Can We Truly Find Happiness At Work?

Happiness At Work Starts With You

The pursuit of happiness in all the spheres of our lives appears a strong desire, regardless of culture language, gender or age. We are drawn to this eternal search like a moth to a flame.  It may seem necessary to ongoing survival yet this search also begs these questions – Can we truly find happiness? Is happiness an end unto itself or a by-product of our experience?

Alex Kjerfulf says, “No one should put up with being unhappy at work”. I agree.

No one should have to put up with being unhappy anywhere. But what do we do about it? Can we truly find happiness at the place we spend the most amount of time, the place where we give the best part of our day and ourselves – the workplace?


I put these questions to Alex because he’s regarded as a leading expert on happiness at work. He presents and speaks, on happiness at work, at businesses and conferences around the world, including blue chips like Hilton, Microsoft and IBM. This is what he had to say.

What does it mean to be happy at work?

Alex : We define ‘happy’ as the emotional state that you experience due to your work.

Of course, no job is perfect and causes only positive emotions, but research indicates that in order to thrive, we need more positive emotions than negative ones.

Does your job cause you to mostly experience positive feelings like pride, curiosity, amusement, gratitude and acceptance? Or do you spend most of your time at work experiencing negative emotions like frustration, fear, anger, hopelessness and sadness?

Of course, no job is perfect and causes only positive emotions, but research indicates that in

order to thrive, we need more positive emotions than negative ones. This is a new perspective because workplaces and leaders are not used to dealing with emotions – how people feel at work. But this is something we need to learn.

Happiness at work, starts with yourself.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are happy at work – the employee or the company?

Alex : Whose job is it to make you happy at work? Your manager’s? The company’s? Yours?  The answer is “all of the above.”

Happiness at work, starts with yourself. Happiness at work is a feeling, an emotion. It’s something totally inside of you. Only you can truly know whether you’re happy at work or how happy. Only you know if things are fine, or if something needs to change.

Making yourself happy at work can entail some tough choices. It may mean quitting and finding a new job. It may mean taking on an unpleasant conflict, because not taking that conflict would be even worse. It may mean battling existing corporate culture and values. No one but you can make the decision whether or not to do these things. The choice is yours, the responsibility is yours.

For those reasons, the responsibility for your happiness at work starts with you.

A manager’s responsibility is this: To create an environment at work in which it’s easy to be happy. Whether or not employees take this opportunity is up to them, and you simply can’t force people to be happy. Obviously, some managers fail completely at this, and instead, manage to create atmospheres of mistrust, apathy, desperation and/or cutthroat competition. These managers are failing their responsibility to happiness at work.

Top management’s responsibility is to enable managers to create that atmosphere where it’s easy to be happy at work. Also, the company has a responsibility to prioritise, value and reward happiness at work. It’s no use for a company to say “we want people to be happy at work”, and then turn around and reward things like overwork, ruthlessness and a traditional authoritarian management style.

While being happy is a good thing, why is there a focus on being happy at work? What do you know about this that makes this relevant and necessary?

Alex : It turns out that happiness at work is good for employees AND for workplaces. No one should put up with being unhappy at work – for five reasons.

  1. Time. We spend more of our waking hours at work than on anything else. We spend more time at work than with our friends, families and children combined. If you’re unhappy at work, you’ll spend a large part of your life being miserable.
  1. Health. Hating your job can make you sick. Worst case, it can kill you. Studies show that people who hate their jobs run a much higher risk of contracting serious diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
  1. Happiness in life! It turns out that hating your job spills over into the rest of your life and makes you miserable there too.
  1. It turns out that being happy also makes you a better person. Happy people are more generous, more helpful, less biased and more open and trusting towards others. A UN report also concluded that “happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. Well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.”
  1. Success! Most people think that you get a job, work really hard, become successful and that makes you happy. But in reality, it’s the other way around. Studies show that happy people are more productive, creative and resilient and end up being more successful at work and in life. So, no, success won’t make you happy but happiness will make you successful.

For companies, happiness is crucial for one simple reason: Happy companies make more money.

Happy employees are not simply in a better mood, they also do a much better job. Studies from psychology and neurology have shown that people who experience positive emotions experience a number of benefits at work, including :

  • they are more productive and work faster and more efficiently;
  • they get sick less often and have much lower absenteeism rates;
  • they are more creative and have more and better ideas;
  • they give much better service and make customers happy;
  • they stay at the company longer, saving huge efforts in recruiting new people;
  • they sell more when in sales roles;
  • they are more motivated and energetic;
  • they are more resilient in the face of setbacks;
  • they work better together in teams; and
  • they are more optimistic and engaged.

And indeed, studies show that happy companies:

  • make more money;
  • have happier and more loyal customers;
  • have higher quality and less waste;
  • have better safety records;
  • have better sales; and
  • have higher stock prices.

What do you say to someone who believes that finding happiness at work is a pipe dream?

Alex :  I say look at all the people who love their jobs – and see how much more productive, energetic and happier they are.

For organisations, what are the prerequsites to making the workplace a happy one?

Alex :  There are two main factors that make us happy at work:

  1. results; and
  2. relationships.

Let’s take a closer look at these two.

First, results

We all want to get results. We all want to make a difference, know that our work is important, get appreciation and do work that we can be proud of. One of our deepest psychological needs, is the need to control our environment. If we’re placed in a situation where we have no control, where nothing we do matters, we feel terrible.

On the other hand, we love to make a difference. Accomplishment feels great. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it: “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”

So this is the secret to happiness at work: results and relationships – doing great work together with great people.

Some managers don’t realise this about their people. They think employees must be pressured into performing. That when we’re left alone, we choose to do nothing. In fact, the reverse is true and when given half a chance, we will work our hearts out to accomplish great results. Especially meaningful results.

Secondly, there’s relationships at work

We all need to feel valued as human beings and have a good relationship with co-workers and managers or even with customers, suppliers, shareholders and the company’s wider community. Relationships at work matter so much because we will be spending a lot of time with people at work. When you think about it, you’ll be spending more of your waking hours with them, than with your friends and family.

So this is the secret to happiness at work: results and relationships – doing great work together with great people. This is what we must give our employees every single day.

We do that in many small ways. By treating employees with respect and dignity. By praising and recognising people who do good work. By simple acts like saying “good morning” to employees and “thank you” whenever possible. We also do it by eliminating factors that cause unhappiness at work, like bullying, stress or permanent overwork.

For employees, what can they do to find happiness at work?

Alex :  Interestingly, that also comes back to focusing on results and relationships. Each of us can do many small things every day to create better results and relationships for ourselves and others.

What are your tips to finding happiness at work when  …

… you have a nightmare boss?

Alex :  That’s a big topic. I wrote a whole article on this here.

… you work closely with a chronic grumbler?

Alex :  Here’s an article on this.

… you are part of a project team whose members cannot get along and are frequently fighting?

Alex :  You’ll have to re-establish good relationships. If things have gotten that bad, that will probably involving external help like a mediator or organisational psychologist.

… your company is closed off and does not share information?

Alex :  Quit? 🙂 Check this out for inspiration.

In the end, happiness matters. Striving for happiness, in the workplace, is an effort worth the time, with plenty of gain for all. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s within our reach and control.

So, how will you find happiness at work today?

Further resources

  • Check out Alex’s book, Happy Hour is 9 to 5;
  • Watch a great video by Alex on ‘sarbejdsglaede’;
  • Sign up for Alex’s weekly email (every Monday) with simple tips to become happier at work.

Interesting Note

In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Alexander KjerulfAlex Kjerfulf is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo Inc and a leading expert on happiness at work. Armed with a masters degree in computer science from the University of Southern Denmark, Alex’s work has been featured on CNN, New York Times, BBC, Financial Times and many more. Author and speaker, his clients include Lego, Ikea, Shell and HP.'

Author: Rowena Morais

​The HR Gazette’s media partner, Vertical Distinct, provides the resources you need to develop your professional abilities and career to the fullest in either HR or Technology including articles and podcasts, white papers, and the latest surveys and reports.

Rowena Morais is the Editor of An entrepreneur and blogger, she has a passion for HR and Technology. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter. ]

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