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HR & culture

The drivers of happiness at work

By Isabel
05 Sep 2022

We can’t say it often enough: people who are happy at work are more productive, more creative, more innovative, more mentally flexible, and less likely to need time off.

But which factors are crucial for your employees’ happiness at work? Just remember the PERK model developed by the University of California, Berkeley. PERK is an acronym for four pillars:

1. Purpose
2. Engagement
3. Resilience
4. Kindness


Morten Hansen, a management professor at the UC Berkeley defines purpose in his book Great at Work as follows: when you make valuable con­tri­bu­tions to others (indi­vid­u­als and organ­i­sa­tions) or to society that you find personally meaningful and that don’t harm anyone.’

Purpose is a reflection of our core values. We feel more purposeful at work when our everyday behaviours and decisions are aligned with those values. And when we experience our role as purposeful, we are more proactive in for­mu­lat­ing and conducting our day-to-day tasks, instead of passively embracing the status quo.’

Leaders are sometimes tempted to use financial incentives to provide more purpose, but that alone doesn’t work. In his book Payoff, behav­iour­al economist Dan Ariely reveals that a cash bonus has a limited impact. What we really crave are intrinsic incentives like appre­ci­a­tion and making meaningful progress.’ A cash bonus can therefore offer an incentive, but only if it acts as a clear sign of your appre­ci­a­tion.


Do your employees enjoy their work? Do they get a say when it comes to decisions about the what, when and how of their work? Gallup research found that the over­whelm­ing majority of answers to these questions is no’.

Encour­ag­ing engagement in the workplace can be done in various ways. For example, give your staff more control over their work schedule, respon­si­bil­i­ties and personal devel­op­ment, and build in oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn and grow.

In the context of lean man­u­fac­tur­ing, a management philosophy that aims to maximise customer value with minimal waste, companies sometimes review their roles and functions. But they do that purely based on technical parameters, which gives the jobs less purpose. As a result, the efficiency gains they hoped for soon evaporate, because no one is happy anymore.
- Peter Beeusaert, HR consultant at SD Worx


Employees need resilience to deal with dis­ap­point­ment, failure and mistakes made by themselves, colleagues and others. But this doesn’t mean that as an employer you should try your hardest to avoid mistakes and dis­ap­point­ment. Instead it’s all about tackling challenges at work in an efficient way.

This can be done, for example, by building a culture of acceptance. You win or you learn: mistakes are all part of it, and it’s about learning the right lessons and talking about them openly. If employees are afraid of making mistakes, they no longer dare to come up with new ideas or ini­tia­tives.

You can also increase resilience with mind­ful­ness. Many studies have shown that mind­ful­ness training reduces stress, increases con­cen­tra­tion and resilience and has a positive effect on various physical or psy­cho­log­i­cal complaints. In his book Mindful Work, New York Times journalist David Gelles reveals that mind­ful­ness can be the key to a happier, more productive workplace.


Finally, we’re also happier at work when we experience kindness. According to UC Berkeley, that starts with good old-fashioned civilised behaviour: treating each other with respect, listening carefully to each other, giving com­pli­ments, that kind of thing. If you want to take it a step further, you (and your team) can practise pro-social behaviour: working on your empathy, compassion and gratitude. These char­ac­ter­is­tics not only lead to more happiness at work, but also to better teamwork.

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