According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workforce survey, only 33% of US employees are engaged in their job and over half of US employees (51%) are looking for a new job, or watching new openings. These are stark statistics considering we spend over a third of our lives working – and then some with our hyperconnected ‘always on’ digital culture.

Being happy at work is overwhelmingly positive for our health and well-being. Those of us who aren’t happy at work are more likely to experience workplace stress, fatigue, depression, and subsequently report higher levels of absenteeism and accidents. The reality is happiness is good for us, and happy workers perform better. In a 2014 happiness and productivity study, researchers at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers were 10% less productive. Apply these statistics to an organization’s bottom line and the impact is significant. Engaged organizations perform better and report better profits.

So, what contributes to our happiness at work? There are several factors that are conducive to workplace happiness including the amount of autonomy you have; the company culture; your pay and benefits; or the relationship you have with your manager. Some of these factors you may have little influence over, but, there are things that you can do to self-cultivate more happiness and satisfaction into your working day.


The nature of work you’re performing on a day to day basis plays a significant role in your overall engagement and happiness at work. Chances are that if the work you’re doing doesn’t derive meaning or purpose, then you’re unlikely to be satisfied at work.

Identifying your core values is a good starting point since these can help to steer you towards your true north, e.g. what are the things that are important to you in life and work? Your core values essentially determine who you are and if these align with the work that you’re doing, you’ll likely experience more positive emotions and be happier and more content. However, if your values feel compromised e.g. if you value family but you’re working 16 hours a day, then this can cause internal conflict, leading to more negative emotions and stress.

Search the internet and you’ll find over 200 values and descriptions and you’ll find many tools online that can help you to determine your top 5 core values. Once identified, spend time to reflect on whether you’re truly living your values at work and if not, think about how you can create more alignment to the work that you’re doing. For example, if you value advancement, you could work with your manager to determine the steps it will take to get to the next level, creating goals and objectives to help you to get there. If you value adventure, is there an opportunity to take on more challenging experiences? And for those who value connection, is there a project you can volunteer for which would allow you to be more collaborative with others?

Knowing and understanding your values can help you to make decisions that are in harmony with your purpose, allowing you to live your life at work more authentically.


According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people are happiest when they are in a state of flow which is essentially those times when you’re fully engrossed in an activity, and time literally passes you by.

Goal setting is critical to achieving this state of flow and by setting the right kind of goals, you’ll not only increase your chances of invigorating more flow into your day, but you’ll also help to increase your motivation which can fuel you to greater success. Writing goals allows you to focus on the task in hand, driving you to achieve more – and the best part is that each and every time you achieve a goal, the brain releases the happiness neurotransmitter dopamine which provides you with an immediate happiness and pleasure boost. Woohoo!

Writing the goals can be the hard part. Below are some tips that will help you to construct high quality goals:

  • Write down the overarching key goals that you want or need to achieve. Consider how your goals align to your team or organization, and the impact your goals will have once you achieve them.
  • Break these larger goals down into smaller bite size mini goals so your goals feel more achievable. Think about the 2-3 actions you can take today to achieve these, and each morning review your progress and adjust your goals accordingly.
  • Make goals SMART; specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Flow can only be achieved if you have the feeling that goals can be achieved, so make sure they’re realistic otherwise you won’t be motivated to achieve them and this in turn can have negative consequences to your well-being. Goals should be challenging but attainable.
  • In the words of Mark Twain “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. Procrastination can be deliberating and is a major time suck. Eat that frog and work on the goals that you’re putting off first. You’ll feel so much better when you’ve achieved them, and you’ll be rewarded with that nice boost of dopamine!
  • Get feedback. Regularly reviewing your goals and progress with your manager can ensure your goals are the right ones, and can help to keep you on track.

If you’re setting the right goals, your productivity should increase and you’ll likely experience more opportunities where you’re in that euphoric state of flow. You’ll be well on your way to improving your happiness and well-being.


According to The Washington Post, the average office worker sits for about 10 hours a day. Yep, 10 hours… on our backsides! Doesn’t that news just make you want to jump up and start moving?!

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days a week. Easy right? This certainly sounds achievable, but I personally know how difficult this can be when you’re overwhelmed at work or stuck in meetings all day. Truth is, you kind of have to just find the time to build exercise into your daily routine, and there are many reported benefits of doing so. In a UK study, researchers found that workers mood and self-reported performance improved on the days they exercised at work resulting in improved concentration, work-based relationships and lower stress.

Carving out time in your day to exercise can help to give you a well needed break and will help boost your productivity – so chances are that time spent working out, will actually help you to get more done. If you have an onsite gym you’re one of the lucky ones – schedule time out on your calendar and go! But in absence of an onsite gym, or like many of us, you just don’t have the time, find other strategies to build in activity throughout the day. Walk and talk meetings are on the rise and are a great way to up your step intake and get your heart pumping. The fresh air is re-energizing and according to researchers at Stanford University, walking leads to creative thinking and can improve creative output by 60%.

Other strategies include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, a great way to tighten buns and get those thighs burning – or perhaps some exercise at your desk. Not only will those jumping jacks and office lunges improve your own health and happiness, you’ll probably improve the happiness of others as they try to contain their laughter while watching you!


While 51% of US employees are actively looking for other opportunities, Gallup analysis concludes that “the longer employees stay in their job the more likely they are to strongly agree that they have opportunities to do what they do best every day”. So the next time you’re suffering from Sunday night blues and begrudgingly dragging yourself into the office on Monday morning, try some of these strategies to bring more happiness and satisfaction to your day – perhaps they’ll fuel your happiness enough to unlock the opportunities that enable you to do what you do best.

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  • Emma Simpson

    Founder & CEO

    VUCA Leadership Institute

    Emma Simpson is the Founder and CEO at VUCA Leadership Institute, an organization supporting leaders to navigate uncertainty, break through barriers and to courageously lead and thrive in the organization and beyond. Find out more about our coaching programs and group events at