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How to build a happy workplace

How to build a happy workplace

“Doing what you like is freedom.

Liking what you do is happiness.”

  • Somebody or Other

Truisms like that are all well and good, and sometimes they can help turn someone’s day around. But putting HappyThink quotes on the wall isn’t enough when it comes to nurturing a sustainably happy workplace. If the underlying culture isn’t there, people will end up looking at quotes like the one above and thinking ironic thoughts rather than positive ones. Neither is it enough to install a crazy golf course, scatter bean bags everywhere, shower everyone with fruit and doughnuts and hire a masseur. Actual happiness comes from teamwork and belonging, which foster healthy self-esteem and empathy, which in turn leads to more teamwork and belonging.

There are various ways to activate this positive reinforcement mechanism, even without a bean bag in sight. According to the authors of edX course The Foundations of Happiness at Work, the cornerstones of contentment in the workplace are gratitude, purpose and cooperation.

This course comes from the same pair of UC Berkeley academics who brought us the 2014 smash hit The Science of Happiness, a MOOC that 300,000 students signed up for and has led to various spinoff projects, including this course. Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner, both Ph.Ds from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, apply their wellbeing science knowledge to the world of work.

It says a lot about the central role that work plays in our lives that the same things make us happy at work as in general life. The science that this course draws upon tells us that the keys to happiness in general are “having strong social ties and a sense of self-worth springing from willingness to contribute to the greater good.” Which sounds very much like gratitude, purpose and cooperation, the qualities required for workplace happiness.

The course suggests practical steps to evaluate happiness in an organization, create a strategy to increase workplace happiness, and ways to implement that strategy as an individual into one’s own work life.

The course is on edX and begins on September 4, 2018.