How are you going to make your workplace happier?

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I’ve finally had the chance to get stuck into the recently published Global Happiness Policy Report 2018 from the wonderfully named Happiness Council (who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?).

It is a most humbling read and drives home the manifold challenges that we’re facing in the world today, which will significantly impact our future happiness as a human race.

Reading Chapter 5 (Work and Well-being: A Global Perspective) raised for me the apparent conflict between work and well-being.

Is work good for you? 

In presentations, I am often challenged by people holding the view that work is good for you, and I wanted to explore where that point of view comes from.

The report reinforces the view that work is beneficial, noting “employment and workplace quality also rank among the most important drivers of happiness.

Nevertheless, it goes on to observe “Despite the importance of work for people’s happiness, most do not perceive work as a particularly enjoyable activity.” 

In my view, this mixed message needs to be addressed more voraciously and clarified for everyone’s benefit.

Firstly, let’s address why they conclude work is good for you.

It’s a little more obvious when you look at the alternatives -- unemployment or long-term disability. Who would choose a life of being disabled (to the extent that it prevented you from working) or being unemployed, with unrelenting fear about how you are going to provide for yourself or your family?

I believe that in latching on to the important discovery that investing in helping people back to work after long periods of absence is beneficial -- for them, in many dimensions of health and happiness, and for the employer, in terms of return on investment -- many people have lost sight of the alternative. For people who need to work, work is good for you only to the extent that it is better than a life out of work.

For people who need to work, work is good for you only to the extent that it is better than a life out of work.

On the other side, we have people like Simon Sinek.

In his brilliant 99U talk “Why Leaders Eat Last,” Sinek pulls no punches, concluding “our jobs are killing us." He adds that the people who are responsible are the leaders, who are creating high stress environments where people work in fear, afraid to speak their minds for being next on the redundancy list.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could switch the focus from assessing what’s wrong, to putting things right?

Unfortunately, although the science is already there and tells us everything we need to know to construct happy, health and secure workplaces, progress means that leaders would have to practice humility and empathy and create trust.

As most leaders and managers have graduated to senior positions through being good at their jobs, and not being good at leadership, or even management, this change will not be easy and some in senior positions will never become good leaders in the new world.

The greatest mission for a CEO looking to create a truly empowered workforce should be to create the environment that allows people to be themselves, to express their feelings, thoughts and desires with high levels of integrity but no fear. It will expose managers who are not cut out for leadership in the new world of work, but that’s fine -- if they are good at their jobs they will always have a role and value.

The reward for boldness is a significantly higher performing workplace.

In the quest for change, there is a ray of light. In this new world, leaders are not just the people at the top of the chain of command -- that’s an outdated hierarchical view. Sure, the CEO’s view will be critical, but anyone that takes responsibility for people around them, peers, subordinates or even seniors, is a leader and has a role in creating beneficial change.

So, I throw out a challenge – whoever you are, in whatever role, what are you going to do today to make your workplace a happier place? 

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Colin Bullen
Actuary + Global Consultant

Creating individual and corporate performance through habit evolution. 

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