It goes without saying that a happy workplace is a more productive and profitable workplace. Happy employees are willing to go the extra mile to succeed, are better team players, and genuinely care about their customers. They connect with customers who are ready to spend more money at a happy company.
Given the advantages of a happy workplace, there’s simply no rational reason to tolerate a company culture that’s toxic (at worst) or mediocre and boring (at best). Such a workplace will slowly decline, lose profitability, suffer the exit of top employees, and eventually get bought for pennies on the dollar.
But the busy CEO may ask, how can I cultivate a happy company in real life? The task seems overwhelming. I don’t know where to start.
This is a good question. Fortunately, we know that transformative results come from good questions.
The answer begins with a plan of action. It’s a road map that’s been proven to take you where you want to go. A step-by-step set of instructions that you can follow, no matter how busy or distracted you may be.
This is your road map. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll see the results you want. You might even look like a hero to your investors and customers!
Ready? Let’s get started!
If I said to you, “To succeed in business, you must get a baslop. That is your goal.”
Your first response would be, “What the heck is a baslop? Please define it.” That makes perfect sense. You can’t possibly set a goal without first knowing what the goal is.
If the goal is to be happy at work, we first need to agree on what that means. Let’s begin with some research. Dictionary.com tells us, “happy” is an adjective. In ordinary usage, it means:
Delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy it’s Friday. Characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.
Over the centuries, people have debated the meaning of true, deep-down happiness. In his book Happiness: A History, Darrin M. McMahon reminds us that for the ancient Greeks, happiness was the result of virtue. If you were not virtuous, you stood little chance of being happy. For the Romans, it sprang from prosperity and divine favor. Therefore, it was difficult to be poor and happy.
Throughout history, happiness has been seen as the most perfect human state, and not necessarily a momentary emotion that could come and go as circumstances changed. In the modern era, we’ve begun to think of happiness as not just an earthly possibility but also as an entitlement, even an obligation. 1
The Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most scholars now agree the words “the pursuit” do not mean to chase after happiness, as if to catch, but to simply be happy. In the Declaration, the pursuit of happiness is not a quest or something you seek, but “an unalienable right.” Everyone has the right to actually be happy, not just try to be happy.
Happiness can mean many things to many people. Psychologist Tchiki Davis, founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute, conducted a survey in which people were asked what factors contributed to their happiness.
They could choose more than one. The eleven factors included: Self-awareness: The ability to attend to and acknowledge thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Self-regulation: The ability to control and manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Gratitude: The tendency to be thankful for people, experiences, and things, and to show appreciation for the kindness of others.
Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
Assertiveness: The ability to be self-assured in advocating for your own needs.
Resilience: The capacity to cope with or recover quickly from difficult events. Positive Thinking: The capacity to have attitudes that focus on the bright side of things.
Social Skills: The ability to interact and communicate with others in effective and successful ways.
Conscientiousness: The tendency to be faithful, loyal, and responsible. Kindness: The virtue of benevolence, compassion, and humanity
Wisdom: Knowledge that can be acquired through study or learning from others. 2
The answers were surprisingly uniform, with all the factors receiving a similar number of votes. The lowest vote-getter, assertiveness, was chosen by about 50 percent of the respondents, while the top vote-getter, positive thinking, was chosen by about 70 percent of the respondents. Clearly, in ordinary circumstances, there are many ways to arrive at happiness, and we share many of those ways in common.
To take one more pass at defining happiness, here are a few quotes from learned people about the subject:
“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin.
“Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.” – Immanuel Kant. “There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” – Freya Stark.
And one of my personal favorites: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.” – Chinese proverb.
We could go on and on, but you get the idea. For our purposes, here’s how I define happiness on the job: “The engagement of purposeful work that serves our personal growth, in a way that positively impacts and serves others.”
You can see it has three main components. You’ll be happy at work if you 1) do something constructive that 2) enriches you and 3) produces something good for other people. If you miss one of the three, you may not be happy.
For example, let’s say you work in a fast-food restaurant. Your job is to flip burgers for eight hours a day. It’s clear you’re 1) doing something constructive and 3) producing something good for other people. But how about personal enrichment? That could go one of several ways:
If you’re nothing more than a human robot and you have no authority and no control over your work, and you have no other employment prospects, you will probably become bored and miserable.
If you see your fast-food job as an entry-level steppingstone to a manager’s role or even higher, or you intend to learn the business and then open your own franchise, then you might be very happy.
If you’re a college kid and it’s a temporary summer job to earn extra cash and gain an interesting life experience, you might be very happy.
Different people can look at the same job in different ways. One burger-flipper might be miserable, while another might be very happy. Here’s the part that should matter to you, the leader: You can look at the same job in different ways. How your employees view their jobs depends a lot upon how you view their jobs. If you want miserable employees, you shall have them. If you want happy employees, you can have them.
You want happy employees.
Listen, Learn, and Collaborate
You’ve decided that your goal as a leader is to create a work culture where your stakeholders are engaged in purposeful work that serves their personal growth, in a way that positively impacts and serves others. You’ve made a very positive decision!
Having figured out where you want to go, the next step is to determine where you are now. A map is useless unless you know your starting point.
For an organization, “where you are now” means determining the relative level of stakeholder happiness.
Yes, it’s a tricky thing to do. It’s not like taking inventory in your warehouse or adding up your quarterly revenues. Those are easily quantifiable. They exist as numbers.
Happiness is qualitative. This makes it a bit more challenging, but no less important than the other metrics. And if you use the RealRatings system, from the qualitative analysis you can generate a set of numbers that you can then compare over time to see if they rise or fall.
The first task is to listen. This is where many CEOs have trouble. They’re accustomed to charting the course and getting stakeholders on board by cajoling and convincing. They tend to be very good at persuasion, but not so good at listening.
Here’s how you do it. As a leader, whether your company is B2B or B2C, you’re probably very good at listening to your customers. In order to stay in business, you have to be! Your customers do not hesitate to tell you what makes them happy. They tell you on social media and they tell you when they call to make a complaint. In some industries, such as autos and home electronics, independent reviewers will write reviews and publish them. You can also use surveys to gauge customer satisfaction. And, of course, they vote with their pocketbooks. Taken together, all of these sources of feedback give you a good idea of the level of happiness of your customers.
Your stakeholders, including your employees, are your customers too. They
choose to work for you and support the company. They “buy” their paychecks with their time and talent. If they’re not happy, they’ll look to buy their paychecks somewhere else.
As you approach the task of listening to your stakeholders—which should be an ongoing activity for as long as you hold your job—the key is to eliminate your preconceptions. You must open your eyes and ears to what you really see and hear, not what you want to see or hear or think you ought to see or hear.
Don’t take it personally. Too many CEOs respond to stakeholder comments as if they were personal insults. They think like King Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King,” who is the reported originator of the phrase “L’etat, c’est moi”—“The state, it is I.” If you feel this way, you need to get over it. With leadership comes responsibility, and one of those responsibilities includes always doing the right thing for your stakeholders, even if it means humbling yourself.
Use a combination of listening sessions and anonymous surveys to determine the current state of employee love and hate. Our RealRating system is designed to identify those sentiments across the entire employee journey. I would recommend using something that identifies current states of satisfaction across archetypes, touch points, and other key determinants. It’s important to realize that if you want great insights, it’s a little bit more work in the beginning to conduct ideation sessions and listening sessions, but you will get better information and ultimately have a much better result.
The second task is to learn. It’s not enough to listen with open ears. You then need to put what you’re hearing into context and identify courses of action.
Let’s say you lead a big hospital. You do a RealRatings survey of your front-line intake staff—the people who greet patients as they arrive for non-emergency treatment. They tell you the number one complaint of patients is the excessive wait time in the waiting room. The patients arrive for their appointment on time, and then have to wait. Especially in the era of covid-19, patients hate sitting in a closed room with other sick people. Some may even get up and leave. If you weren’t interested in learning, you might respond by saying, “We can’t help that. This is a hospital, where we heal people. If our patients can’t wait a few minutes to be seen by our wonderful doctors, then they have a problem.”
If you wanted to learn and improve your service to your patients—who are your customers—and also make your intake staff happier, you might say, “Let’s set up an instant message system whereby we’d send a text message to the patient when it’s time for them to check in. They could wait outside in their car, or even at home if they lived close by.” It’s a simple system already in use by many clinics. As soon as an examination room becomes available, you send a text to the next patient in line. They come in, get processed, and are whisked to the examination room within minutes. Everyone’s happy!
The third task is to collaborate. This simply means that it’s never enough for you, the leader, to announce a happiness program or initiative, tell people what to do, and then sit back and watch the results. Remember, this is a qualitative effort, not quantitative. It involves peoples’ feelings, which directly impact their actions. The energy flow is in all directions—from you out to your employees, from your employees to your customers, from your customers back to the employees, and from one employee to another. The “vibe” of the organization goes round and round, amplifying itself here or diminishing there. What happens in sales may impact R&D, and what happens in human resources may impact finance. As CEO, your job it is to manage this energy flow to produce the highest level of stakeholder happiness possible.
You know the difference between data and information.
Data are unprocessed facts, numbers, and opinions. A data set is considered to be useless in its raw form. A mass of data is like iron ore—there’s potential value there, but before you can produce usable iron or steel you need to put the raw iron ore through various smelting processes to remove the oxygen and other unwanted molecules. Similarly, data must be processed and put into context before it can be used as the basis for a business decision.
For example, let’s say that raw data from year 1 at Company A shows that the average employee tenure was 4.5 years. What does that mean? In isolation, it means nothing. It’s just a data point.
Let’s put it into context. Let’s say the average employee tenure at the top 5 firms in Company A’s industry has consistently been 6 years. And let’s also say that in the previous year, the average employee tenure at Company A was 5 years, and in the year before that it was 5.5 years.
Now we have actionable information. We can conclude that Company A has a retention problem, and it’s getting worse. Three years ago, the industry average was 6 years, and Company A was 5.5 years. Then the Company A tenure duration went down each year, while the industry average stayed the same.
The question is, why are Company A employees jumping ship faster than their peers in other companies? Can this trend be reversed?
The impulsive CEO might say, “Make our employees sign non-disclosure agreements. And offer them a two percent raise. That should take care of the problem!”
Such a response is guaranteed to miss the mark. It might even make the problem worse.
What’s needed is a comprehensive, organization-wide effort to drill down and identify why Company A employees are expressing their unhappiness by quitting sooner than others. It could be the pay structure. It could be the lack of promotion paths. It could be a toxic work environment, or dehumanizing practices. It could be the average age of the customer is getting older, which suggests to employees that the company is in slow decline.
When you have solid information, aggregate and organize your insights into a presentation that you use to collaborate with a greater team to get validation and additional fine-tuning elements. This is an important step because it gives stakeholders the opportunity to agree upon the current state of happiness.
In the first three steps, you 1) made the decision to get serious about your happy workplace, 2) gathered data about the current level of stakeholder
happiness in your organization, and 3) turned that raw data into actionable information. You now know what you need to achieve and you’ve targeted some specific areas that demand improvement. These areas could be directly related to employee happiness or they could focus more on customer happiness, such as the earlier example of the hospital waiting room. In that case, improving patient happiness would also improve the happiness of the intake staff. A secondary effect can be just as good as a primary effect.
Your company comprises people, from a handful in one location to many thousands across the globe. Call them moving parts, if you will. As the leader— of your division or the entire company—your job is to direct the activities of your people to produce value for your customers, your stakeholders, and your investors.
In a small firm, you can take a hands-on approach and lead the effort yourself. But it’s more likely that you’ll need to work through the managers who report to you. They are your ambassadors to your many employees and stakeholders. They represent you.
Either way, it’s up to you to not only specify what you want, but also model what you want.
There is no other way to do it. If you want a happy workplace, you must set the example. Remember, we’re talking about human emotion. You cannot command people to be happy. You can tell them what task to perform, or when to take a lunch break, or where to sit in the office, but you cannot tell them to be happy.
Happiness is contagious. It’s been scientifically proven. A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California of nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of twenty years found that when an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. That is, one person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only his immediate friends, but also their friends and their friends’ friends.3
“Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness,” said Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, to Harvard Medicine. “Rather than asking
how we can get happier, we should be asking how we can increase happiness all around us. When you make positive changes in your own life, those effects ripple out from you and you can find yourself surrounded by the very thing you fostered.” 4
Construct a happiness team that will work as the happiness leaders to build out the formal happiness strategy. Building out the strategy will consist of tools such as happiness hackathons, personification development, journey mapping, happiness baseline and improvement measurements, and other standard aspects of a strategic initiative.
You should also have a project manager on your team who manages the collection and organization of the disparate components in a way that manages time and optimizes results. When you do this, you’ll be in good company. Top firms including Google, Salesforce, Airbnb, Zappos, Charity Water, and Chefs Club have created positions specifically dedicated to maintaining and improving employees’ experience and company culture. These executives have various titles including chief happiness officer (CHO), head of employee experience, or vice president of global employee success. Their job is to manage the strategy and processes related to boosting and maintaining the overall level of employee happiness and the resulting rise in productivity and customer satisfaction. They influence any and all people- centered activities including hiring, training, performance management, professional development, and recognition while ensuring the company’s growth and bottom line show positive results.
Your CHO must have robust institutional support. Because the CHO needs to work across departmental lines, and therefore must invade the “turf” of other managers, three minimums are required.
- The CHO must have clearly delineated authority granted to him or her by the CEO. While this authority won’t include the ability to hire and fire outside his or her own department, it must include the ability to summon employees for special training sessions, for example.
- The other managers must be told the CHO has authority in certain areas. This message or memo must come from the CEO.
- The CHO must have a budget. Even if it’s relatively small, the budget must be real and it must be carefully targeted.
The CHO cannot do it alone, just like the CEO can’t do it alone either. It’s up to each and every member of the organization, from the board of directors to individual employees, to make an effort and actively participate in creating a happy workplace.
Launch Your Happiness as a Strategy Initiative
It’s important to launch a happy initiative only after you are absolutely certain that you have an airtight strategy that includes the budget, time, leadership commitment, communication strategy, and all of the other elements that are required to make happiness at work a reality. You should also leverage internal enterprise social networks to create ongoing dialogue across stakeholders and departments. The best organizations use happiness challenges as a way to get great ideas that turn into great innovations and ultimately a happy workforce.
Your Happiness as a Strategy (HaaS) plan needs to be real and written down. It can be as short as a few bullet points or as long as a multi-faceted text with graphics that analyzes happiness and discusses building your happiness brand. It should gain insights across all stakeholders by building a strategic framework and cross functional team architecture, and by creating a communication strategy, survey design, effective project management, budgeting, events, and reporting. Each organization will create their own unique architecture of elements for their strategy. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your initiative has to be complete prior to launching it.
For specific insights into the components of your HaaS plan, let’s go back to the definition of workplace happiness:
“The engagement of purposeful work that serves our personal growth, in a way that positively impacts and serves others.”
You, the employer and leader, can boost happiness in these three areas: 1. Purposeful work. Here, you can ensure that the actual work being done
by your employees is not boring or demeaning. However, a CEO might point out that this is often easier said than done, because work often requires repetitive tasks. Not every job is exciting!
There are two ways to respond to this.
The first is to ensure that each employee knows how his or her job contributes to the success of the group. The easiest way to do this is to thank them for a job well done—not at the end of the year, but at the end of every day.
The second way is to create a system of cross-training, whereby employees are exposed to the work done by others. The benefits of cross-training are well known and significant. It helps ensure that if an essential team member quits or takes a vacation, another worker can cover for them and the business won’t suffer. It creates a more agile workforce that’s better equipped to handle transitions gracefully and recover quickly from disruptions. This means you can deliver seamless service to your customers, even in times of turmoil.
The work itself can be broken up into more appealing chunks. At Adobe Inc., which has been named the happiest workplace in the United States, Gloria Chen, the company’s chief people officer, told CNBC the company responded to the covid-19 pandemic by measuring employee sentiment through surveys, hosting company all-hands meetings and focus groups to better understand the challenges of working through the pandemic, and proposing solutions to maintain employee happiness.
In response to employee feedback, the company introduced flexible work schedules to accommodate caregiving responsibilities, monthly companywide days off, 20 new paid days off each year for employees “directly impacted by significant events like pandemics or natural disasters,” and an increase of its wellness reimbursement to $600 per year. 5
Adobe couldn’t stop the pandemic, but they could respond to it.
- Personal growth. As a leader, you’re probably facing new challenges every day, and perhaps even every hour! You need to be a “jack of all trades,” and the learning curve is steep. The same might be true for employees working in R&D, as they’re constantly trying new ideas.
Therefore, personal growth may not be an issue for you. But you might forget that many of your employees are doing the same thing, day after day. Every business relies on systems, which by definition are repetitive. This might be necessary, but a lack of personal growth can kill happiness very quickly. Your HaaS plan needs to include ways to keep your employees challenged. One of the best is to have a policy of promoting from within, so that employees know they have a shot at moving up the ladder. You can support continuing education programs and pay for employees to take courses. Reward innovative ideas from any and every part of the business, and make sure your employees know the company seeks and values their new ideas.
- Positively impacts others. If you’re a front-line salesperson, it’s easy to see how your product or service impacts the customer. But if your job keeps you buried somewhere deep in the supply chain, it can be difficult to see how moving a pallet of parts from one warehouse to another impacts anyone’s life. This is why every employee must be aware of the overall mission of the organization and see how their effort helps the organization fulfill it.
Create or support a program whereby employees are encouraged to volunteer their time—on the company clock—with a local charitable organization. This means that even if all employees don’t see how their product or service directly impacts their customers, at least they can have the sense that the brand is being a good neighbor and helping to improve the community.
This brings us to the idea that while the everyday job of every employee may not be terribly exciting, if the employees know that the organization in general is dedicated to doing good things, that will boost their level of happiness.
Monitor, Measure, and Fix
Happy cultures are dynamic and fluid, and there is no way to create a successful initiative without eliminating the elements that aren’t working well and reinvesting in those elements that do work. Conduct ongoing real rating surveys, happiness hackathons, and listening sessions to continue to improve upon the bold mission of improving the quality life of your employees.
Go back to Step #2: Listen, Learn, and Collaborate. You should have a system for replicating this step on an ongoing basis. Your RealRatings survey is just one tool in your box. Additional strategies may include:
- Just Ask Them!
Keep it simple and just ask. As the CEO, you come into contact with many subordinates during the day. When you see one, you can say, “How are you today? Is there any particular problem I can help you with?” This is the essence of servant leadership. When subordinates believe their only role is to “get results or get out,” the last thing they’ll do is confide in you that they’ve got a difficult problem. They’ll tough it out until failure crushes them. To avoid this, create a safe environment for team members to give you feedback at any time. Treat your employees like team members and you’re the coach.
- Encourage Initiative and Innovation
If your employees are doing only what they’re told, then you have a stale environment without any creative energy. If they’re spearheading new projects, finding new solutions for problems, and adding new elements to their positions, and then you have a winning company culture. Productivity and well- being build a resilient, engaged, and hard-working workforce and help to attract and retain your top talent.
Innovation hackathons are events in which any employee can participate. In the old days, they called them “brainstorming sessions.” Same thing. You sit around and toss out ideas. The only rule is this: No idea is too far-fetched or crazy. Bring it out! The good ideas will rise to the surface.
- Track Late Arrivals
It may sound simplistic, but keeping an eye on employee tardiness can reveal how employees feel about their work and are coping with their responsibilities. Being late for work can signify many things, but if it’s consistent, then the employee may be struggling with their work-life balance or finding ways to delay coming to work, or have issues with kids getting to school. Finding out the reason can often clear the air and lead to greater employee happiness. The best way to know if an employee is truly happy with you is by checking the consistency of an employee’s attitude, performance, and attendance.
- Assign a New Task
Periodically ask an employee to do something that takes them out of their
comfort zone. (Be sure you provide them sufficient time to do it. Otherwise, the employee will feel as though you’re squeezing them for extra work!) If your request is met with enthusiasm, you have a happy employee who is motivated to grow with your company. If you are met with foot-dragging, then the employee is most likely unhappy and disengaged, or feels anxiety about their position.
- Monitor Glassdoor, Indeed, Fairygodboss, Vault, and Other Employer Review Websites
It’s no fun to read the negative reviews of your company online! And yes, a certain percentage of negative reviews are posted by the classic “disgruntled employee” who hates everything and everyone, and whom you will never please. And while a specific complaint might grab your attention, it’s useful to look at the overall trends. These sites will rank your business against others in your industry, and you’ll see what prospective employees will see when they check out your company profile. They’ll see similar companies doing similar work, and which of the bunch receive the best overall ratings from current and past employees.
Measure the changes in the happiness of your employees. Hopefully, by the metrics you’ve chosen, you’ll see it going up!
Last but certainly not least, it’s incredibly important that you celebrate the innovators who create great ideas that go into implementation. It’s also important to constantly communicate and celebrate the benefits that are being realized in order to maintain the momentum of your happiness initiative. Be sure that while you may shine a spotlight on a particular “employee of the month” or a department’s outstanding performance, everyone in your company knows that it’s a team effort, and one employee’s winning month is a win for everyone.
You might even want to follow in the footsteps of Gary Bertch, who co-founded Bertch Cabinets with his wife in 1977. In 2016, the Waterloo, Iowa company took all 800 of its employees on a weeklong cruise through the Caribbean. Bertch had offered the trip as incentive to employees the previous year.
When they met their goals, he came through with his promise. The luxury Carnival Cruise liner took employees around the Caribbean, including a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.
“We just tried to get all of our people pumped up a little more to achieve the various goals, both customer-oriented goals and financial goals,” Bertch told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.
And if an employee couldn’t go? Bertch offered a cash bonus option for those unable to travel (or in need of the extra money). And everyone got the week off.
“It’s terrific,” he told NBC’s Today show. “Everyone works hard for a common effort and reaps the rewards. I’m just looking forward to seeing all of our associates enjoying themselves.”
That’s the bottom line. If you’re going to ask your employees to spend a significant part of their lives working for your company, then why not make them happy to do so? You’ll receive better work as a result, which will lead to greater long-term success.6
 McMahon. https://www.amazon.com/Happiness-History-Darrin-M- McMahon/dp/0802142893
 Davis, Tchiki. https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/what-is-happiness.html
 BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338
 CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/06/comparably-top-10-companies-with- the-happiest-employees-in-2021.html
 NBC Today. https://www.today.com/kindness/best-boss-ever-bertch-cabinets- takes-staff-800-caribbean-cruise-t106542
About Leader Logic®
NICHOLAS WEBB is one of the top Keynote speakers on cultural transformation and employee happiness, his consulting firm LeaderLogic® is an Advisory and Training firm that serves some of the top brands in the world. We provide customer experience, employee happiness and strategy services across most industries. Our CEO, Nicholas Webb is a number one best-selling author and one of the top keynote speakers www.nickwebb.com in the area of Organizational Growth, Innovation, Customer Experience, and Work Life Happiness. For more information on our consulting services visit www.goleaderlogic.com.