The Key to Productivity May Lie in How Happy Your Staff Are

The Key to Productivity May Lie in How Happy Your Staff Are

What makes you happy to go to work every morning? Is it because the work you do is stimulating? Do you feel appreciated and valued? Maybe you’re working in a great office environment? Or could it be that you are working with some amazing people? Or is something entirely different?

Job satisfaction is essentially about being happy in one’s job. It is the feeling of pleasure and achievement we experience at work because we know what we do matters. The speed and efficacy of our work are often affected by our happiness level. The happier we are at work, the more efficient and effective we become. On the other hand, if we are unhappy, this unhappiness is reflected in the quality of our work. Unhappiness at work can affect our mental and physical state. It can also impact our relationships with our family and friends. In other words, unhappiness at work can translate to unhappiness in life.

Contrary to popular belief, money is not the biggest motivator for job satisfaction. Money is important but it cannot buy you happiness at work if the reasons for your unhappiness are not related to how much you are paid. Take Eric Yuan for instance. Yuan had a six-figure salary, but he wasn’t happy at work. In a recent interview with CNBC’s ‘Make It’, Yuan said ‘Every day when I woke up, I wasn’t very happy. I even did not want to go to work.’ Job satisfaction became a central focus for Yuan’s new company. This year, the company he founded – Zoom – was named one of the top ten happiest companies in the world to work in.

As a leadership coach, I sometimes ask the participants in my workshops to identify three elements they think can lead to job satisfaction. Apart from a sense of purpose, participants identify autonomy, flexibility, recognition, belonging and good relationship with people at work.

Working from home in lockdown, Thai and I thought nothing of allowing staff flexible hours to work. The first week we tried it, I received a text from a part-time employee that works elsewhere too. It had one-word ‘Thanks!’ followed by several happy emojis. Reading it made me happy and I’ve been trying to deconstruct this emotion.

All this while, I’ve focused on the staff’s happiness. What are the things we can do as a company to make our staff feel happy and fulfilled in their jobs? Are we doing enough? Can we do more? It had not occurred to me that a random act of kindness could bring happiness to me – the giver.

If a random act of kindness can make the giver happy, imagine our level of happiness if we can frame our acts in specific, concrete terms rather than abstract ones? For instance, giving our staff some flexibility to take time to work as they need or look after their child is better than just saying I want the staff to be happy. As managers, we know that happy employees produce better quality work, are less likely to make mistakes and will stay loyal to the organisation. Likewise, a happy manager is easier to work with, can get more work done and achieve better outcomes. So, why not give it a go?


The dragonfly effect on creating a happy work culture

The dragonfly effect is a concept mooted by a group of Stanford researchers. The dragonfly is the only insect in the world that can move in any direction when all its wings are working in concert. It symbolises the importance of how small acts can have a ripple effect to create big changes. I’ve been thinking about how we can use this symbol to create a happy work culture.

Consider the four principles as the four wings of the dragonfly: 1) Focus 2) Own 3) Engage and 4) Act.

Remember, you are using these principles in the context of creating happiness for your staff. So, don’t plan organisational goals like meeting deadlines or saving cost. Look at your staff’s emotional and mental wellbeing as the starting point for your planning.

1. Focus on specific goals

Identify a single and measurable goal that can make your staff happy. Define the goal clearly – as you would any organisational goal. Don’t describe abstracts like: ‘My goal is to make my staff happy.’ Be specific. ‘My goal is to make my staff happy by giving them some flexibility to adjust to returning to the office.’

Framing your goal makes it clearer and easier for you to achieve it so be specific about what you want to achieve.

2. Own your happiness strategy

The best way to create a message that is authentic and memorable is to cut through the noise. If you want others to believe it, you have to convince yourself first. Speak from the heart. Be honest. You must genuinely want to make your staff happy. Everything else will flow from there. Happiness has a ripple effect that will translate to their productivity at work. If you are not truthful about your intentions, your strategy may not work.

3. Engage

Once you have the staff’s interest, you can start engaging them in your goal of happiness. Engaging people is about compelling others to care deeply about your cause. If you want to have some flexibility in the workplace, it is not just you who has to be on board. You need the involvement of others in the team too. Engagement has little to do with logic or reason. You might have brilliant arguments why people should get involved but if you cannot get ‘buy-in’, you will not succeed.

Engagement is about creating the right emotional connection with people so they can see and feel what you are seeing and feeling.

4. Act

To act, you empower and enable others to work. If you have been successful in bringing some happiness to your team, then make it an organisational-wide project. Inspire other managers to take the lead from you and bring happiness to their teams too. The fourth wing of the dragonfly is crucial to closing the loop and creating an organisational culture that is vibrant and inclusive.


The four wings of the dragonfly are a metaphor for making a difference in the lives of others. Nearly all managers would like their employees to be happy because we know a happy worker produce better quality work and deliver results. A happy worker is also less likely to leave the organisation. They are genuinely enthusiastic about the company’s success and will work hard to ensure this success. Perks are attractive but they do not always address internal issues. Praise and recognition are motivating but only if the recipient believes them to be genuine. If once in a while, we can pause focusing on we want and orient ourselves to what others want, we are closer to finding out how we can help our staff be happy in their jobs. And as I have discovered in recent times, the pleasure we feel when we know we’ve done something good for others is priceless.

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