International Happiness at Work Week (25th-29th September) is a good time to think about the environment present in your workplace, and evaluate what can be done to make it more positive. It is so important to create a space where all employees feel comfortable and happy when coming to work, not only because it can make people more productive and motivated, but as it makes work a more enjoyable experience in general.
Here are six ways to create a positive working environment, recommended by experts:
Do not underestimate the importance of culture
For Judith Germain, Principal Consultant at The Maverick Paradox, company culture is the bedrock of every organisation. “When you invest in building the right culture, consistency, wellbeing and alignment improves,” she says. However, with 64% of employees experiencing a toxic working environment, many leaders are continuing to misjudge the importance of their company culture to employee happiness, and the role they play in establishing and maintaining it.
“To establish a positive company culture, the desired culture and the values it espouses need to be clearly defined. Leaders should then seek continuous feedback from their employees in a psychologically safe space, so they can share their honest happiness levels. Leaders should also assess the impact of their personal behaviours to understand areas for personal development,” she advises.
Fundamentally, at the crux of every happy company culture is celebration of diversity. If people don’t feel like they belong, we reduce wellbeing and increase the risk of unhappiness. “Everyone in the workplace has a different perspective. if they come from different schools, have lived in different locations or even different countries, it will mean the culture and experiences that they bring will be different. Ensuring these differences are valued for how they encourage diverse ideas, alongside leaders’ commitment to upholding positive company culture, is key to creating a happy environment,” she says.
Don’t shy away from all conflict
Iris Clermont, author of Team Rhythm: Eleven Ways to Lead Your Team from Overwhelmed to Inspired posits the idea that being able to effectively understand and deal with conflict allows for a happier, more harmonised work environment. “Knowing how to deal with conflict promptly and effectively means that any feelings of unease or general unpleasantness are not exacerbated.”
She employs a unique music-driven angle to explain the importance of achieving the perfect balance of understanding when conflict is becoming problematic. “The dissonant blue note in jazz music is comparable to experiencing conflict in a professional environment. This note, although sometimes jarring, adds an unexpected and exciting aspect to the music, in the same way that conflict can sometimes just be breaking the mould, so long as it is not detrimental to the wellbeing of others.”
Iris adds that “It is essential to see and appreciate each individual contribution, however much it may jar with ‘the way things are done’ because it could be providing new, innovative ideas.”
Although conflict may appear to be at odds with a happy working environment, it cannot always be avoided. In some examples, we can learn how to use it to our advantage to learn about new ways of doing things. Giving employees the space to challenge the norm can increase happiness, so long as this is respectful of others.
Maintain flexibility to recognise individuality
Having a level of flexibility and understanding that things may have to change is important to ensure the happiness of employees. “Employees are the most important aspect of business. They are the people that drive the team, work hard, and help to grow and build upon the original business idea. Being flexible with your strategy shows employees you care about them and understand what makes them comfortable and happy at work. Everyone is going to need something different to succeed and it is your job to be flexible.” Says David García González, founder of GoLocalise and author of Chancing Your Arm: How I Made It Big in Britain.
In a professional environment, there is perhaps a tendency for things to be too structured, but this only reinforces a top-down style of management, not allowing for the maximal amount of trust and happiness between colleagues. Being flexible in the way that things are run allows colleagues to feel more comfortable contributing new ideas and asking for the adjustments they might need along the way, therefore creating a happy environment.
Align everyone’s aspirations
Having an ultimate or north star goal is a great way to breed a happy environment at work. When all employees are on board with and are also passionate about the direction of the company, this automatically makes everyone happy; they have motivation and reason for what they are doing. Asad Husain, author of Careers Unleashed: Unlock your potential for extraordinary career success says that “In today’s rapidly changing world—shaped not only by the pandemic but also by social shifts, economic turbulence, and AI & technology leaps—happiness at work has taken on new dimensions. Increasingly, we are more inward focused on what is important to us, and how our work fits in that. As a result we now expect more: empathy, flexibility, resilience, meaningful work and the recognition that we are ‘whole humans.’
“Achieving happiness at work means aligning personal aspirations (purpose, passion and values) with our work and the company’s mission. This is a shared journey involving both individuals and organisations. Happiness at work today is an evolving path where personal reflection meets company vision, leading to greater fulfilment.” says Asad.
Hiring people who relate to and are also passionate about the same north star not only allows for a happier environment at work where everyone shares the same passion, but also a more productive system.
Look at your team holistically
For Dr Lisa Turner, emotional resilience and conscious awareness expert, and founder of CET Freedom, leadership performance was previously results-driven, focusing solely on productivity, outcomes and statistics. However, she notes there has been a call for change, with a stronger emphasis on building healthy workplace cultures that promote wellbeing and collaboration.
To create a happy workplace, Lisa encourages leaders to go even further and take a full-circle approach to leading their teams, that includes a focus on spiritual wellbeing. “It is about holistic evolution – integrating mind, body, and spirit – that truly makes for a happy employee. We cannot ignore a part of them when they bring their whole selves to work” says Lisa.
For leaders to be able to do this, Lisa argues they need to lean into transcendent leadership. “The transcendent leader builds upon their self awareness and places their focus to those around them, to support the needs of their employees, the organisation and of society,” she says.
Find a good support network
Emma Maslen, author of The Personal Board of You Inc and angel investor, emphasises the importance of curating a personal board to guide business leaders. When there is an effective support network in place for managers and employees, this allows for happiness in the workplace at every level of an organisation. “Having readily available advice from trusted people in your network takes away pressure from one person, as they are not the only one being relied upon in the decision making process.” says Emma Maslen.
“A Personal Board can provide advice, feedback, challenge assumptions, broaden professional networks and generally expand thinking and perspective.” explains Emma. When there is less pressure on the members at the top of the team this hopefully encourages a happier environment that reflects down to all levels of an organisation. Employees can see that something is well structured, with the right support networks in place, hopefully boosting morale, and therefore happiness.