For some reason, the concepts of “happiness” and “work” rarely come in the same sentence (unless you’re blessed to have a perfect life!). Sure, we may have moments of happiness at work (like that time you got the perfect parking spot or a really good cup of coffee), but that’s as far as it should go. Right?

I mean, it is work.

After all, you’re aren’t paid based on feelings. You get paid based on results,  not based on your feelings.

So why is the “happy at work” concept growing in popularity? Why are businesses getting foosball tables, offering unlimited vacations, flexible schedules, and even beer? Is it a millennial thing or is something deeper going on here?

Why Your Business Needs More Happiness

Well it turns out there is a deeper reason behind this growing interest in workplace happiness (even if you don’t believe that foosball tables and workplaces don’t mix.) As it turns out, workplace happiness is a profitable investment for employees and the businesses who hire them. Businesses with happier employees tend to have higher sales, profits, and staff retention. Those same employees are more productive, more accurate at their tasks, and tend to be at work more often than other employees. These effects remained in place four months later, after the researchers left.

Happiness, in other words, just makes good business sense for employees and employers. It also makes good common sense. Would you continue to give your best effort at a business that constantly ignored your contributions, had a toxic work culture or paid you at a rate lower than everyone else in a similar position?

Why, then, do we have such a problem with fostering happy at work?

Barriers to Happiness: Traps, Misguided Beliefs, and Ill-Considered Focus

The conflict between the business (and common sense) case for workplace happiness and reality is the focus of “How to be Happy at Work” by Annie McKee (@anniemckee), a researcher, speaker, and consultant. Her book argues that our work culture and our internal beliefs about work, not other people, like we often assume.

Instead, Dr. McKee points to a three specific things that get in the way of our workplace happiness:

  • Our internal beliefs about work
  • Mental traps that keep us focused on external (instead of the more meaningful) internal rewards of work
  • Workplace policies that make directly or indirectly block happiness

Let’s take a look at these barriers.

Beliefs about Work: One of the biggest barriers to workplace happiness is society’s beliefs about work. We’ve come to believe that work is supposed to be an impersonal exchange, a worker’s talent and skill for a business’ profit. Think about how many songs and cartoons we have about the dreaded return to work on Mondays.

Mental Traps:  If we aren’t complaining about work, we’re complaining about the things we’re not getting at work. Those things include promotions, higher pay, and more time. As Dr. McKee points out in “How to be Happy at Work”, these three things (better position, more money, and time) paradoxically get in the way of our happiness if we become obsessed with them.

Business policies: Partly because of our collective internal beliefs about the nature of work, we’ve created a workplace that treats humans like simple robots with inputs (money and supplies) and outputs (labor). As a result, many businesses have policies that overly restrict human behavior to prevent humans from breaking that mold.

These three things (internal beliefs, personal mental traps, and society’s policies) maintain the current state of affairs in the workplace, even if we know better. These three things, however, also point to way to a happier workplace.

Breaking the Barriers to Workplace Happiness: Purpose, Hope & People


While you can’t change every workplace policy that makes you unhappy, you aren’t doomed to an unhappy workplace. You can change your mental approach at that workplace.

That can make all the difference.

Happiness can depend on external things, but it does not depend on them. For example, a promotion could be a happy day for one person because it is the realization of a long-term dream. For another person, that promotion could be a nightmare because it means more work and less time at home.

Happiness is all about perspective, no matter what you’re facing.

That is the approach taken in “How to be Happy at Work”. Instead of focusing on what you can change, focus on what you can change. The book goes into detail on three specific dimensions that create workplace purpose:

  • Purpose
  • Hope
  • Relationships

By fostering these three things, Dr. McKee says in her book, employees can take ownership of their own happiness instead of letting it get caught up in mental traps or misguided efforts (like constantly chasing the next promotion).

5 Quick Tips for Workplace Happiness

If you are looking to increase your happiness at work, this  book will certainly start down the path of exploring the options. The book, “How to be Happy at Work” doesn’t give specific guidelines on what will make you specifically happy at your job, but it will provide recommendations and exercises that will help you develop some solutions.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a few options today that you could put into place, this might help:

  1. Identify the role of this job in your life at this moment. Is it a job occupation, or calling?
  2. Find happy moments at your current job, even if it’s a small thing like a coworker’s laugh or seeing a customer smile.
  3. Take some time to figure out why you are unhappy at work. Is it pay, work culture, or something else?
  4. Identify what would make you happier, either in this job or another.
  5. Start taking active steps to making your happiness a reality.

You can be happy at work. In fact, you deserve to be happy at work because we spend more time doing work than any other activity in our lives. Instead of letting workplace happiness be a lucky miracle, we can make proactive steps to make that a reality.

Take those steps and you’ll be guaranteed to have a happier time at work.