How to Create a Happy Work Environment

July 4, 2011  

While speaking at a conference on “happiness at work” in Copenhagen, I met Cathy Busani, the Managing Director of Happy, a training and consultancy business operating in the U.K. Although they only employ 30 people, Happy has won wide recognition for its innovative approach to management and to customer service. I was intrigued by her philosophy and asked her five questions about happiness at work.

Q: Why is happiness at work important? What evidence do you have that it improves business performance?

A: We believe that if your people are performing their best, then your business cannot fail to perform at its best. And people perform their best when they are happy and feel good about themselves. Therefore, ensuring this is the primary job of every manager. We feel so strongly about it, we ask our staff to complete a “happy check” every few months, which asks questions like “How do you feel walking in the door in the morning?” (from Depressed & Despondent to Eager & Excited) or “How stressed do you feel at work?” (from Very Stressed to Never Stressed). Making staff happy is a serious business!

Q: I heard you say that in happy organizations, the employees pick their boss and not the other way around. Can you say more about that?

A: We believe the people who manage staff should be in that position because they are great at it, and not just because they are great at their core job. Therefore, we believe people should have the right to choose who supports, nurtures, coaches and challenges them. If they do choose this person, they are much more likely to value that relationship and get the most from it. So throughout your career at Happy, if you want to change who manages you, you just have to ask. In most cases, we find people don’t change managers, partly because we have picked managers for their people skills. However, sometimes a change is requested. For example, one person chose a new manager because he had taken on a new role and felt the new manager would challenge him more. On another occasion, someone asked to change her manager because they had become friend’s with their current one and this was causing some issues between them.

Q: I love what you say about failure. Not only do you embrace it, but if someone is not failing enough, you assume something is wrong. How do you practically apply this in your organization?

A: We strongly believe that in order for there to be innovation and creativity in the culture of your business, people should “celebrate” their mistakes. In other words, try something out—if it goes wrong, adapt it and learn from it, but don’t try to hide it. We don’t actually throw a party when someone makes a mistake (and we don’t condone somebody getting the same thing wrong over and over), but everyone is very open and non-judgmental. We believe if you haven’t made any mistakes in your first three months at Happy, you aren’t really trying very hard.

Q: In your company, everyone knows what everyone makes, from the managing director down to the janitor. What are the advantages of this? And has it ever caused any problems?

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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