Can We Be Happy at Work?

Happiness CartoonThe goal of “being happy” is an ingrained human desire – I’d even call it a hard-wired need.  Not only do we want to be happy in our lives, but we also need to be happy.

Yet happiness seems to elude many of us – even if we have the trappings of what others believe create happiness:  a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a good job, and (of course) love.

But as we all know, sometimes what we think will create happiness doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually makes us happy.

Even though we all want to be happy, many of us haven’t truly figured out what “happiness” means to us or the best path to achieve our definition of what it means to “be happy.”

Marketing professionals constantly bombard us with the outer, external, and “tangible” products that they promise will make us “happy.”  Whether it is the latest iPhone or the fanciest pair of shoes, the message is that if we buy these items, then we will finally “be happy.”

But it’s not just “stuff” that we’re told will make us happy.

I’ve recently discovered a fascinating phenomenon in companies that provide services to business owners.  Most of them promise that their product or service – no one else’s! – will finally help us to achieve the success (aka “happiness”) that we want – and deserve! – from our businesses.  What they offer is often a turnkey, “one size fits all” model that may actually conflict with what the business owner actually needs to be “happy” in their business.

I’ve never been a fan of such “cookie cutter” approaches.

Why?  Because I firmly believe that each of us is unique.  Even though we are all humans, our backgrounds, experiences, values, and preferences create very different expectations of what it means when we really are “happy.”

When it comes to happiness, one size doesn’t fit all.

In my research on burnout, I’ve discovered (not surprisingly) that burned out workers are also very unhappy workers.  In fact, burnout tends to turn off our sense of humor – nothing is funny any more and everything is frustrating.

According to George Sand (as quoted in the cartoon above), “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”  While we can understand and appreciate this in our personal lives, why does this fundamental insight fly out the window when we go to work?

In other words, why do we tend to manage others in a way that doesn’t address our human need to love and be loved?

Obviously I’m not recommending anything that even hints of sexual love in the workplace.  Sexual harassment and discrimination are not only illegal, but they also reflect anger, resentment, and degradation rather than love.

But healthy, nonsexual expressions of “love” can be shown in numerous ways in the workplace:

  • A simple “thank you” or “great job” for others’ efforts.  Genuine expressions and acts of appreciation are closely related to the positive feeling of love, which is closely associated with feelings of happiness.
  • Empathy and understanding for employees’ competing work-life demands.  The ability to understand and empathize with another’s struggles and joys not only creates positive bonds between people, but we also tend to be happier when we believe that we are understood.
  • Asking for someone’s expertise and input during the planning and implementation phases of a project.  Love and happiness cannot exist in a healthy way unless there is respect between the parties.

We spend the vast majority of our time at work, thinking about work, and actually working.  As a result, our work environment and on-the-job experiences play a huge role in our feelings of overall happiness.

Happy people are rarely burned out.  Perhaps this is because they enjoy the work that they do and they do the work in an environment in which they are appreciated, respected, and valued.

Happiness also rarely exists in a vacuum.  Toxic work situations characterized by politicking, mistrust, disrespect, and behaviors that don’t address the very real emotional needs of the workforce are rarely “happy” places to work.  As a result, those unhappy workers won’t be fully engaged and committed in helping the company achieve its goals.

When a star performer is also an unhappy and burned out worker, you can bet that he or she will soon leave the organization.  When they don’t “feel the love,” they’re destined to find it somewhere else – usually with your competitor.

Maybe it’s time that managers and human resources professionals begin to focus on employee happiness rather than on the nebulous and esoteric concept of “job satisfaction.”  After all, you can be technically “satisfied” at work, but still not really be happy to be there.

Happiness at work creates that added “oomph” that transforms and enhances the way in which we do our jobs.

If you want outstanding performance from your workers, then you need to provide a work environment and culture that constantly reinforce that they are appreciated, respected, and valued.  In this way, you can “show the love” for your workers – which is one step closer to helping them achieve the happiness that they want and need at work.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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