The Dark Side To Workplace Happiness

With stress related absences on the rise in workplaces, due to poor communication, lack of manager support, conflict in workplaces and fear of losing our jobs, is it realistic to expect employees to feel happy at work?
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Architects with blueprints and laptop
Architects with blueprints and laptop

With stress related absences on the rise in workplaces, due to poor communication, lack of manager support, conflict in workplaces and fear of losing our jobs, is it realistic to expect employees to feel happy at work? As countries around the world celebrate International Happiness Day and a growing number of workplaces invest in positive psychology approaches for staff, is urging us to put on a happy face a responsible and effective way to improve people's wellbeing at work?

"Sometimes at work we have very good reasons not to be happy," explains Dr. Peggy Kern from Melbourne University and one of the world's leading researchers on wellbeing and it's impact. "Recognition that it's okay to feel the way we're feeling, actually helps us to feel happier over time."

There's reason to believe that the quest for happiness could be a path to misery. In fact studies have found that the more value people place on happiness, the less happy they become. You see when we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm and excitement and unfortunately by nature these emotions tend to be fleeting. In an effort to lock these feelings down we tend to overestimate the impact of our circumstances, spend too much time comparing our current happiness to our past happiness and we become too self-focused.

"It makes more sense to broaden our understanding of happiness so it is much more than just being in a good mood at any given moment," suggests Dr. Kern. "If instead we aim for wellbeing - our ability to feel good and function effectively - this expands our focus to also connecting with others, having a sense of purpose in what we do, and accomplishing the things that matter to us."

Here are five ways you can create a balanced approach to improving your wellbeing at work on International Happiness Day:

  • Balancing heartfelt positivity - In their best-selling book "The Upside of the Dark Side" positive psychologists Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan note that while positive emotions can boost our energy, self-confidence and creativity, negative emotions help to trigger our awareness that something important to us or those we care about is not right. They are a catalyst for change. Wellbeing is about having the psychological flexibility to understand when heartfelt positive emotions serve us best, and when we need to practice being comfortably uncomfortable with negative emotions that enable learning and growth. They suggest an 80/20 rule of thumb for heart-felt positive emotions to heart-straining negative ones as a guide for wellbeing. Not sure where your emotions are sitting. Track them using the free two-minute test at

  • Developing your strengths - Researchers have found using our strengths - those things we're good at and enjoy doing - can help us feel more confident, engaged and energised about our work. They also caution however, that focusing only on our strengths can give us a false sense of competence, result in over-used strengths becoming toxic and ignores our weaknesses at our own risk. It's not enough to just "use" your strengths more, instead try "developing" your strengths by knowing what they are and tuning into the moments when you're underplaying, overplaying or finding the right strength, in the right amount for the right outcomes. You can start by discovering your strengths using the free ten-minute survey at
  • Creating authentic connections - More than anything else it seems when it comes to improving our wellbeing other people matter. Although new research suggests that smarter people, may be better off with fewer friends. Whatever your "ideal" number might look like studies suggest even micro-moments of positive connections help to lower our levels of stress and improve our concentration and focus. Take the time today to ask someone an appreciative question (i.e. "What's working well at the moment?"), perform an act of kindness or express some genuine gratitude and really be present in these moments.
  • Find a healthy sense of meaning - Professor Adam Grant at Wharton Business School notes that the single strongest predictor of having a sense of meaning and purpose in our work is the belief that what we do has a positive impact on others. Try to get clear on how what you do can help others - even if it's just the person sitting next to you - and take time each week to savour the difference you make. Be aware however, that although have a sense of meaning in our work comes with lots of benefit, when our passion for work becomes obsessive (and you hear yourself saying "I have to" instead of "I want to") that this can undermine our wellbeing long-term.
  • Nurture hope - While 89 per cent of us believe tomorrow will be better than today, only 50 per cent of us believe we can make it so. Researchers suggest this is the difference between wishing and hoping. When we hope we set clear 'want-to' goals, pathways to reach them and find ways to maintain our willpower. As a result other things being equal researchers have found hope is worth about an hour a day in terms of productivity at work, and helps to improve our health and wellbeing. You can map your hopes at work by following these simple steps.
  • Want more? For a free, simple plan to measure and improve your wellbeing at work, rather than just your happiness, visit

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