Human Capital

Two young businessmen sit at their office computer desk with ecstatic expressions on their faces and light bulb sticky notes on their foreheads. They are excited as they have thought of new business ideas. They are wearing a suit and tie and glasses.

by Michael Sinclair, Virgin Pulse

Industry View from

virgin pulse logo

​​​​​​​Happiness and productivity at work

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

With companies, CEOs and managers looking for the secret ingredient to boost productivity, happiness in the workplace is the new niche where businesses can make joyful gains to their bottom line.


For most employees, work has historically been viewed as a necessary part of life in order to survive. But today, workplaces are looking at ways to help their employees do more than survive – they want them to thrive too. And the logic is simple. Happy employees are more productive.


Studies by the Social Market Foundation show that on average, happy workers are 12 per cent more productive, with some elements of the study showing increases of 20 per cent.


Of course, simply telling employees to be happy isn’t the answer. And increasing happiness isn’t as simple as throwing some beanbags and a table tennis table in the rec room. In fact, pushing happiness can have the opposite effect, where employees can become cynical and exhausted with all the celebrations. Who knew that too many cakes and party poppers could be such a downer?


Instead of pushing happiness down employees’ throats, there are ways to foster a positive work environment, and it starts in a similar vein to Sir Richard Branson’s favourite saying, “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business.” Employees who feel supported and appreciated, and who feel like they are serving a purpose, are more willing to go above and beyond their job description.


Happiness in the workplace can increase by creating…




Break up the busy work environment; build excitement around social time and outings where employees can bond.




Build reflection into meetings; focus on what teams have achieved, not what they lack.



Foster a culture of appreciation, not criticism; the small act of greeting, giving praise, or saying thanks can have a big impact.


Dr Cynthia Ackrill, a leading physician trained in neuroscience, stress management and leadership, has studied how “professional happiness” can help work colleagues achieve business goals and objectives together. “There’s a deep joy to be had from feeling purposeful. But too often, our culture and working environments put a premium on suffering towards our goals,” Dr Ackrill says. “That’s the wrong way of thinking: success starts when you come at it with a positive attitude.”


Happiness might be hard to instil, but once it starts, it’s highly infectious. A study at Cornell University in New York found that positive emotional contagion results in “improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased perceived task performance.”


“Emotional contagion is real and it’s powerful,” Dr Ackrill says. “Employers and managers have a great deal of influence over whether or not their employees catch the happiness habit.”


“And that’s essentially what happiness is: a healthy habit. It deserves its place in the wider health strategy.


“Just as you can create opportunities for employees to exercise, eat better and sleep well, you can provide opportunities for them to reflect, practise gratitude, and generally be mindful of themselves and one another.”


Leading businesses are now seeing the benefits of introducing platforms to help foster health and happiness in the workplace. Programmes such as Virgin Pulse’s Global Challenge have key modules focussing on happiness. Members can access these elements on the website and app to help practise gratitude (being thankful), promote positive attitudes and learn how to focus and lower stress.


Dr Ackrill says that employers who actively foster happiness will get the best from their people. “Positive emotion is what makes humans thrive, rather than just survive, within a business,” she says. “We often get so busy that we neglect the things that bring us joy, we forget self-care. The irony is that we’re doing it to be more productive.


“Yet when we prioritise selfcare, and positivity within that, we become happier and more productive.”



For more information on Happiness at Work you can download our Whitepaper here , visit our website or contact Charlotte Church at

Related articles

What's next?

Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders