How to make Happiness at Work tangible

Throughout my career, I’ve been ridiculously well looked after by my employers. I’ve worked in beautiful offices with daylight -once even a castle in a forest-, plants, quality office supplies and furniture, art, espresso machines -including an in-house barista-, healthy snacks, massages, and at some offices even free flowing drinks after 4pm.

There was literally nothing that wasn’t taken care of. And it kept us very satisfied employees. Yet, these elements didn’t necessarily result in all my colleagues feeling happy at work. Which I found intriguing. As these are usually the elements companies invest in so heavily, but are they the right elements in order to keep people in, and get the best out of them results wise?

After a few years of diving into the topic, I now know the answer to it is no, not completely. It takes a combination of elements like mentioned above, plus other ingredients for us humans to experience Happiness at Work. And I now also know Happiness is a very valuable element to have insight into if you’re after building healthy, high performing and innovative teams. And if you weren’t convinced already, happiness sure does deliver some bloody awesome results:

The ROI of focussing on Happiness at Work:

44% higher productivity (Hay Group)

33% higher profitability (Gallup)

37% increase in sales (Shawn Achor – Harvard)

3x more innovative (HBR)

51% lower staff turnover (Gallup)

61% lower sick leave (Forbes)

Happiness at Work vs. Job Satisfaction?

First, let’s make Happiness at Work tangible: Instead of me explaining it to you straight away, it’s more fun when I ask you to answer these questions yourself first, before you continue reading. Go on, give yourself a break, take a pause and reflect šŸ™‚

  1. What was your best work experience ever? What ingredients contributed to the success of it?
  2. What elements keep you satisfied at work?

For me, ingredients that contributed to my best work experience ever, are:
freedom to determine the how of my work, trust among my team-members that we have each-others back, able to connect with my colleagues on a personal level, and a focus on results. These elements continue to be the key ingredients to my personal Happiness at Work.

On another level good coffee, an inspirational building and an honest salary keep me satisfied.
But here’s the catch: ingredients for job satisfaction do not contribute to Happiness at Work, however, if they aren’t in place, they do decrease my overall Happiness at Work.

Below a few example ingredients (this is different for everyone, as what makes us happy and keeps us satisfied is highly personal and subjective):

Happiness at Work Job Satisfaction
FreedomGood coffee
Clear goalsOffice fruit
Inspirational leadershipLease car
ResultsHonest salary
FunDiscounted sport options
ConnectionTable tennis in the canteen
TrustNice laptop / phone

We now know the ROI of focussing on Happiness at Work, and what elements contribute to it. Time to take action. But where to start?

Step 1 – Measure your baseline

Start with a baseline measurement. This prevents that you pour dedication, passion and budget into a bottomless hole, without knowing whether it has actual effect or not. A baseline and subsequent measurements are also highly motivating as it allows you to see progress along the way, knowing exactly what interventions have effect.

-> Tool tip: Happiness Lab (not free, but highly recommended).

Step 2 – Analyse the data & decide on actions

What patterns do you see in your baseline and subsequent measurements? Where do you see some quick wins? And what actions/interventions can you come up with that can affect those patterns concerning the overall Happiness of your team most? Read on for a list of intervention examples to get you started.

Step 3 – re-measure after an intervention to know the effects

Re-measure, analyse, decide on effectiveness of each intervention & repeat. It’s a road of experimentation and learning by doing. As there’s no 1-way-approach that fits every team in order to increase their Happiness at Work.

<Intervention examples>

As interventions can be completely different for each team, here’s a list of intervention ideas to get your creative juices flowing. To structure this list, I will use the 4 P’s of Happiness from Happy Office, being: People, Purpose, Progress, Play.


(this is about our deep desire as a human to feel connected to one another)

1. Facilitate the team in having more face to face communication.
For example: daily standups or retrospectives.

2. Facilitate the team in sharing gratitude towards one another.
For example: introduce kudo cards.

3. Facilitate the team to connect to one another on a deeper level than just conversations about work.
For example: organize a fishbowl session (facilitated workshop format) with the team with a few hand picked questions from this list by Psychology Today (or make up your own!), or organize a few WeQ sessions to get deeper conversations going, starting up a much needed stream of good quality feedback towards each other.


(this is about our desire to book results, make progress)

4. Facilitate the team to make their work visual.
For example by: setting up a Kanban board (physically or digitally), tracking everyone’s deliverables and successes on a celebration grid (Management 3.0) with the goal to very regularly stop, reflect and CELEBRATE YOUR TEAM’S SUCCESSES!
By the way, are you sick of cake? See also point 7 for tips on creative cakeless celebrations)

5. Facilitate the team to decrease inter-team, or inter-department dependencies.
For example by: creating multi-disciplinary agile teams.


(this is about our desire to have purpose in our work; how does one’s work contribute to society/the world?)

6. Facilitate the team to define a team’s purpose.
For example by: organizing a work session and following these steps by Hyperisland.


(This is about our desire to have fun, be playful)

7. Be playful about things, bring more smiles to peoples’ faces, gamify
For example by: open up a confetti drawer everytime there’s something to celebrate (yes, I really know a team who does this), gamify behaviour you’d like to see by introducing a ‘Radiator Award’ (every month, everyone in the team can nominate someone that was most helpful and radiated the most positive energy. The winner receives the honor + a free movie ticket for two), bring boring meetings to life by using Liberating Structures.

I would love to hear your experiences and ideas

I hope you’ve found this article inspiring to start taking some action steps yourself, either to get a better understanding of your own personal Happiness at Work, or your team. Either way: if you come across any cool insights and are doing some funky experiments in your team I would love to hear and learn from you!

PS. I am in no way shape or form connected to Happiness Lab, it’s just that I’ve tested and trialed the tool for myself for a while and found it extremely useful.