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Is Happiness the Answer?

I guess it may depend on what the question is. There are many blogs/articles about workplace “happiness”, it seems to be the new buzz word. While I agree we certainly shouldn’t dread going to work or be miserable with our lives, I wonder, is happiness really the only answer?

Studies show that 52.3% of Americans are unhappy in their work, (source: and the impact that is having on productivity, with days off sick and poor staff retention. There are many reasons it would seem for us as Leaders to focus more effort on making our teams happier. But what does this really mean? Should we be having dress-down days, come to work in your jeans and be happy? Should we be handing out cakes, chocolates and wearing party hats? Does that really make us happy? Maybe yes, for that moment, but what happens when the party is over, back to work, with a hangover of the highs and lows of too much sugar and caffeine, back to the daily grind.

No, I think we should define what we mean by employee happiness. It’s a lot like Motivation factors; different for different people. Some are motivated by the stick, others the carrot, some by support, others by challenge, are you an X or Y motivational manager? Consider Herzbergs Motivation factors, where he lists factors of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Quite honestly I look at these and think, all those areas of satisfaction would make me happier, being recognised for a good job, given the opportunities to grow and develop, having a sense of belonging and achievement. Along with the factors of dissatisfaction, poor working conditions, not being paid what you deserved, feeling at risk, would definitely make me unhappy.

So maybe the question isn’t about happiness, it could be about how we motivate our teams and keep them engaged. Are we rewarding them? Not just in monetary terms, although our Psychological need of having enough money for food and warmth is our primary need - according to Maslow - but in terms of perceived fairness (that’s another topic), being treated with respect and consideration. Isn’t this what makes us happy?

There is another school of thought that if we are always happy and secure, there will never be any growth. Can you image if we were all so happy with the latest iPhone, that Apple gave up making newer and better ones? Or even more seriously, if we accepted that diseases like cancer were part of life and didn’t fight it. As a species we are driven by the desire to stand up and say “No this is not acceptable, I am not happy about this and therefore I will do something to change it”.

And as a parent, of course I want my children to be happy, but to be honest if I just let them do what makes them happy, my 9 year old wouldn’t be getting up for school in the morning and my 18 year old wouldn’t be doing the dishes.

So let’s not get too hung up on being “happy”, let's think more about what makes us thrive, what makes us stronger, better and engaged in our lives and all the happiness that brings.

I would like to say, happiness is not the answer, but it could be the question.

If that is your question and you would like to know more about increasing productivity and staff retention, contact me at


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