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Happiness at work

  • Overview
  • Exercises


Happy teams are more motivated and perform better.

Happiness at work means different things to different people, but we can identify some useful themes that are found time and time again in research1 to give people that extra oomph at work. If you can influence any of them as team leader, you'll develop a more engaged and fulfilled team.

Research has identified the following factors:

  • Money and working conditions
  • Work culture
  • Job factors
  • Personal connection

Money and working conditions

No surprise - people prefer to work in a safe, pleasant environment and to be well-paid for what they do. If you have discretion as team leader over pay and conditions this is a great place to start.

People's feelings of safety are also influenced by how aggressive behaviour and conflict are managed. These behaviours may be hidden from view and some people may be more sensitive to them than others. It is important, even if you feel perfectly safe yourself, to be aware that others may feel less safe. You should be alert to any signs - such as non-contribution to team meetings - that people feel unable to express their views or concerns.

Check out the briefings on managing conflict and building resilience to help you set up a constructive atmosphere if these are potential issues for your team.

Work culture

We value opportunities for professional development and possibilities for promotion.

We want to work for an organisation that treats people fairly; and for a boss who we trust, who is concerned about us and does what they can to ensure we can perform well. People join organisations but leave bosses.

As team leader you may not be in a position to promise promotion, but you can help by giving people opportunities that will help in their careers. Even in difficult times it is possible to show ordinary decent behaviour - to be fair, show an interest in people and appreciate and support their work. The essential ingredients of a supportive can-do culture.

Check out the Related Topics at the foot of the page on how you can develop a supportive and empowering team culture.

Job factors

We like to be clear about what is expected of us at work, and receive regular and constructive feedback on how we are getting on. This is an easy win for you as team leader – staying in touch with the team, coaching them and keeping them up to speed with what’s happening outside.

These team development sessions on our website will help you get this right with your team:

We enjoy variety and challenge in our job – up to a certain point. If we feel the demands are too great it stresses and de-motivates us. But in general, challenge not only motivates us, it improves our performance.

We want to use our skills, our discretion and make our own decisions wherever possible. The most rewarding times of our lives occur when we are using our skills to the maximum – at work and at play.

It is not always possible to vary the jobs that need to be done to make them more interesting and challenging. But how about delegating some responsibility and authority to people? Delegation is the high road to empowering your team and improving their skills.

Personal connection

We want a job that makes us feel good about ourselves. Perhaps because it gives us high status, perhaps because it makes a valuable contribution to other people or society as a whole.

We like feeling we belong and being part of a group at our workplace – identifying with the work the organisation does and enjoying our social relationships.

As team leader you play an important part in uniting your team and helping people to feel proud of their contribution. Our briefing on improving team dynamics will help you to create just the right kind of team.


Finally, what is so inspiring about the evidence on happiness at work is how closely linked it is with what makes us perform well – setting challenging goals, building good relationships, treating people decently and so on.

Teams are a crucible where we have the potential to combine our contribution to society with personal fulfilment.

It is the team leader’s job to help that to happen.

For more details on the evidence of the close links between personal fulfilment and achievement at work, please see the section on 'Engagement at work'.

1. See, for example Warr, 2011, 'Work, Happiness and Unhappiness', Kindle Edition, Psychology Press


Exercise - Clarifying team responsibilities

Time: 1 hour

The aim of this exercise is to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what in the team.

Exercise - Creating an Empowered and Optimistic Culture

Time: 1 hour

The aim of this exercise is to look at how you / your team talk about events - past, present or future - and see how you could view them in a more optimistic and empowering way.

Exercise - Reviewing team dynamics

Time: 20 minutes

You can do this exercise informally at the end of one of your meetings, to check in with the team that topics are getting aired and everyone feels able to contribute.

Exercise - Using the RobertsonCooper i-Resilience report

Time: 1 hour

RobertsonCooper have an evidence-based model to help you increase your resilience. Completing their online questionnaire will give you plenty of tips of what to avoid and what to build on.

Exercise - Mapping your future

Time: 1 hour

The aim of this exercise is to review your current situation and help you imagine your new future.

Exercise - Active imagination

Time: 30 minutes

The aim of this visualisation exercise is to help you imagine a new future for yourself by simply finding some time for yourself and visualising the future you would really like. You can sketch it, write it down, talk to somebody about it - the choice is yours.

Exercise - Perfect days

Time: 30 minutes

The aim of this visualisation exercise is to help you imagine a new future for yourself by simply finding some time for yourself and visualising in detail what a working day and a leisure day would look like. You can sketch it, write it down, talk to somebody about it - the choice is yours.

Exercise - Appreciative inquiry

Time: 20 minutes

The 'appreciative inquiry' approach to organisational change seeks to build on what works well rather than get stuck in the mess of what is going wrong in a situation. These two similar exercises help you to build any change or development on your experience of when things have gone well.