Nap pods. Stairs replaced with slides. A full-size Ferris wheel. No, I am not talking about an adult arcade hall. These are all real ways companies try to keep people happy. I even know someone whose company installed a ball pit. He said it was fun for a moment. But it ultimately became an office joke (and a great way to hide colleagues’ pens).
Yes, everyone deserves to be happy at work. But these companies are trying so hard and getting it all wrong.
Enter the Chief Happiness Officer. These people analyze feelings and hold sessions about their findings. They develop get-happy policies and send out surveys. And some redesign the workspace to include “happy perks” like ball pits and craft beer.
But does that focus on happiness make anyone happier? One study suggests the answer is no. It found that the more we zero-in on happiness — by doing things like hiring a Chief Happiness Officer — the more likely we are to feel disappointed.
No single person holds the key to our happiness — no matter what their title is or how many perks they bring into the office.
Real happiness — meaningful happiness — is steeped in a company’s purpose and values. It does not vanish when the ping-pong table breaks or the beer tap runs dry. It is sustainable. And it happens when people are able to work hard and enjoy each other’s company.
So, if a Chief Happiness Officer cannot do that, what can? It does not happen overnight. To be sustainable you have to build that happy foundation over time, smile by smile. And you can be a part of it, no matter what your job title may be.
Here are the five key building blocks that lead to happiness at work:
We all want to feel that our work matters. Sure, not every day will be a thrilling challenge. But that is why it is important that leaders create transparency — sharing the connection between the strategy and the work. People need to understand how work fits into the bigger picture. Having that clarity gives you a sense of purpose. So even your most mundane days will feel like a meaningful part of achieving the greater plan.
We all need to have the skills to succeed in our jobs — that is a given. But happiness comes from mastering those skills. That means honing what you know and continually learning. It also means doing what you can to teach others. Do you have domain expertise to share? A new certification? If it would be beneficial to your teammates, take action. It does not have to be a formal thing. But a team that keeps learning is more likely to be a happy one.
We all want to keep growing. No one is happy with being stagnant. That means being challenged to do your best. And a company that acknowledges effort and offers opportunities for advancement. If that is not your situation, you might need to seek out your own challenges. Maybe that means volunteering for a new project, reaching out to a mentor, or becoming one yourself.
We all deserve to feel valued and trusted. It is fundamental to delivering great work and being happy doing it. Respect is not just for some. Leaders especially cannot demand it from the team and then not give it back. Every day — in every action you take — you will add to (or deplete) your team’s supply of respect. Respect is also not about being polite. You add to it by making an effort to always listen, respond quickly, ask thoughtful questions, give honest feedback, and share your gratitude.
We all want to feel passionate about what we do. Passion is fuel for happy work — giving us joy when we have a win and getting us through disappointments. However, I know this is the ideal and not always the reality. Maybe you do not feel passionate about your job some days (or ever). Do not be discouraged. This does not mean happiness is beyond reach. But it might mean that you need to focus more on the other building blocks above. Or, if given the opportunity, pursue more fulfilling work.
Happy hours, dart-throwing competitions, and goofy gimmicks are just that — gimmicks. And the happiness you get from them will be fleeting.
What is not fleeting is a workplace where people are encouraged and supported. That is the foundation for sustainable happiness. And we can all contribute to building sustainable happiness at work. There is no formal title required.
So, be a part of adding to that foundation. It is not easy and you will be challenged on the way. But do your best to create joy and top it off with a sense of humor and kindness, too. You just might find that you are happier for it.
What “happiness perks” have you seen fail?