Happiness At Work: Is It More Hackable Than You Think?

Yes — and it goes way beyond just thinking good thoughts.

Happiness At Work: Could It Be More Hackable Than You Think?

Are you happy?

In the past, that used to be a question largely consigned to the home front. But these days, it’s being asked — and asked earnestly — at work.

Workplace happiness is becoming big business. Team-building activities that come with their own apps, well-being workshops, and even Chief Happiness Officers are popping up everywhere.

Most managers know that happy workers work harder and stay longer at a company, but it’s not always easy to know how to cultivate happiness among their team members (unless it just happens naturally).

No matter what, this week’s roundup is designed to put a smile on your face. You’ll discover…

  • What science has to say about workplace happiness (including how to “hack” happiness into your project plan)
  • How stress actually helps team cohesion
  • And how a coffee break could hold the key to a happiness breakthrough

Whether you’re looking for practical tips or just an easy morning’s pleasant read, these articles and resources are sure to turn any frown upside down. Enjoy!

Team Happiness Is Good Business

Happy employees are more productive, says corporate happiness expert Alexander Kjerulf. And happier companies enjoy higher profitability. That means happiness isn’t just about good feelings; it’s good business.

Happiness is also good science — fields as diverse as psychology and neuroanatomy have contributed to our understanding of happiness. What are the big learnings? Kjerulf has identified the ones you need to know about in The 5 Most Important Findings From the Science of Happiness That Apply at Work on his blog Positive Sharing.

First up, workplace emotions matter significantly to a company’s bottom-line — and emotions are “highly contagious” among workers. Kjerulf backs these assertions with research findings that weave a compelling argument that no business can afford to ignore how people feel at work.

Fortunately, it’s easy to have that work to your advantage, as even small actions — especially if they’re unexpected — can increase worker happiness. What does this mean in practice? A weekly agenda item to celebrates wins is good, but a spontaneous high-5 tunnel near the main doors one morning is even better. (Hint: that’s why they’re called random acts of kindness.)

Kjerulf’s article is peppered with links to examples and deeper-dives. He even has advice on what not to do. (Fair warning, happiness backfires when it’s forced.) If you’re interested in improving happiness — and making it a team effort — this article is a good way to get started.

Hacking Happiness on the Job

Executive coach Laura Berger has a mission: she’s out to “blur the lines between employment and enjoyment.”

Sounds like a tall order — but to many, it’s a necessity. The trick, she says, is leveraging what we know about happiness from the sciences and weaving it into our work cultures.

Berger, who is also a psychologist, breaks it all down for us in her article Happiness at Work: The Proven Science of How to Enjoy Your Job for the Huffington Post. Her explanation starts with brain chemistry and ends with three completely doable techniques to bring more of the “happy chemicals” into play when we’re at work.

The highlight in the advice? Turn work into a game. Challenges (and successes) activate the brain chemical dopamine, which both motivates us and reinforces our pleasure at winning.

Having a hard time making a new work habit stick — or getting your team to change a behavior or routine? Make that into a game too. Doing so essentially pits reluctance against dopamine. Plus, dopamine will give your new habit the boost it needs to be successful.

It turns out there’s a brain chemistry explanation for other good leadership habits, too. Clear communication and warm laughter have their chemical payoffs (serotonin and oxytocin, if you’d like to know) and Berger’s explanation and examples help you both understand the connection and how to trigger more of them when you’re on the job.

(Her story of the kidnapping of her project’s mascot — and the resulting productivity bump for her team — is reason enough to dip into the article.)

Hacking happiness — one brain chemical at a time — might be just the way to blur the line between employment and enjoyment. Whether you’re leading a team or just working with one, this is helpful advice.

Stress Will Keep Us Together (No, Really!)

The case studies are clear: a team that stresses together, stays together.

At least that was the conclusion drawn from studying the NFL and the Navy SEALS, says bestselling author and business happiness coach Shawn Achor. His research on these organizations were profiled in an HBO documentary last fall — and the key takeaways featured in his article for Harvard Business Review The Right Kind of Stress Can Bond Your Team Together.”

Skeptical? Achor, a longtime happiness researcher, isn’t backing off. “I firmly believe that one of the greatest keys to getting employees to fall in love with their companies is actually stress,” he says.

There’s a catch, of course. And it’s based on having the right perspective. The trick is to not see team stress as an opportunity to weed out the weak — or as something to try to avoid. Instead, it’s to see a time of stress as an opportunity to work together to overcome challenges. And people who go through the challenges together form a very strong bond.

Good leadership, says Achor, is helping your team adopt the right perspective towards these challenges. “Managers need to talk about the challenges teams are going through on a daily basis, intentionally highlighting that the obstacles in our path are a challenge, and not a threat to happiness.”

Eager for details? Achor unpacks them in all in the rest of the article, including highlighting both the military and Habitat for Humanity as mini-case studies of the importance of framing challenges productively.

Teams in high-paced environments, take note. And for any team craving better cohesion and connection, this is an excellent article to clip for your reading list.

Happiness At Work is a Four-Letter Word

The Swedes really have the work thing figured out. Swedish workers enjoy six-hour workdays and mandatory (yes, mandatory) coffee breaks. No wonder they’re the least stressed workforce worldwide.

But dig deeper into those coffee breaks and you’ll find an important component. Those aren’t stolen minutes to run to the barista and back. Coffee breaks — which the Swedes call fika — are more than just liquid consumption. They are an entire culture of relaxing and connecting with colleagues.

Reporter Anne Quito has the details in This Four-Letter Word Is the Swedish Key to Happiness at Work for Quartz. The practice of fika, she explains, is “not a strategy for multi-tasking, or for fitting in another mini-meeting.” Rather, it’s a time to slow down, leave work behind for a few minutes, and recharge.

These pauses (there are typically two of them per day) are shown to increase focus and productivity, and — almost certainly — happiness.

Thinking of instituting fika for your team? You’ll be delighted to learn that pastries must be included if you want to follow tradition closely. (See? Even reading about fika can increase your happiness.)

But you’ll also be interested in the studies and links that Quito provides to illustrate that these deliberate pauses have a positive effect on team culture, productivity and stress-levels. There’s plenty of fodder for consideration and discussion. Over a nice cup of coffee? Even better.

17 Fun Team-Building Ideas

Let’s say you’re sold on the idea of taking happiness matters into your own hands. You’ve read the research, you’re sold on the science. You just…need some examples of what’s out there to help get your own creative juices flowing.

We have that. Or rather, HubSpot does. 17 Fun Corporate Outing Ideas and Team-Building Activities Everyone Will Enjoy,” by Lindsay Kolowich, is a goldmine of good ideas.

Some are indoors, or require very little preparation. Others require a river (#4), some sweat equity (#1) or your entire team to be ok with looking a little goofy (#7).

Our favorite idea by far is #3 — Room Escape Games, which we had never even heard of before we read this — and we suddenly find ourselves making plans to do this ASAP. A locked room, a ticking clock, and some really smart teammates..definitely the right recipe for producing the kind of stress that Sean Achor says bond a team together.

Which one is your team’s idea of fun? Browsing the list at your next team meeting is sure to spark some creative brainstorming and — more than likely — some smiles.

But wait, there’s more! Check out our top audiobooks on happiness at work >>