It’s safe to say that happiness is on everyone’s most wanted list. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment” and “a pleasurable or satisfying experience.”1 What creates that state or experience will vary from person to person, but we can all agree that there’s nothing better than having a big smile on your face and meaning it.

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Research shows that being happy doesn’t just make you feel good, however.  You’re more likely to be healthier as well.  Studies have demonstrated that happier people are less stressed,2,3,4 sleep better,5 have stronger immune systems,6,7 experience less pain and inflammation,8,9,10 have healthier hearts,11,12,13 and live longer.14,15  When it comes to health and happiness, either can be the cause or the effect.  Some believe that happiness itself leads to these positive results; however, it may be more likely due to the fact that happier people tend to have healthier lifestyles.16,17,18  They eat healthier diets and engage in physical activity and, as a result, reap the rewards.

So, we know happiness is good and we definitely want more of it, but can we find happiness in the workplace?  While many people enjoy what they do, most consider work to be a responsibility.  It’s something we have to do to support ourselves.  The rest of our life is about family, friends and the activities we enjoy.  That’s where we find our meaning and happiness.

But there is a business case for caring about employee happiness.  Happy employees are often better employees.  They are more productive, creative, and innovative.  On the other hand, if you find yourself with a lot of unhappy employees, you’re going to experience more absenteeism and turnover.19

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So how can you help employees find more happiness?

While there is no secret formula to eliminate every bad day or transform the perpetually grumpy employee into a beaming ray of sunshine, there are steps we can take to encourage happiness among employees.  The goal for management is to identify and implement ways to elevate the level of happiness within its organization.  How you choose to invest in workplace happiness will depend on what is best suited for your team, but there are three principles that you should incorporate into your approach.

1. Foster cooperative and collaborative workplace relationships

Happiness, friendship, and community go hand in hand, and cultivating meaningful relationships among employees is an important driver of happiness.  As humans, we have a natural desire to interact and connect with others.  In her book, How to Be Happy at Work, Annie McKee notes that positive relationships and connection to others are a basic human need that must be met on the job in order to find happiness.20  The opportunity to foster these positive relationships exists in every program and process we implement.  It should be within the very culture of your organization.  Some specific steps to take include:

  • Encourage communication and teamwork through both work responsibilities and day-to-day interactions.  Promote project collaboration, create common areas for brainstorming and breaks, host potlucks, and organization teambuilding activities. Do anything that gets people together.
  • Ensure management is making time to connect and communicate with employees.  This not only provides valuable insight on what employees are thinking and feeling, it also models behaviour the company wants to nurture.
  • Encourage employees to socialize outside of work through shared interests like running groups, sports leagues or gatherings that include their families.  Not everyone will participate, but at the very least it demonstrates that the company sees value in creating relationships with co-workers.
  • Demonstrate kindness and gratitude by recognizing employee achievements (both professional and personal) and encourage employees to do the same.  This can be done through thank you cards or messages, gratitude boards, or personal gratitude journals.
  • Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.  Provide resources and support to ensure managers and employees know how to constructively manage these situations.

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2. Implement strategies for increasing resilience and handling stress effectively

The ability to manage, adapt to, and productively learn from challenges, disappointments, and failures is critical to happiness.  Use your wellness program to provide tools and resources that help employees increase resilience and better navigate stress.  Do not limit this to specific workplace stress since other sources (personal, financial, etc.) can still impact work performance and satisfaction.  Coach employees to use stressors as a cue for action rather than something to accept passively until it leads to negative health issues.

  • Organize meditation and yoga classes.
  • Educate employees on how foods impact our moods and ability to handle stress. Also be mindful of these foods when providing snacks for employees.
  • Share strategies and techniques for problem-solving and stress-management.  Ensure that this information is accessible to all employees, which may be using various methods such as print material, lunch-and-learns, or webinars available offsite.
  • Provide financial wellness support to help employees increase their financial literacy and learn how to manage budgeting, debt and savings.
  • Encourage work-life balance to ensure employees have the opportunity to disconnect from work and recharge.

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3. Empower employees to govern their own happiness

An important piece of the happiness formula is empowerment, giving employees control to act and make decisions.  Empowerment enables employees to do their best work because it’s meaningful and relevant to them. A recent happiness survey revealed that more than 50 percent of employees choose to work for a smaller paycheque because their position makes them happy.  “Doing meaningful work” was ranked as the main happiness factor.21

In the context of wellness, we need to design our programs based on the idea of empowering employees to make healthy choices and live healthier lives.  Everyone knows we should eat well and exercise, but it’s not enough. Educate employees and guide them to defining why wellness matters to them.  This is what will propel action and translate into proud smiles when they reach their goals.

  • Share information, resources and tools.  Employees that are better informed feel like they are part of something bigger and this connection motivates and empowers to take action.
  • Communicate and encourage employee input.  This can help drive the development of programs and process to increase engagement.
  • Be flexible where possible.  Maybe a flexible work schedule can be implemented or employees have the option to work from home or in an outdoor workspace.
  • Offer options when providing benefits and perks.  Some employees may love the opportunity attend a company organized yoga class, while others would value credit toward their gym membership or sports league.

Need some more assistance?

Get your FREE Corporate Wellness Membership 90-Day Starter Kit to get you started!  Employee Wellness Solutions Network can help you create a healthier culture resulting in a more profitable and successful workplace. Our memberships give you access to services including corporate wellness specialists, trainers and health coaches to help you create the best strategy for your organization.  To learn more about the memberships, visit Employee Wellness Solutions Network.


1 “happiness.” 2019.

2 Schiffrin, H.H. & Nelson, S.K. J Happiness Stud (2010) 11: 33.

3 Kim, Eric S et al. “Prospective study of the association between dispositional optimism and incident heart failure.” Circulation. Heart failure vol. 7,3 (2014): 394-400.

5 Ong, A.D., Exner-Cortens, D., Riffin, C. et al. ann. behav. med. (2013) 46: 52.

6 Cohen, S. et. al. “Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold.” Psychosom Med. 2003 Jul-Aug; 65(4): 652-7.

11 Bostock, S et. al. “Positive emotional style and subjective, cardiovascular and cortisol responses to acute laboratory stress.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Sep;36(8):1175-83.

14 Steptoe, A & Wardle, J. “Positive affect measured using ecological momentary assessment and survival in older men and women.” PNAS November 8, 2011 108 (45) 18244-18248;

15 Chida, Y & Steptoe, A. “Positive psychological well-being and mortality: a quantitative review of prospective observational studies.” Psychosom Med. 2008 Sep;70(7):741-56. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31818105ba. Epub 2008 Aug 25.

16 University of Kansas. (2009). “Happiness = Health.”

17 Center for the Advancement of Health. (2008). “Happiness And Satisfaction Might Lead To Better Health.”

18 Dubois, CM et. al. “Positive psychological attributes and cardiac outcomes: associations, mechanisms, and interventions.” Psychosomatics. 2012 Jul-Aug;53(4):303-18.

19 Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2012). “ The Business Case for Happiness.”

20 McKee, A. (2017). “How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship.

21 Wrike (2019). “From Positivity to Productivity: Exposing the Truth Behind Workplace Happiness.”