What makes you happy might not have the same effect on someone else; yet we all recognize happiness as one of our most powerful, influential emotions.
Despite the pivotal role happiness plays in our lives, defining exactly what it is has eluded scholars and philosophers for millennia. Not only because happiness takes different forms for all of us, but because trying to explain what it feels like is like trying to define the color blue or the smell of a rose. You know it when you sense it.
This deeply personal nature of happiness isn’t very helpful, particularly for businesses that want to engender happiness for their customers and employees. Yet to campaign for happiness across the board is the right thing to do, now more than ever. At Freshworks, we’ve thought about what happiness looks like more than most.
“I believe happiness is an energy,” explains Pradeep Rathinam, Freshworks’ Chief Customer Officer. “You create it, you harness it, and you transmit it.”
As a joke dropped into a conversation creates ripples of laughter, and a smile spreads easily from one person to another, happiness travels invisibly, showing up in the way people behave. In a company, it starts with your employees, and ultimately reaches your customers.
When you think about happiness as a type of energy, it’s easier to find ways to track and measure it. Think of it like a soundwave: you can’t see the wave itself, but you can sense and record the effects.
Here’s how to foster happiness within your organization, and how to make sure the efforts are paying off.
Happiness is efficiency
We all know that when something makes us unhappy, we find it hard to focus. Unhappiness is inefficiency.
In contrast, when we feel good, we can bounce out of bed, savor the journey to the office, push ourselves to do our best work, and feel fulfilled at the end of the day. We benefit from the motivating force of happiness—and ultimately, customers do too.
Research by the Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing (QCBV) has shown that businesses with the most engaged employees see customer satisfaction levels up to 30% higher than those whose employees feel disengaged. They also have higher productivity levels and less turnover. “We truly believe that happy employees translate to happy customers, and to better products,” Rathinam says.
How to foster efficiency
Although there’s not one thing that makes everyone happy, the most important thing an organization can do, as Freshworks shows, is to embrace happiness as a forcing function; a behavior-shaping constraint. Nudging employees towards positive behaviors – craftsmanship, customer centricity, cultivating healthy team dynamics, and more – bleeds into exceptional levels of efficiency. This demonstrably translates into good work, great products, outstanding service, and delighted customers.
In practice, efficiency nudges can take some of these forms
When you give employees across levels control in their jobs, you make them happy in two ways. First, you’re showing that you trust them to make important decisions on behalf of the company. “We call it making the agent the hero,” says Colin Crowley, a CX Advisor at Freshworks.
Second, you’re making it easier for them to get their work done. People get frustrated when there are too many hoops to jump through. They prefer it when you empower them to work efficiently. This also directly contributes to customer happiness. When you remove bottlenecks, workers can act faster to make changes that benefit customers.
Sometimes empowerment looks like granting key permissions, such as allowing customer service reps to make decisions about issuing refunds. At Freshworks, Crowley says it also looks like mentoring and further education, which give employees the skills and confidence they need to get better at their jobs, and enjoy them even more.
Value the whole person
Employees don’t want to feel like they’re “just another brick in the wall,” as Pink Floyd phrased it. They want to be respected as people, not just as workers.
“Happy workplaces are places where people know each other not for what they do at work, but for who they are,” Rathinam says.
Creating a culture where colleagues care about each other on a personal level doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. It can grow over impromptu conversations in communal spaces, at all-hands meetings, and during work projects. However, it does require intentionality from leaders. You have to ensure there are opportunities for these moments to happen, and that the culture that grows from them is positive, not hypercompetitive and toxic.
The COVID-19 pandemic underlined the importance of building a culture that supports employees as people. It also made it even harder to do this systematically. When those who could were forced to work remotely, these spontaneous moments of connection evaporated overnight.
Freshworks adapted to meet this challenge by making the most of remote working software. “We do a lot to celebrate people internally, using Google Workspace and other tools,” Crowley says.
Start at the top
Every interaction within a company contributes to building a happy work environment. However, long-term success requires leaders to set an example and spark that positive energy into life.
Rathinam compares it to a snowball on top of a mountain, that gathers momentum and grows as it rolls down, “so that by the time it reaches the bottom, it’s an avalanche of energy inside an organization.”
Any company can talk about valuing employees’ happiness. It takes leaders actively demonstrating high standards of work, agility, empathy, and care on a daily basis to prove to employees that it’s not just words: that happiness is foundational and present in every decision.
In large organizations like Freshworks, much of the day-to-day, top-down work of spreading happiness falls to managers. “The managers are the ones who are distilling all these higher principles, and ensuring they reach everyone else in the organization,” Crowley says. “At Freshworks, we’re investing a lot more when it comes to manager training, and making sure managers feel that they are appropriately placed, and ready to help deliver employee happiness.”
How to measure employee happiness
Self-reporting aside, there’s no scientific device for measuring happiness but that doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to assess how your employees are feeling. Especially since companies have been pouring resources into tracking customer happiness for years.
“You use marketing software to send emails to customers, and you track the open rates and click rates,” Crowley says. “You care about how much customers engage with those communications. Think about tracking the things you send to employees as well. How employees engage with emails you’re sending them, and the Slack channels you’re opening for them, can be an indicator of how happy they are, and how engaged they feel with the company.”
Another thing you’re likely already doing that can be adapted to measure employee happiness are performance reviews. When assessing employees’ performance, tie your questions to metrics that are key components of happiness. This proves to employees that their happiness is as important to the company as their work performance. And it makes it much easier to get an accurate idea of how happy they are, because it breaks a large question into more manageable pieces. “Are you happy? That’s a very loaded question,” Rathinam says. “You have to be very specific.”
|Component of happiness||Question|
|Intellectual stimulation||Are you using your talents in your job? Do you feel bored or unchallenged?|
|Personal and professional growth||Are you learning new skills? Do you feel supported when taking on new tasks? Have you had access to company education programs?|
|Personal relationships||Do you trust your colleagues enough to delegate appropriately? Do you and your colleagues help each other? Do you connect over more than just work?|
|Community||Do you embody the values of the company? Do you go above and beyond to support customers?|
Happiness is not passive
We tend to picture happiness as serene and calm. When in fact, happiness often makes us want to move and act—to share this feeling with other people, and to make things around us better.
This happy energy doesn’t come from nothing.
Just as happiness manifests as action, it requires action to come into existence.
Leaders must build the core of company culture around stimulating happiness. Here, fostering conditions of efficiency is critical. Leaders must put their attention to improving structural weaknesses, leaving employees to focus on their strengths. After all, a leader’s most important job is to create environments that encourage people to do well, with competence and benevolence.