Avoiding the Pitfalls of Chasing Employee Happiness

building lasting employee happiness

Employee happiness expert Alexander Kjerulf speaking at Hub SoMa in San Francisco in 2011. (Photo via Blue Oxen Associates, Flickr)

Employee happiness is trending now as HR topic of discussion, and for good reason.

We know happiness is desirable in the workplace because happy employees are demonstrably better employees by just about every measure.

Yet we’ve also learned that pursuing workplace happiness as a goal to itself leads us in circles because happiness a side effect, not a cure.

At the same time, some HR leaders are now criticizing the newfound focus on employee happiness as a substance-less fad, an obsession that verges on “happiness bullying” and an unreasonable and exhausting demand on staff.

William Davies examines the problems with some employee happiness programs in his new book, “The Happiness Industry.”

“There are some rather disturbing examples of how positive thinking is being used to try and increase motivation and enthusiasm in areas such as sales and marketing, where people are required to chant certain slogans and take part in enforced dance routines,” he writes.

With so many mixed messages out there, it can be confusing for HR teams to decide how to tackle employee happiness — is it a worthwhile objective with measurable impact, or a waste of time that alienates employees?

It all depends on how you approach it!

Authentic employee happiness grows from a workplace commitment to employee satisfaction, recognition and support.

According to the latest Gallup data, American employee engagement still hovers dismally around 30 percent. Workplaces simply can’t afford to ignore the benefits of building employee happiness, yet it’s important to avoid the trap of happiness fads. Read on to learn how to avoid the pitfalls in building authentic, lasting employee happiness.

Why Mandatory Fun Doesn’t Work

The paradox of happiness is that the more value we place on it, the more elusive it can be.

“When we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm and excitement, and unfortunately by nature these emotions tend to be fleeting,” according to the HuffPost Business blog “The Dark Side to Workplace Happiness.”

Authentic, lasting happiness comes naturally when we broaden our understanding of happiness “so it is much more than just being in a good mood at any given moment,” Dr. Peggy Kern tells HuffPost Business.

Employee happiness that is a bedrock and not a fleeting emotion grows when companies support:

  • Overall well-being
  • Good relationships
  • A sense of purpose and accomplishment
  • Employee recognition

That’s why “mandatory fun” initiatives like team chants and enforced dance routines are ineffective builders of employee happiness, as author William Davies points out in his book “The Happiness Industry.” Such tactics put the cart before the horse — and companies absolutely can’t force happiness.

The Employee Happiness Tool Belt

“Nearly all of us can be happier,” executive coach Helen Mumford Sole says. “It’s just a set of habituated behaviors really. So if we learn those behaviors, then we can be happier on just about every level.”

Sole teaches employee happiness workshops, as detailed in the Fast Company case study, “How One Company Taught Its Employees to Be Happier.”

The secret to employee happiness begins with gratitude, according to Sole. Her workshop stresses the importance of daily gratitude, and she encourages her students to start gratitude journals and to meditate. In this way, she treats happiness as a learnable skill rather than a state of being. With the right tools and support, happiness grows.

One employee who took Sole’s workshop reported that she felt “more connected to the world around me” after participating. She also had newfound tools to stay calm and focused: “I know what I can do to calm myself down if I’m getting stressed about something.”

Why Recognition Makes Us Happier

Recognition is “an old trick in the book of employee motivation,” writes Inc. contributor Chad Halvorson in the article “7 Great Ways to Boost Employee Happiness This Quarter.”

Still, “most companies still do it wrong. According to a report published by McKinsey, only 42 percent of employees are actually satisfied by how their respective companies reward and recognize them.”

Celebrating employees with regular, personal recognition helps them feel valued and gives their work meaning. When employees receive consistent positive and helpful feedback, they’re more confident, more productive, more motivated — and yes, happier.

By pursuing the building blocks of employee happiness, like gratitude, you’re avoiding the pitfalls that many companies unwittingly make when they chase happiness by itself.

Practical Tips for Building Lasting Employee Happiness

Want more practical tips to build lasting employee happiness and an every-day culture of appreciation?

Download gThankYou’s FREE Day-to-Day Celebration Calendar for expert tips on how to share daily recognition and organize regular celebrations throughout the year.

This one-of-a-kind eBook will help you to build an everyday culture of appreciation with month-by-month guides, case studies, research highlights, how-to recognition advice and celebration ideas for specific holidays and anytime.

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