Why you and your team are responsible for happiness at work

The new workplace is so much more different than our parents experienced. As geographical barriers broke down and the new technology driven generations entered the workforce, companies started focusing on intangible aspects of work. The shift was driven by these new generations that are in search for more than just a job. For example, Generation Z, that just started entering the workforce, places a high value on experiences.

With these changes, happiness at work became a topic of discussion, developing further the concept of employee engagement. Every aspect of life is filtered through personal emotions and jobs don’t shy away from this pattern. These new generations are projecting the same expectations both on their personal lives, as well as on their work lives. This is how happiness at work became a topic of interest for many companies.

Science did not manage to catch up on providing the formula for happiness.  The general perception, started a few years back, is that we are only happy if certain external factors play along with our expectations and desires.

However, recent research debunks that theory and comes up with two new conclusions:

  • External factors influence happiness on a short term level only.
  • We can influence our own happiness by practicing gratitude, compassion, positivity. (source)

Happiness comes from within each and every one of us and no outside factor can influence us to be happy if we are already intrinsically unhappy.

In workplaces, we should understand that every employee is a unique individual, and that he/she has his/her own happiness drivers. Likewise, we can see teams as one individual as well. Then “happiness comes from within every individual” generates a new perspective for workplace happiness. It is up to the person the make himself/herself happy, and it is up to every person in the team, to work as a team on workplace happiness.

If we are to create a plan for happiness at work and assign responsibility, then it comes down to only one person.  That person is YOU. Your happiness is your responsibility. And “you” are both yourself, and your team.

The simple happiness at work action plan

Step one: work and focus on your happiness as an individual

First you need to identify what your internal requirements for happiness are. Go through a few memory exercises and think of the moments when you felt good at work. What triggered that feeling? Your interactions with colleagues? A project you worked on? The fact that your boss congratulated you for an achievement? The fact that the company is involved in something that you believe in and you feel like you are making a difference?

Step two: work and focus on your happiness as a team

Having the personal happiness nailed down, align all these together with the team. Is the team getting positive energy and happy moments from the projects they work on? Or maybe from the spirit of friendship that is within the team? Or is it the achievements?

6 ways we can take this responsibility on our shoulders

Instead of waiting for others to step in and make our day, there are a few small things that we should do and others we shouldn’t.  These are the things that affect our perception of our workplaces and focus us in the wrong direction. In just one advice: practice positivity. How?

1. Happiness is not as conditional as you may think. Don’t measure happiness by “if I have that, then I am happy” or “If X happens, then I will feel good”

We tend to emphasize such conditional equations on both our personal and professional lives. The simple mistakes we do can look like: “If I get a promotion, then I am happy”, “If I get a raise, then I am happy”. But, more often than ever, the happiness we expected to have when the “if” happens only lasts for a few days. As detailed earlier, external factors influence us for very short periods of time.

The “if…then…” strategy doesn’t generate happiness. We need to understand the deeper reason and achieve it without the condition attached. E.g. when thinking of a promotion as a happiness driver, we are not aching for the job title or the promotion, but for the recognition we believe will come with the new title, or the responsibilities and challenges. But recognition can come by getting involved in a side project at work, or even outside of work. Same way, challenges and responsibilities can be found in our current job or involvement in other areas of our work. A promotion does not really mean getting any of these anyway./A promotion in itself doesn’t guarantee you a sense of fulfillment or recognition.

2. Don’t make up excuses

No matter how hard you push or try to avoid, some things will or will not happen. Making up excuses drains your energy and makes you focus on the wrong things. Accept and move on. If needed, assume responsibility for the results and learn from the experience.

3. Redesign the way you see your job

Make work about you not the job title or description. Do not expect your boss or colleagues to give you that special vision of your job, as that is very personal. Let’s take for example Jake and Mary. They have the same title and position in their company. When Mary introduces herself she says: “I am helping people develop themselves and be proud of what they do. My job helps them live better lives and offer loved ones their full attention.” Jake mentions “I am in charge of managing the productivity and human capital of our company”. While they are both Human Resource managers, Mary has crafted a different vision for her job, allowing her to align her work with her inner drivers for happiness. For example, the HR manager of Beryl Health, Lara Morrow has changed her job title as well to “Queen of Fun & Laughter”.

Expecting someone else to do this for you is likely to result in unmet expectations, which is a very powerful driver of unhappiness. Change it yourself.

4. Practice gratitude within your team

Gratitude is an important factor in happiness. Scott Crabtree explains more about this in his eBook.

I personally believe that expressing gratitude actually supports happiness because the meaning behind it is more than just a “Thank you”. If you feel grateful it is because someone has helped you achieve something or solve a problem. Receiving support makes us feel better, as we feel part of a group, less lonely and more secure. Expressing gratitude reiterates those moments and feelings and strengthens the team relation.

5. Focus on a team-centered universe at work

Self-centered work ecosystems could help people get more benefits in life. But it only works in an environment where everyone is an individual prize hunter. Such an environment is not likely to foster a strong team spirit. Shifting the focus from individual achievements to team achievements will create a positive change. As the group develops the team-centered universe, the interactions in the team change from individual tasks and challenges, to focusing on those tasks that the team needs to tackle first. Helping others becomes part of the culture and it is an activity that supports our inner happiness. This way, members will be able to experience achievements easier, as the team would need just one success that is shared by everyone, rather than several individual ones.

Needless to say individual results will also occur in team-centric universes.

6. Avoid blame and criticism

As obvious as it may seem, this is one very important action. It is easier to blame someone for a failure or to criticize on actions which did not deliver the result. While we do not always place the blame or criticism on an open table, we take these thoughts internally. On the long run, this affects the way we see people, how we interact with them and how we feel about colleagues and work environment. A high level of discipline is needed to refrain ourselves from this happiness killer gesture.

When the team does not reach a milestone or deadline, for example, the result becomes a fact, with no alternative to be changed. Blame and criticism for past things cannot change anything Instead of thinking about who should take the fall, ask yourself why did the team fail to support a team member in delivering and how can this be avoided in the future. Reaching goals as a team means sharing the joy as a team. If the team fails you will not be happier at the end of the day by blaming it on a coworker.


Happiness is in the small things. If you want to create a happier workplace, start with yourself and then with your team. Together you will need to navigate through the challenges and nurture a culture of personal balance and team engagement. You will achieve this by practicing positive interactions and thoughts but it is just as important to focus on dropping the negative ones as well. Do not wait for external things to make you happy, and do not wait for others to take the charge.

William Ernest Henley’s last verses from the poem made famous by Invictus (the movie on the life of Mandela), apply to how we should see our happiness as well: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul”.