5 ingredients for workaday happiness

Happiness at work

We’ve known for eons that happiness is a universal human desire, but it’s only recently that we’ve put happiness and work together in the same sentence.

The craft of cultivating a happy workplace is even more nascent. Nic Marks, founder of the company Happiness Works, cites increasing evidence of the benefits, and says that improving workers’ moods can increase productivity between ten and 40 percent.

Knowing this should be reason enough to increase interest in knowing how to create genuine happiness on the job.


If you can’t buy it through superficial perks, then how do you consistently put workers in good spirits?  

The award-winning Happy Planet Index, also created by Nic Marks, makes it easier for workplaces to know where to invest their good intentions, which incorporates distilled international research findings into the drivers of workplace happiness.

Software provider Atlassian and The Physio Company are two companies that know something about creating happy workplaces. Both were top rated in the 2014 Great Place To Work Australia  list in the over 100 and less than 100 employee category, respectively.  

Using these two businesses as examples, Marks discusses the five essential ingredients to a happy workplace.

1. Have good relationships at work

‘Play, as a team,’ is one of Atlassian’s core values. The sole purpose of its “Experience Team” of eight is making Atlassian a fun place to work.

“We train staff how to have crucial conversations, giving them tools to address issues and concerns respectfully”, which helps with the more serious side of communication says Kelly Kirby, Talent Business Partner at Atlassian’s Sydney office.

“Team members also have regular one-on-ones with their managers, and most teams have daily 'stand ups' – a quick ten-minute meeting to check in on how everyone is tracking.”  

“Kudos” is a system where any Atlassian staff member can select a gift and give it to a colleague to say “thank you”. 

“There are no limits to how many gifts you can give. We trust people to do the right thing and they do,” says Kirby.

2. Treat people fairly

Factors such as pay, work-life balance, job security and a decent working environment all contribute towards how employees interpret workplace fairness. This is critical because when treated unjustly, people will act to restore the balance, typically by withdrawing and just doing the bare essentials, according to Professor Andrew Noblet from Deakin University’s Faculty of Business and Law.

“When making decisions about allocating resources, whether that’s physical resources or access to decision making, or a promotion opportunity, make sure your procedures are fair,” advises Noblet.

Related article: How to be happier at work

 “Ensure all the relevant people are informed  – not just the favourites  – that there’s transparency about how the decision will be made, as well as a follow-up explanation afterwards.

“Also provide an opportunity for workers to voice their opinion or disagreement and demonstrate you are open to corrective action if an error was made.”

3. Empower people

Give people the power, autonomy and resources they need to do their jobs.   

“I model a ‘freedom within boundaries’ approach with my managers,” says Tristan White, CEO of the Physio Company.  

“How they lead their teams is up to them as long as it’s within the bounds of our core purpose and values.  I continually ask my direct reports if they have enough time and resources to get their work done, and they ask their teams the same question. 

“If they start to struggle we reduce the work load if we can, or give them tools to get their jobs done more efficiently.” 

At Atlassian, employees describe their workplace as a "do-ocracy". 

“If you see something and you think it needs to be fixed, you have permission to go ahead and do it, assuming you talk to people first,” says Kirby.

4. Develop people

Give people the opportunity to use their strengths, learn new skills and acknowledge their progress. 

“I lead my team by understanding their needs and wants with regards to work-life balance and career direction, then allocate a responsibility that meets those aspirations,” says White. 

“This gives them a sense of personal mastery as well as achieving business goals. We have regular events and parties that celebrate the milestones of individuals and the company.”

At Atlassian, 24-hour and weeklong innovation events allow staff to challenge themselves, generate inspiring new solutions and showcase them. 

5. Inspire a sense of purpose and meaning 

The Atlassian Foundation donates one per cent of employee time, one per cent of profit, and one per cent of equity in the company to selected causes. 

“This means I get five days a year to volunteer for a cause of my choice,” says Kirby. This also provides opportunities for employees to create social impact in their company’s name.

“We also share stories with our team about how our software is being used to make products that have a positive impact in the world, such as the cochlear ear implants for deaf children.”

Founders with Happiness in Mind

About Atlassian

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar created Atlassian in 2002, with the clear goal of making it a place where people want to come work, where they do the best work they’ve done in their career and where they have fun doing so.

This year the company, which has offices in Sydney, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Austin and Tokyo, also won the Great Place to Work award in Asia. 

About The Physio Company

Tristan White, founder and CEO of The Physio Company, where a “Creator of Energy and Inspiration” answers the phone, set out to rank as number one.


“Aged care is the ugly duckling of the health world, so I knew I needed to make this a great place to work to attract and retain good talent,” says White.

The Happiness at Work survey

The happiness at work survey is based on more than ten years of research into measuring happiness and well-being by the new economics foundation in the UK. To date it has been used by 3,000 teams from workplaces internationally especial the UK and US.

Survey results reveal that people are happier at work when:

  • Working in smaller organisations, due almost entirely to having greater autonomy
  • In positions of greater power rather than being low down in the hierarchy
  • In skilled rather than unskilled work
  • In a caring profession (as compared to those working in the commerical sector).

Where can workplaces start?

“The first step is to hold up a mirror and see what is going on in your organisation,” advises Marks, who also created the comprehensive Happiness at Work Survey, and mood check analytics software moodmap.io.

“Ensure a lot of internal communication to explain that you are taking workers’ happiness seriously, that you will ask them about it and that you are going to act on it.” 


Are you happy at work? Take the free Happiness at Work survey

March 20 United Nations International Day of Happiness

Calculate how much you can profit from workplace happiness

December/January 2022
December/January 2022

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