Select Page

Are you happy at work?

by Jan 7, 2019Emotional Intelligence, Leadership

What makes you happy at work?

Many people answer that the work itself should be meaningful and satisfying, and the work culture should include collaborative colleagues and inspiring leaders.  So, if your work creates value and your contribution is valued, then you are happy, right? Certainly having a great place to work, where you get to use your strengths, you have the right amount of challenge, you get regular feedback and you can learn and grow is half the answer. But would it really make you happy if you got that promotion or the pay rise you seek? A different boss or more appreciative colleagues? What about the other side of the coin, all the stuff that is in your own hands? How do you react to events and how do you see the people around you?

Most folk are about as happy as they make up their minds to be 

Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests in  a startling 40 percent of our capacity for happiness in life is within our power to change. And I am sure the same is true in our working lives; in fact, our happiness at work is probably even more strongly connected with how we choose to experience what happens to us and how we choose to relate to the people around us.

As the Nordic Leadership network is currently blogging on leading with emotional intelligence, leading up to our next Future-Proofing Your Leadership event on March 28th, and to wish everyone a Happy 2019, here are some happiness habits that feature regularly in my experience of coaching global leaders:

1. Practise self-compassion – and put it in writing

Have mercy on yourself! People routinely assess themselves more harshly in 360 evaluations than their colleagues. Stop beating up on yourself about all the things that you haven’t got done or bemoaning what you can’t do – and be happy about what you have achieved and what is working well. Some habits that coachees have highlighted:

Keep a gratitude log. Try writing down at the end of each day two or three things that you are happy or thankful about. They can be big things, such as being healthy, or getting good client feedback or small things such as great coffee or the sunshine on the way to work. 

Keep an achievement log. At the end of each week, write down half-a-dozen things that you have accomplished this week. Again, they can include big things such as winning a new client contract and little things such as asking a colleague how they are feeling today.

Small mercies, small victories – they all add up. And when they are regularly enumerated in writing, they can have a significant impact on personal well-being.

2. Appreciate your colleagues – and say it out loud

Have an AI day! That’s not artificial intelligence, but appreciative inquiry. Anyone who has been coached by me will know that I am a huge fan of appreciative inquiry which davidcooperrider describes as a “positive, strengths-based approach to change.” AI finds what is good and working well, and how we can get more of the positive things at work. As a leader this can translate for example into knowing your team members; knowing their strengths, their drivers and enabling them to be at their best. As habits coachees have mentioned simple things such as:

Start meetings on a high note. For example, by asking the question “What has been your / our biggest success over the last week?” Rather than jumping straight into the problems that need fixing, by highlighting the areas where our project in on track first, we come to deal with the areas where we are off track in a better mental state.

Make feedback a conversation. Rather than “giving” feedback (dumping on it someone’s head comes to mind) how about turning it into a dialogue? When we ask questions about how the team sees the situation and we begin by listening, it lowers the barrier for you to be listened to. In any case, having a regular feedback discussion is a great way to show your really value the contributions, and opinions of the team members, and increases the chance to grow as a team.

 3. Actively Manage your energies – physical, mental and emotional

 One way to get more happiness at work is to practice “energy management”: actively managing your physical, mental and emotional energy levels by regularly checking where you are putting your time and attention. Make it a habit to ask


  • What makes you feel alive?
  • What energizes you?
  • Where do you put your energies at the moment?
  • Where do you gain / lose energy?
  • When do you feel positive?
  • How do you energise people around you?

Happiness at work increases productivity: Happiness can be developed as a habit, or more accurately as a collection of habits. It’s not about “being” happy, but more about what you do. Sometimes things that bring us happiness do not make us happy in the moment, such as giving developmental feedback to a colleague; you might not enjoy going over what went wrong after a client meeting for example, but surely you are doing the right thing and with the best intentions for your colleague, which in the long run will contribute to both party’s happiness.

What habits do you cultivate that make you happy at work? In coaching sessions, a lot of people say they are looking for how to be more productive or efficient at work and that will make them happier. I think it comes the other way round: if you are happy at work you will naturally do well at your job. So look at what is in your own hands, what you can influence and what are the ways you can lead with emotional intelligence. Happiness comes from regularly experiencing positive feelings and emotions such as joy, success, hope and tranquillity. We all have a part to play in this I think. Please let me know in the comments your thoughts about happiness at work.