Three Ways to Promote Happiness (and Success) at Work

In the middle of an Australian winter when the footy team you barrack for isn’t winning, the central heating has packed it in and your favorite barista has gone on a long holiday to more tropical climes, it can be hard to keep the smile on your face. But it’s the topic of happiness at work that I want to delve into today.


Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve got some pretty firm views on happiness and how it’s linked to purpose. And in a similar vein to Mahatma Gandhi, I believe that the happiest people at work are those whose values are congruent with their actions, and the values of the organisation they are working in.

When they are also using their skills and knowledge to contribute to something bigger, say the realization of company goals, or more subtle achievements like a more peaceful community, it’s a recipe for happiness if ever I saw one.

There have been tomes of research published over the decades on the topic of happiness, job satisfaction and productivity. The link between these three oft-quoted factors is not going to be news to you, I’m sure.

But how can organisations provide a work environment in which people can be happy and thrive? Here are my top three suggestions on how to do it:

Encourage purpose and meaning in work

A while back I read an article about the idea of purpose being linked to happiness. In it, Steven W. Cole, a professor of medicine at California’s UCLA, was quoted saying that “purpose is an elastic concept, requiring you only to ‘have a goal greater’ than your immediate gratification”.

It got me thinking. When people feel that their work is contributing to something special, the achievement of a worthwhile outcome, they feel a sense of purpose.  Purpose gives meaning to work, something much more significant than pay, leave, status and other benefits (though those are nice too, don’t get me wrong).

When people come together with the same sense of purpose, it’s as though they’re being magically propelled towards achievement and success.  In fact, people who derive meaning from their work are more than 3 times as likely to stay in their organisations, enjoy 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 1.4 times more engaged.1

In his book Drive, Dan Pink says that purpose is right up there in the top three motivators for people at work: “1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”2

Finding purpose and meaning in jobs in health and allied services, the defence forces and education (to name a few) might not seem like much of a stretch. But if you need inspiration to find meaning in your job, or your team in theirs, take a look at this fresh and entertaining SlideShare on the search for meaning in a B2B marketing job.

Align people to common goals and celebrate success

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or visit the Cognology learning centre from time to time, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of goals, and SMART goals in particular.

Setting goals is possibly the most effective way of aligning people in an organisation. With a clear company purpose both shared and understood throughout the business answering the question ‘why are we in business?’, goals activate the strategy – they provide the necessary ‘how’ to the ‘why’.

Involve people in setting goals, in teams ideally, cascading down waterfall-style from the founders/owners/directors to the people delivering at the coalface, to develop ownership and alignment right through the business. Link personal key performance indicators to give every employee laser-like understanding of how their job makes an impact, of why it matters.

Serving a dual purpose, goals not only help to align people, but they also provide opportunities to celebrate achievements. In fact, in a recent global study BCG found that the #1 factor for employee happiness is having their work appreciated.

Goal achievement is reason for celebration, but capitalise on the moment and make sure that people know their work is appreciated, and acknowledge it genuinely. Happy days.

Promote company values at every stage

In a similar vein to purpose and common goals, shared values can contribute to a sense of belonging and grease the wheels of positive corporate culture.

When people in an organisation have values in common, and in common with the company, there’s a ‘cultural fit’. Adrian Furnham describes it as: ‘where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organisation and those of the person’.3

People in congruent jobs feel more competent. And good cultural fit is also associated with other positive outcomes like increased job satisfaction, more commitment to the job and company and superior job performance.

With all that positivity going on, it would be hard not to be just a little bit happy sometimes!

The start of the employment relationship is the most critical time to check-in on cultural fit.  Values that shape behavior rarely change over time, so recruiting people who share your company’s values – or the most important top two or three – is paramount to a successful new hire.

When recruitment pressure is on, it can be tough to look past a job candidate who ticks all the boxes for skill, experience and willingness… overlook value congruence at your peril.

When many people think of being happy, they might reflect on being with family, taking fabulous holidays, or going out with friends.  But meaningful work also delivers happiness in spades, in a different way.  Not ‘smiles a minute’, but happy through intrinsic satisfaction and the fulfillment that comes from working in pursuit of purpose.

Further reading:



3. ‘The Psychology of Behaviour at Work’, p116.


Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.