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Taking International Day of Happiness Into Work

21/03/2014 11:38 GMT | Updated 20/05/2014 10:59 BST

Today is the International Day of Happiness, a day set aside by the UN to recognise that the "happiness and well-being of all peoples" is a fundamental goal of development. This year, as it falls on a workday, it begs the question of whether happiness and well-being are issues that organizations should take seriously.

Lots of organizations are starting to embrace the concept of well-being, though most seem to think of it in a physical sense - almost as an extension of health. Happiness, however, takes us into the realm of people's actual experience of work and their emotional well-being. To me, this is much more interesting than talking about well-being as if it were a matter of perks and benefits like gym memberships and lunch-time massages.

So what does happiness at work look like? Well, it looks pretty much like happiness anywhere else! We all know what happiness feels like and we can usually recognise when other people are happy, too. Technically, happiness is a positive emotion that all people experience - at least from time to time. Some evolutionary psychologists categorize happiness as one of the four primary human emotions, alongside anger, fear, and sadness. It is well known that anger and fear are part of the fight or flight mechanism and help us deal with threats to our survival. Happiness, in contrast, is associated more with creating and seizing opportunities, thereby helping us to thrive.

It then follows that organizations characterized by happier employees should do better than those that aren't. There is a lot of evidence to support this. Numerous studies by the government taskforce Engage for Success, and Gallup, for instance, have shown that happy organizations tend to have lower absenteeism, lower staff turnover, and higher productivity. This is all great, but the research that I find most interesting shows that happiness can be a predictor of future performance.

How can this be? Think about it. Happier employees are better at building relationships with colleagues and customers, which leads to better teamwork and higher customer satisfaction. Happier employees are also more open, more engaged, and more creative, which leads to higher quality work, better problem solving, and more innovation.

This is especially interesting as most people tend to think of happiness as something that follows success - we feel good when things go well. And whilst this is undeniably true, the other way round is also true - when we feel good things go well.

For organizations, employee happiness and performance are entwined. Tantalizingly, there is a prospect of a virtuous cycle of happiness leading to better performance which in turn leads to more happiness and so on. The best way to kick-start this virtuous cycle is by focusing on how happy our employees are right now and how together we can make our workplace that little bit happier.

Why wait? Could we ask for a better day to start than today - it is the International Day of Happiness after all.