Happiness and Work – Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“We’ve got to get away from happiness being thought to be a fluffy concept, or slightly frivolous, or a curiosity, to taking it seriously. This is what people want for their lives.”- Richard Layard

            It’s no secret that there’s a post-pandemic mental health crisis affecting many of us. COVID-19 may be subsiding, but its impact endures. We now live in a period of a national mental fog, and the influence on work infiltrates workers’ mental health, happiness and well-being whether on site, hybrid or totally remote.

            Research has shown that productivity rises as workers’ happiness increases. In fact, study after study demonstrates that employees’ happiness grows the company’s bottom line. One study found that as employee happiness and engagement improved, so did customer satisfaction. And the 100 best places to work in the United States showed an increase in share value of 50% over time. Talent stayed in place longer, and burnout and turnover decreased.

            What’s the key to a happy workforce? According to Forbes, motivation is the secret sauce in creating employee happiness. What motivates people is a sense of value, meaning, and consideration for their input and opinions. Leadership that is not open to people’s ideas or publicly demeans them destroys a team’s happiness, satisfaction, and motivation, as well as damages people’s well-being. In fact, 57% of people who quit their jobs say it’s because of their boss. The same research showed that 94% of employees who reported high morale described their bosses as good at recognizing employee achievement.

            How can leaders raise morale and increase happiness when people see their work as “soul-sucking”? Forbes makes several valid points:

  1. Encourage learning and development, providing a career path forward.
  2. Communicate the company’s mission, vision, values, and goals to everyone. When employees know what the company stands for, they are more likely to develop loyalty and identify with the brand.
  3. Initiate employee recognition. It doesn’t have to be perks or dollars. Saying “hello” and “thank you” often make a difference in how people feel about their leaders and their company.
  4. Address people’s human needs. Ensure leaders develop a culture of diversity and inclusion. The pandemic taught us that leaders need to be flexible to get the most out of their workforce.

By imbuing a sense of belonging, social connection, and purpose or meaning leaders can engender happiness at work. These values bring happiness to everyone outside of the workplace, according to science, so of course they will do the same in the workplace.  The quality of personal and work relationships, and the safety people feel in their environment add up to the “happiness quotient”.

Also, a surprising number of employees reported that the time they least enjoy at work is the time they spend with their boss. With that in mind, it’s time for bosses to get smart on how to make people happier. Shed those old concepts of ruling by fear and causing anxiety. Try being inspirational, and motivating. You may find that people will vote with their feet. And in today’s marketplace, employees are more valuable than ever.

Our identity is quite often based on work: when we introduce ourselves, when we talk to people, what we’re interested in, is work. Think of how much of a person’s identity is based on something that can be taken away from them!” – Annastiina Hintsa


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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.

Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.

Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.