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Creating happiness at work: A point of view.

In their recently published global happiness report, Christian Krekel and colleagues (2018) have identified twelve key factors that determine how satisfied people are with their jobs (for the full list click here). Not surprisingly, the most important factor was having high-quality relationships with your co-workers, and more specifically, your manager.

However, what piqued my interest was the second most important factor, which was “having an interesting job”. In this article, we want to explore what this means in a bit more depth. What really makes a job more interesting? How does this relate to happiness? And finally, why should we care about this?

The following examples illustrate three very different ways in which organisations have successfully created interesting jobs.

Relinquishing control

One thing that Ritz-Carlton and Zappos have in common is their outstanding customer service. Both the luxury hotel chain and the Amazon-owned online fashion retailer have found ways to motivate their employees to deliver the best possible service. At Ritz-Carlton, employees can spend up to $2000 to solve their customers’ problems without asking for their manager. Similarly, Zappos’ call-centre employees at any level have the same freedom as managers to fully refund a customer’s money, for instance, or to send a surprise bunch of flowers. Unlike in other call-centres, they don’t need to stick to any scripts or time limits, as real human connections are more highly valued over standardisation and cost-efficiency.

So, from an employee perspective, how does this make their jobs more interesting? The answer is simple: they have autonomy. They are in control of how they act and what they do. Of course, there needs to be some ground rules, but employees are trusted to make their own decisions and act within those. Instead of following tight regulations or scripts like robots, employees can now build human connections with customers and find more personalised solutions to their problems. As a result, employees feel valued and trusted by their organisation. They feel a sense of achievement when they have been able to ‘fix’ a customer’s problem or complaint more quickly and directly. And in return customers will feel satisfied that they have been treated fairly and are more likely to return in the future and indeed tell their friends and family about how well their issue was handled.

Bringing your whole self to work

Patagonia is a well-known advocate for environmental causes, but it continues this dedication and support for its employees too. Women make up 50% of their workforce and roughly half of their upper management positions are filled by women — led by their female CEO Rose Marcario (according to 2020 Fortune 500 magazine only 7.4% of women hold Fortune 500 CEO roles). It provides critical support with in-house child care facilities and even sending nannies on business trips! Even more surprising is that Patagonia will hire environmental activists and encourage them to (peacefully) protest. If they go to jail, the company will pay for their bail and legal fees.

What Patagonia is doing here is genuinely embracing different people’s needs and opinions to encourage and promote diversity and inclusivity. Not having to “stop” being a mum or an activist as soon as they enter the workplace reinforces employees’ self-identities and wellbeing by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work. Furthermore, co-workers get to see each other as multifaceted human beings, which is likely to make their conversations deeper and their relationships stronger. This, in turn, will create a stronger sense of belonging and loyalty.

Introducing self-managed teams

Buurtzoorg is a pioneering Dutch health care organisation. They have been named Best Employer of the Netherlands in 4 out of the last 5 years and their client satisfaction rates are the highest of any health care organisation. Their secret sauce is a revolutionary organisational setup. Buurtzoorg’s 15,000 nurses are organised into 950 self-managed teams. Each team of nurses is fully responsible for their own work in all areas including nursing, planning, decision-making, hiring, and firing. Teams grow until they get to twelve people and then split into separate teams. The headquarter supporting this network consists of only 50 people.

Once again, high levels of autonomy and responsibility seem to make for more interesting jobs. Additionally, a lack of bureaucracy and the resulting decentralised decision-making within the respective teams frees up time and makes every decision appropriate and relevant for the people it affects. The nurses at Buurtzoorg can purely focus on what they love to do, which is delivering care to patients, instead of worrying about bureaucracy and siloes. Administrative tasks are split equally amongst the individual team members.

So what are some key takeaways?

How much more satisfied do you think you would be with your job if you had more control over what you are doing or if you could be more yourself at work? Of course, these are outstanding examples that have been implemented at a large scale, but think about how you could action these in a small way in your own team:

/ Increasing autonomy: What is a small decision that you could delegate to somebody else? How could you help someone in your team take more control over what they are doing on a day-to-day basis?
/ Encouraging authenticity: What is a personal question you could ask your team during your next team meeting to better understand who they are? Or what is an informal meeting format that would enable personal connections (e.g. virtual coffee chat)?
/ Reducing bureaucracy and siloes: Are you overseeing any processes that could be frustrating for somebody else? Could you ask somebody for feedback or ideas to improve a frustrating process?

Even when implemented at a small scale, these three tips can help create a more interesting work environment, which will bring great benefit and increased happiness and loyalty both for your own employees and in turn your customers.


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