happy at workHappy at work – is it possible?

Being happy at work is something we all strive for, and those who succeed are considered to be lucky. ​A chap with a very long name whom for now we will simply call  has carried out significant research about what makes people happy at work. Such people, he says, are happiest when they experience FLOW.

Think back to the last time you lost the track of time. Maybe you were playing an instrument, writing a proposal, playing with your kids or exercising. That, according to Mihaly, is an optimal experience known as flow. Others have called in being in the “zone”.

The question is, how can we apply this to work environments?

For many work is mundane. Boredom sets in, time stretches, the mind wanders. This is about as opposite from an optimal experience as you can get. The result is lack of engagement. A sense of couldn’t care less creeps into conversations. Standards slip. Customer service drops.

And therein lies the challenge. How do we experience a state of flow when doing something which is mundane, boring even? (Mihaly describes it as a lack of challenge, a lack of skill, or both).

Be happy at work – set meaningful goals

Taking a walk in and of itself is mundane and rarely requires concentration. However, add interesting self-motivating goals (such as walking a certain distance within a set period of time) and the walk becomes meaningful – potentially translating the activity into a state of flow.

happy at work

Conversely, setting out to do something beyond our skill set, or something that is too challenging, means it is impossible to attain flow. The goal needs to be a nice mixture of the right level of skill, and the right level of challenge – see diagram.

The skill therefore is in creating an environment with the right level of challenge, and the right level of skill. Make goals too easy, staff get bored. Make them too hard, staff become anxious or controlling. [/column]

Rate your day job against this diagram (above) – where do you sit?

Now think about your key staff – where are they are on the chart?

Using this diagram as a vehicle for discussion can be a powerful tool in developing yourself, your people and teams.

2. Ensure meaningful feedback to be happy at work

Without a sense of progress we can easily lose hope and get frustrated. Feedback is as important as the goal. Climbing a rock face, learning to play a guitar better, read a book… these activities provide real-time feedback on progress. We require the same at work, as do our staff. Once meaningful goals are set, ensure progress is being measured and fed back positively. It makes all the difference.

Examples: visual dashboards showing achievement against team targets, division or organisational wide KPIs

3. Remember we are humans not machines

An interesting aspect of Mihaly’s research showed that people engaging in activities which had an external cost (I.e. things which were expensive to run) reduced happiness. Examples included watching TV, driving, using a computer and power boating. The opposite was true for those who were in social situations, did knitting, gardening, or were involved with hobbies such as cycling or rock climbing – these people were happier and more likely to experience flow.

Our modern day work environments are generally ruled by phones, computers and screens. What to do? The answer lies in finding what makes the best companies so successful. They approach age old problems in unique and creative ways.

Companies such as Facebook and Google (whom are consistently rated as the best places to work) inject much needed humanity into our electronically ruled world (see links at the end of the article). In addition, spending as much time away from electronics (I.e. not eating at our desk, taking a break in a canteen or break out area etc) allows us to connect to others and relax. As a leader, what example are we setting? How can we be happy at work, and ensure our staff feel the same way?


Being happy at work takes effort. Be creative! To experience happiness (flow) at work we need meaningful goals, challenge and an environment that provides feedback and fosters enjoyment. Get this right and your staff motivation and engagement will go through the roof.

If you yourself, or your staff/organisation would like to experience flow – driving revenues and overall enjoyment in the process then get in touch. We are experts at re-energising you and your business.


  • For more information read “FLOW: The classic work on how to achieve happiness.” By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a long book, and many of our clients have preferred the abridged audio book. He and Martin Seligman are instrumental figures in the positive psychology movement.
  • To see Google’s London offices, click here
  • Worldwide offices here
  • Facebook’s offices here
  • FLOW diagram taken from Wikipedia (and there’s more information there too).

Being happy at work can be for you and your staff. To find out how to increase employee engagement get in contact with us.

Author: Mark Bateman, March 2013, Updated June 2013. Image by HikingArtist.