Clarity About Pursuing Happiness at Work

In March this year, a few cities in the Netherlands acknowledged and celebrated Dutch Happiness Week. This is an initiative of Fontys University HRM and Psychology students, which began in 2015 in Eindhoven. A leading theme, ‘the economy of happiness’, in these departments was the motivation behind the initiative.

Last September, an initiative of two Dutch women saw the kick-off of the International Week of Happiness at Work. Throughout the Netherlands, a number of municipalities and organizations sponsored various events around this theme. This year it will grow, I’m sure. I hope. We certainly put enough attention to the problem each year in November, with the Week of the Work Stress. For good reason, as stress is the number one occupational challenge in the workplace in the Netherlands.

A misperception of happiness at work?

But what is this often elusive state of happiness in the work space actually? It seems many of us are in pursuit of it but defining it seems to be a bit more problematic.

When one of our KVC app respondents replied to a question regarding their happiness at work score (6/10) with ‘I don’t really emotionally recognize the feeling of happiness’, it set me to thinking. Are we misleading people with the concept of happiness at work?

It’s not that I believe we shouldn’t be expecting to be happy in our work. To the contrary – I believe it’s fundamentally necessary for thriving employees and workplaces. It’s just that I question whether people understand what’s behind the phrase ‘happiness at work’.

Happy people are portrayed in advertising, television and movies with smiling, laughing faces, having loads of fun. Is this somehow the perception people expect to see in the workplace, if they are truly happy at work?

Often employers think, they’re getting a paycheck aren’t they? They should be happy with that. And maybe in my parent’s generation (or even my own, seeing I’m now in my mid-60’s) that was the case. However, younger generations aren’t ‘buying’ that platitude anymore. They know that money can’t buy their happiness.

Adding to the confusion

The word for happiness in Dutch is ‘geluk’. It has two meanings. One is happiness and the other is luck. So ‘gelukkig werken’ is a concept that doesn’t seem to resonate for many Dutch.

Turning to the research

We need to understand that happiness is a state of being which is a natural consequence of well-being. And “well-being is a complex construct that concerns optimal experience and functioning.”

It’s not only about ‘hedonic well-being’ portrayed by the media: that of “increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to happiness”.

It’s also about ‘eudaimonic well-being’, which is “based on the premise that people feel happy if they experience life purpose, challenges and growth.”

What is needed for a thriving workplace?

One of our partners, the HappinessBureau, has created the P3F model. This about sums up what is needed.

Purpose: You are happier at work when you have the feeling the work you do is meaningful and you are making a positive contribution.

Flow: Every day you are able to use your talents, see progress and receive recognition and appreciation. Autonomy plays a significant role in how you use your talents. Being immersed and absorbed in the task at hand, is part of flow.

Fun & Friendship: Maintaining good relationships at work and sharing (in) positive moments.

In summary

Happiness@Work is about how you ‘feel’ about your work and the feelings you derive from your work. If you ‘feel’ you are contributing, are valued, are seen, are appreciated, well then, you can give yourself a 10/10 for your happiness@work score.
Most organizations have a long way to go, to ensure their people are thriving. Step up sooner, rather than later, is my advice. The war for talent isn’t going away any time soon.