important, with many now providing creative time slots, lunchtime wellness and development activities, gym memberships and investing in the physical environment of the workplace.



So, if there is so much investment in employee’s emotional and physical welfare why is UK job satisfaction at a 2 year low?Sad Robot

I believe that I see the same answer to this question again and again. Just putting staff wellness initiatives in place will only scratch the surface if the deeper cultural and management issues are not addressed.

If an employee does not feel that they belong, if they do not believe in the company, if they do not feel appreciated, if they do not believe in the company mission or its products, if they do not trust the company or its management, if they do not feel listened to, if they feel that their concerns are not heard, if they think their ideas are ignored or plagiarised, if they see bad management and managers not dealing with problems – all of these will cause unrest, dissatisfaction and a negative underlying current that can lead to conflict either amongst the team or a ‘them and us’ divide between the workforce and management.

Keyboard Under ConstructionI heard a classic example recently where a large electronics company is going through major change but there is little communication and management are not trusted. The consensus is that some of the managers do not ‘have the backs’ of their staff and people are fearful for their jobs. There have been lots of cost saving activities and more and more new HR procedures and things like changes to the office layout are being put in place with little consultation.

The atmosphere in the office is poor, the energy is low and people are just getting on with their day to day tasks with little flexibility or sense of urgency and commitment. Staff absence has increased and reports are now getting back to senior management that staff morale is low.

Their initial answer? They are looking at employee wellness incentives and decorating the office!

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a place for employee wellness programmes and there is a lot of evidence that they do have a positive impact in any organisation but (and this is a big BUT that often gets ignored), if the wellness programme is simply papering over the core problems, any investment in these will simply be a waste of time and money!

6 key components for a happy workplace



Patrick Lencioni, president of management consulting firm, The Table Group, wrote about the Five Dysfunctions of a Team in his 2002 book of the same name.  Lencioni says that an absence of trust is the most severe dysfunction that a team can have. Without trust, productive work and growth are almost impossible. Team members spend time and energy protecting themselves or undermining each other, instead of focusing on the work and goals of the team.

A global study by EY found that only 49% of full-time workers responded that they had “a great deal of trust” in those working above and alongside them


By contrast, when team members trust one another, they’re willing to be open and “vulnerable” with the group. They trust that no one will attack them maliciously, which means that they can spend their time and energy on the work at hand.

Communication honesty

People will trust you if they can count on you to tell the truth, even when this is hard.

46% of employees stated that “a lack of transparent leadership communication” is driving them to seek new employment in Deloitte’s 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey.


If your position prohibits you from sharing certain information with your team, then be honest about this as well. Promise that as soon as you know something, or as soon as you get approval to share more information, you’ll do so.

People will also trust you more if they can see, at any time, why decisions are being made the way they are. The more transparent you are with information, the more your people will understand why you do what you do. Communicate as openly as you can about decisions, processes and changes.

When there is a change, or something important that you need the team to buy into, think through how to communicate with the whole team.

Break it down into the four headings:

What – What’s actually going to happen?

Why – Why does this change need to take place and the benefits of it happening?

How – How is the change going to be implemented

What If – What else might happen, spend time yourself thinking through all the “buts’” people might come up with and then ask for your team’s input into how these can be overcome.

Understanding and linking values

Effective commitment is more like to increase if staff experience positive emotions at work and to encourage positive change it is important that you link people’s goals and values with those of the team or organisation.

A person’s workplace values are the guiding principles that are most important to them about the way that they work. They will continuously use these values as a basis for choosing between right and wrong ways of working and making important decisions.

An organisation’s values are the basis for the company culture and identify what your workplace, as a whole, cares about. Problems can arise when your own personal values are not aligned with that of your organisation. Problems can also arise if there is a significant mismatch between your own workplace values and that of your colleagues or management.

When values are out of alignment, you may find that people work towards different goals and have different intention. This can damage effective team dynamics, working relationships, productivity, creative problem solving and job satisfaction.


Allow debateDebating in the office


Commitment is a function of clarity and buy-in. Productive teams make clear decisions and are confident that they have the support from every team member. A lack of commitment usually arises from not hearing all the teams concerns before making a decision and there can be no commitment without debate.

People will not buy into something when their opinions and thoughts on the matter were not included and discussed. Teams that lack commitment delay making important decisions and miss opportunities.

Lack of commitment can also directly relate to a fear of conflict: without honest debate about a course of action, people may feel that they haven’t been heard. When this happens, they may not support a decision that isn’t theirs, no matter how feasible it is.


Deal with issues

People are looking for strong leadership that they can trust. If a manager buries their head from the problems because they are afraid of rocking the boat or they are too concerned about the implications to how they are seen then resentment will fester.


Give feedback and show appreciation

Employees who report feeling valued by their employer are 60% more likely to report that they are motivated to do their very best for their employer according to the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, “American Psychology Association Harrison Interactive,” Workplace Survey.


This is not about the occasional thank you or the employee of the month award, to get a real impact you need to instil a culture of positive recognition and constructive feedback. People want to know that what they do makes a difference, that it has purpose and that purpose is recognised.

One problem with giving feedback to people though is that very often we forget one of the key components of effective feedback – the evidence! Tell them exactly what they have done well and the impact it has.