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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me


Action 50

Create a happier environment at work

As a supervisor, manager or leader, we can influence how happy our teams feel. This isn't only a good thing to do - it can help to boost performance, productivity and retention. So why not think what you can do.

why do it

Happiness at work is a win-win. Happy, engaged people are healthier, more productive, they have more ideas, are more likely to contribute over and above the responsibilities of their job and help out colleagues, are less likely to leave or be off sick and are more likely to get to work on time. They are better to be around as happiness is also catching. So, if your team is happy - you and others around them are more likely to be happy too.

As a supervisor, manager or leader you can and will have an influence on how happy those you lead feel. This doesn't mean you should be constantly laughing or joking or can't be serious. There is a lot more to happiness at work than that. Nor does it mean not delivering tough messages, if and when these are necessary.

Recent research is showing more and more ways that we can increase our own and others' happiness. Many of us spend a large proportion of our lives at work, so if happiness is good for people and for business, if you are in a position to make a difference, isn't it a good thing to try to do?

where to start

Changing an organisation's culture or incentive system can be complicated and take a long time, and may not always be possible if you are not near the top of the hierarchy, but here are some ideas for things that will make a difference and are likely to be possible for most supervisors, managers and leaders.

1 Build your understanding of the drivers of motivation and happiness

As a supervisor or manager, building your understanding of the factors that influence motivation and happiness will help you to get the most from and for your team. This website brings together a lot of the findings from the latest research so it's a great place to start. You'll also find lots of ideas, resources and further reading.

Think about what you could add to the way you manage or lead. This isn't about tricks or magic. It's about understanding some of what makes people tick and what helps them to get the most out of work and life.

2 Focus on strengths

When people are using their strengths you are likely to be getting the best of them and they are more likely to enjoy and be energised by what they are doing.

The first step is for you and your team to identify your individual strengths. There are a number of tried and tested, free or relatively low cost online tools available to help you do this.

Once people know their strengths, you can work together to find ways that they can use them in their work or find new tasks and challenges that will help develop these further.

This doesn't mean not addressing any weaknesses, but it does require a shift of focus. Pay attention to weaknesses to the extent they are limiting an employee's ability to do the essentials of their role, and only to the extent that they get to the baseline level they need to. Then emphasise developing what they are more naturally good at or oriented towards.

Team members will also be able to see how their strengths complement those of their colleagues and so have more ideas for ways to contribute to team activities.

3 Use strengths as a primer

Here's an idea to borrow. Research has shown that when therapists spent a few minutes focusing on their client's strengths and how they might be used, before meeting with them, it had beneficial outcomes for the client. These included a positive impact on their self-esteem and sense of mastery, as well as building the therapeutic relationship.

We aren't suggesting for one moment that supervisors and managers try to be therapists, but we think trying this idea would be a great way to foster a sense of competence in staff, help build a good relationship with them and make them feel valued for what they bring.

So once you've identified your team members' strengths, ahead of meetings with them, spend a few minutes reminding yourself of their strengths and what you value about what they contribute to the team. Try to do this over a period of time, say for at least a month or two and see what difference it makes. (It may be easier to start with one-to-one meetings rather than ones with the whole team).

4 Give 'growth-minded' feedback

Carol Dweck differentiates between fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is where we believe we (and others) have an innate, fixed level of intelligence or ability in specific areas. This means we are much less likely to try or to learn. In contrast, if we have a growth mindset we will believe that with effort we (and others) can learn and improve. This means we are much more likely to put effort into trying and be much more open to learning from our mistakes.

People with growth mindsets are much more likely to work through setbacks than those with a fixed view, and to feel better about themselves overall.

As a supervisor what this means focusing on learning. So when you give praise to your team members, make sure that along with saying 'well done' you also recognise how they did it. If things haven't turned out well, then it is important to praise the effort the person put in and look at what they did that worked and what they think they might try differently in future.

5 Improve your team's positivity ratio

Positive emotions are important, not just for feeling good but for building our psychological and social resources, learning, creativity and problem solving. It doesn't mean that we should try never to experience negative ones but we need to get the ratio right. Experiencing at least three positive emotions for every negative one is said to be the ratio for individuals.

For teams the ratio was even higher. It was found that teams whose meetings had a ratio of five positive interactions for every negative one, out performed teams with lower ratios.

Think about your team's meetings - how many supporting or constructively enquiring interactions are there for every critical one? Do the team acknowledge each others' successes and contributions? To what extent do the team spend advocating and defending their own ideas compared with understanding and building on those of their colleagues?

As a supervisor, manager or leader, how many of your comments and questions to your team and its members are supportive, appreciative, constructively enquiring or openly seeking to understand better? How many of these point out what's not right, focus on what's yet to do or advocate your own way of thinking over theirs? So what's your ratio? How close is it to five to one? And how might you improve it if you need to?

6 Give people scope to craft their jobs

A sense of autonomy, of having choice and control, is fundamental to people's psychological well-being and motivation.

If there are elements of roles that people can shape into ways that work best for them, whether that's to use their strengths, focus on things that really interest and absorb them, help balance work with family life or to add meaning, it is likely to make a significant difference to how satisfied people are in their jobs and with the organisation, and it can lead to increased performance or productivity.

Whilst the amount of flexibility that people have varies by role, in most jobs there are some things that don't have to be done in a defined way.

Some organisations allow employees a percentage of time, or number of days in a given period, to work on any project they want. As well as

fuelling interest and engagement and so making people feel happier at work, such tactics can be a great source of new ideas for products or process improvement.


See sources under Happiness at Work

Berg, J.M., Dutton, J.E. & Wrzesniewski, A. (2007). What is job crafting and why does it matter? Michigan Ross School of Business. [www.bus.umich.edu/Positive/POS-Teaching-and-Learning/Job_Crafting-Theory_to_Practice-Aug_08.pdf]

Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset: the new psychology of success. NY: Ballantine

Flückiger,C., Caspar,F., Grosse Holtforth, M., & Ulrike Willutzki, U. (2009). Working with patients' strengths: A microprocess approach. Psychotherapy Research,19, 213-223

Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis & McKee, A. (2002). The New Leaders: Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results. London: Little, Brown

Linley, P.A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry: CAPP Press.

Pink,D.H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. London: Penguin

Rath, T. (2007). Strengths Finder 2.0. NY:Gallup


Doing Well From the Inside Out

"The programme is about pro-actively building psychological  well-being and resilience and enhancing engagement through practical skills that have been proven to make a difference"

Vanessa King

Vanessa King, Action for Happiness (Expert in positive psychology and organisational development; Programme Lead, Doing Well From The Inside Out)


The Happy Manifesto

Happy Manifesto

Henry Stewart from Happy Ltd explains how to make your organisation a great workplace. Download report 

Happy At Work

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Alexander Kjerulf shares 25 things you need to know and do to be happy at work. Download report