If you’re happy and you know it…

This is the fifth in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website.

We decided I’d write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what’s happened in organisations I’ve worked in and with – whether the source of motivation Bee’s blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what’s worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what’s not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people?

Here’s Bee’s blog on Happiness. In it, she quotes research that suggest that happy people can be lazy thinkers, too trusting and less persuasive.  She concludes by saying that there is such a thing as being “too happy” in a workplace, and that organisations shouldn’t continually seek ways of making people happier, and instead look into a broader range of motivational techniques and tools.


Bee’s blog reminded me of this quote from John Lennon.

I have to say I’m more in agreement with Lennon’s quote than the quoted research, although I’m no academic and can’t quote any contradictory research.  Lennon’s quote just feels right.

So what is happiness at work?  How do you know if you are happy, and what happens when you are?

I’ve been very happy in a number of different organisations and roles.  I can usually tell I’m happy because of a few things.  I’m productive, I find enjoyment in what I am doing, I make jokes and wisecracks, I challenge others to be even better, and more than anything else I find my thoughts drifting to work issues when I’m not at work.  I’d go so far as to say that when I’m happy my performance is sharper than ever.

I do my best work when I’m happy.  And I know many others who do too.  And in fact I’d say that a group of happy workers make for a good team, and can collaborate with each other much better than a group of grumpy workers.


In my Amazing Workplaces talk I say that we don’t want a company full of Tiggers, or a company full of Victor Meldrews, we want a happy medium.  And I do hold to that.

So in a sense I do agree that there may be such a thing as being “too happy”.  Its acceptable to have and display a wide range of emotions, and I’m conscious that many people will be able to use unhappiness as a motivator too.  Putting such people together with the overbearingly happy is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve also worked in places and roles where I’m been unhappy, in some cases desperately so.  In a strange way these experiences of being very unhappy both motivate and demotivate me.  In work when unhappy I have definitely been disengaged and not produced my best work, but I’ve also been able to use my general sense of dissatisfaction to fire me up to do even greater things – even if this is a very limited fuel source.

And unhappy people can be contagious.  Often they will search for someone else to share their unhappiness with, someone they can have a good old moan with about how bad things are.  Neither of these people are too productive when that happens, unless you count moaning as productivity.

But despite all of this I still don’t agree with Bee’s quoted research that happy people can be less effective in the workplace, or that organisations shouldn’t try to make their employees happier.

I often quote the story of when my middle child was aged 3 and she asked me what I do at work.  Its hard to define HR to an adult, let alone a child, so I struggled for a while before settling on this description:

“My job is to make people happy at work”

She went off, satisfied with this, only to come back with her paints and brushes – she told me that painting is what made her happy (and thus, could we do some right now) and she thought – and still thinks to this day – that my job involves getting people to paint in some way.

And I think its still a pretty neat definition of what HR is, and what organisations should aim to be doing.

Make people happy.

From my own experience I know I’m close to giving 100% when I’m happy, but I know that mostly when I’m unhappy I struggle to give even 50%.

By coincidence, on 14 June I’m speaking at the Happy Workplaces Conference in London.  The conference is pretty much what it says on the tin.  I’ll be talking about what organisations can do to make their workplace a happy one, whilst still respecting the balance of emotions necessary for an effective workplace.

It will be interesting to hear other attendees views on happiness in the workplace.

Till next time…


PS in other news, I’ve been clearing out the garage and garden in recent weeks, and am simply amazed at how much stuff I’ve been able to get rid of. How did we end up with so much stuff?

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