5 Business Lessons From Working in Happiness

Matt Phelan | 12th August 2021

If you are interested in happiness data I have written extensively about this in my book Freedom To Be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness. The book covers the evidence showing that happy employees lead to better organisational performance on every level from customer retention to productivity to sales to profit.


Outside the data here are my top 5 lessons from running a business focused on happiness.

Here you go…

1) Don’t make Happiness a target

No alt text provided for this image

When we alpha tested The Happiness Index way back in 2011 we made happiness a target.

Making happiness a target is like telling someone who looks unhappy to cheer up. The only likely outcome of telling someone to cheer up is an annoyed person.

View happiness and emotional data more like a weather report.

For example if it is going to rain pack an umbrella, if it is going to snow make sure you have packed the snow chains.

Today’s emotions are tomorrow’s performance. Emotional data is intelligence your board and leadership team can use to make better decisions.

We have customers ranging from 400 to 400,000 employees that report happiness in the board report so size or age of organisation is not a barrier.

Happiness data is emotional intelligence at scale.

2) You can’t make all your employees happy

No alt text provided for this image

But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Happiness is a horizon not a destination.

You will never make all of your employees happy all of the time but you can and should try. Fixing what is making people unhappy and improving the work environment one day at a time will help your culture thrive and it is proven that performance will follow.

3) We all work in glass houses

No alt text provided for this image

The most recent public story of a brand being criticised by former employees is Brewdog but there have also been similar stories of companies such as Apple and Google being criticised by employees.

There will always be 2 sides to every story BUT what I can tell you is that every single company in the world has unhappy employees.

More and more of these employees will speak up or leave a negative review on Glassdoor but before criticising these organisations it’s worth remembering we’ve all had employee experiences (as employees and employers) where we look back and think we could have dealt with that situation better.

I know I have.

No matter how focused you are on doing the right thing you will upset some of your employees. Sometimes those relationships will be recoverable and sometimes they won’t but it’s also about learning from those experiences and trying not to repeat the process.

We certainly don’t have 100% happy employees all the time at The Happiness Index. My advice is to focus on in the inside of your company and not on the outside of other organisations.

4) “If you can measure it, you can manage it” DOES not apply to people.

No alt text provided for this image

I would reword the statement to be…

If you can measure it, you can understand it and therefore make better decisions

(Not as snappy but more useful)

As the old command and control business structures fail in a pandemic / post pandemic world we see more organisations moving to a quantum way of organising themselves.

In a quantum world (see Clive Hyland’s book The Quantum Way for more information) we see leadership shifting to helping others find their own energy source through a shared vision, purpose and flexible working arrangements built on trust.

5) Don’t lump Happiness and Engagement together…

No alt text provided for this image

For a human being to thrive at work we need to nourish both the heart and the brain.

Lumping happiness into an engagement score is a tick box exercise that will only lead to burnout, mental health issues and high staff turnover.

Separating engagement and happiness out is about understanding what makes human beings tick.

For example you can be unhappy and engaged at the same time. It is possible and I see our customers work very hard every day to create an environment where your employees are both happy and engaged.

The data is clear that happy and engaged employees lead to happy customers.

Summary; Show, not tell

My summary of all of this learning is to show, not tell.

We learnt the hard way that it is way better to show people what our employee engagement and happiness platform can do instead of tell people how amazing it is.

To avoid long tedious pitch processes, organisations can now use our platform for FREE for 3 months. Simple.

No alt text provided for this image
Book a Demo

Sign Up

Sign up for industry news, people insight and business strategy to help you create a thrive culture.