happy at work

15 Proven Ways to Encourage Employee Happiness and Engagement

As a leader of people you need to encourage happiness in every facet of your business. I’ve put together 15 proven techniques that will help your company be happy and successful.

These are concepts that are easy to understand, but may be hard to apply to your company’s culture. I’ll break them down so you can use them in your company.

1. Start with Yourself

If you aren’t empathetic, caring and willing to dig into the tough stuff to learn and grow then how can you expect your employees to do this?

It starts with asking yourself a tough question:

Am I happy?

If you don’t know how to make yourself happy, it will be very difficult to help the people you manage to be happier. That’s why I believe your passions, strengths and values should guide your choices. Do you know your values? Do you share these values with your employees so they understand you a little better? Using your values to lead others helps them understand why you are making choices. This helps develop trust with your employees.

If you are a manager and miss a certain aspect of your old job (i.e. more customer interaction), then try to do more of the customer interaction projects and give a part of your job that you are weaker in to a teammate who enjoys the type of work that you don’t.

I struggled with my own work happiness because I didn’t take responsibility for my own emotions. I would let my emotions run rampant, causing me much more pain than I needed to endure. I was able to build a stronger foundation through a gratitude journal. I had to start with my own mindset before I could help others. Do you appreciate every moment like it’s your last? Being grateful every single day will help you live longer and build a more resilient mindset.

2. Help People See Their Progress

People want to see that their hard work is making a difference in people’s lives.

They want to know that their hard work mattered. Why do you think teachers aren’t paid more for all their hard work? They should be paid a lot more. My wife is a counselor at an elementary school and she is often completing work at home. Most teachers don’t do it for the money. They do it because they see their students’ daily growth and believe in their purpose.

You can show people their own progress by recognizing their hard work. They see that their work matters and they are willing to dig a little deeper when they hit a wall. How can you recognize someone’s hard work today?

I created the Dig to Fly coaching process to help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and the people you work with, so you can calibrate your actions together. Just fill out this short form and we can set-up some time to talk about how you can calibrate your strengths, weaknesses, and values with your teammates, so you optimize your results.

3. Make Time for Your People

Are you taking the time to listen to their problems and helping them come up with solutions? I know most of my superiors never did this for me.

At most of my jobs, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I know a lot of people feel this way. They feel like they are the last to know what is going on with in a company.

Every leader needs to make time for his or her people.

You can do this by:

  • Talking to employees about decisions.
  • Asking them about their own issues.
  • Hanging out with them outside of work.
  • Asking them for their opinions.
  • Chatting with them about their personal lives.

Making time for your people might sometimes feel like a time suck, but it’s worth your effort. They will show more loyalty and become more engaged. Zappos, the employee happiness juggernauts, encourage their managers to spend roughly 15% of their day with their staff. They know that it works.

4. Keep a Gratitude Journal

People want to feel appreciated at work. They want their boss to notice their hard work.

This doesn’t always happen, but it doesn’t mean you have a bad boss. It just means they never built their own appreciation mindset at work. They probably don’t even take the time to appreciate themselves let along other people.

That’s why I suggest to all my clients that they keep a gratitude journal at work. It helps reduce stress and remind you that is always something to appreciate even when you are having a bad day.

5. Help Them Find Meaning in Their Work

People need to believe that the work they do is worth doing. Otherwise they see no point in putting in extra effort.

A great way to help your employees find meaning is to tell stories that they can connect with. A good story can show a perspective that the employee hadn’t yet seen.

My father is an electrician and has owned Staib Electrical for 40 years. I worked with him through high school and college. I was always baffled by his need to form the wires so perfectly. My dad made sure his electrical panels were like little pieces of engineering art work. One day, after he fixed my work (again), I asked him why it was so important to him to make the wires look perfect.

He explained how he recently received two phone calls from potential clients. They had both heard from a previous customer about the great work he did. He asked them who referred him, and they both named a neighbor of theirs, Mr. Hanken. My father told me about Mr. Hanken’s delighted expression when he showed him his work. Mr. Hanken then bragged to his neighbors, and they too wanted an electrician that cared as much as my father does.

I understood why my dad’s presentation was so important. If he didn’t apply a bit of art to his craft, everyone would think he was just like every other electrician. It separated him from the crowd and as a result people talked him up to people they knew. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.

From that point on, I applied a little art to every wire I formed.

6. Listen and Respond to Their Emotions, Not Just Their Problems

People often complain just so they will be heard. They don’t necessarily want solutions; they want empathy.

The next time an employee comes to talk to you about another employee, give them what they need emotionally. Let them know that it can be tough work with (fill in difficult coworker here). Allow them to vent.

If they ask for a solution then you can try to find one together, but most of the time they just need an emotional boost, rather than a fix to their problem.

7. Stop Letting Jerks Dictate the Company Culture

One asshole can wreak havoc on a whole department or organization. They are miserable and they want everyone else to be miserable too.

The job of any leader is to stop these people from bringing everyone else down. That may mean helping this person recognize their issues and figuring out a way to become happy. If that doesn’t work, you may need to let them go.

The only way the company culture will support great work is if everyone treats each other with respect.

* #7 was based on the book. The No A hole Rule (Amazon affiliate link).

8. Encourage Friendships

People need to have friends at work. If they don’t, they are much less likely to stay at a job, feel happy, and be creative.

“Among the 3 in 10 workers who strongly agree that they have a best friend at work, 56% are engaged, 33% are not engaged and 11% are actively disengaged to the point of poisoning the atmosphere with their negativity. Those who don’t have a best friend have slim 1-in-12 odds of being among the engaged. Worse, the best-friendless stand a one in three chance of being actively disengaged. That means they may threaten sabotage or otherwise become a serious drag on the company’s success.” – Del Jones of USA Today Best friends good for business

A manager should encourage his or her staff to hang out with each other. The more people hang out with each other, the more likely they are to find ways to like each other.

It’s helpful if you create opportunities for people to gather outside of work so they can bond. If you are their superior then they may not be able to relax when you’re there, so gather them and take off. Yes, they may complain about you after you leave, but it’s important that they find common ground, even if it’s making jokes at your expense.

Believe me, they will be more supportive, happier and a stronger team as a result.

9. Recognize Hard Work

A boss who appreciates hard work, not just the end result is a better boss. The psychology behind it is simple. If you show people that you are grateful when they work hard they are more likely to enjoy the process.

Many bosses only appreciate the end result. If the end result is bad, then the employee confidence and morale takes a hit.

Show people that you care about their effort, not just the results, and you’ll see an improvement in productivity.

10. Find Out Why People Leave

People usually leave a company because they aren’t happy. Try to find out why they are leaving and what you can do to solve the issue.

I’ve never had an exit interview, but I had a friend who did. They kept asking the question “why” until they got to the heart of the problem. They didn’t want some patsy answer that wouldn’t help them.

Most employees will just want to get out of there, but if you take the time to listen, you may be able to figure out a solution that will help future employees. You may have lost this employee, but you can improve other employees’ happiness so they stick around and do great work.

11. Know Your People

You must know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses. If you keep giving PR work to an employee who hates it, they won’t be sticking around very long.

When you assign work to an employee who enjoys the task, they respect and appreciate you. The happier you make them, the higher quality their output will be. It’s a simple concept, but one many managers ignore.

You must spend time with your employees in order to understand them. Do you know what they do in their spare time? What type of food do they like?

The more you know about the people you manage, the easier it will be to lead them.

12. Have More Fun

Work should be fun. If it’s not, I guarantee your turnover will be high. People don’t want to feel to constricted. They want to know that they can be themselves without fear of being frowned at by managers and other co-workers. The more fun you can encourage people to have, the more creative your company will become.

There are lots of ways to have fun.

“There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.” – Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play

You have to decide within your company’s culture what is appropriate because Naked Friday might not be a good idea. Just saying.

13. Good Managers are Aware of their Limitations as Well as Strengths

If they know they don’t handle conflict well and lean toward avoidance, then hopefully they have the integrity and courage to recognize their limitations and make dealing with their stuff a priority by learning conflict resolution and healthy communications skills as part of their professional development. Better yet, they might organize a department wide workshop on positive/assertive communications skills (preferably non-violent communications)so everyone can be empowered by learning those skills. Workshops on understanding how different personality/temperament types function at work would also be great ways of increasing understanding and reducing  frustrations.

14. Follow Through Promptly on Policy Issues

Nothing kills a department morale faster than neglecting to attend to comfort factors like temperature control, air quality, ergonomics or anything else that might lead to health problems that could have been avoided), promotion and performance considerations right away.

Procrastinating on getting back to employees about possible promotions, pay raises or performance evaluations in a timely manner does not do much for the respect or trust factor. Good managers, don’t cop out with the “I’ve been too busy with other stuff”, nor do they dump the responsibility for being “proactive” about the issue back onto the employee: they recognize it is THEIR responsibility as the person with the power to hire, fire or promote their people–not the employees’–to have the professionalism and courtesy to respond in a timely manner, whether it’s good news or bad news or otherwise.

15. Set the Example and the Tone

Your passion matters. If you care about them and appreciate their hard work then they will respond with more effort.

Managers who are really interested in fostering and maintaining an environment that is happy, productive and where employees conduct themselves professionally do this by setting the example and the tone–especially in how they handle stress and frustrations.

Managers who consistently back bite other employees in the company, express frustration at others using violent imagery* or other inappropriate language/stress management techniques create a really toxic environment in one of two ways. First, by modeling such behavior, managers are indicating that they approve of such behavior, and many of their employees will adopt the same attitudes to “fit in” or earn brownie points with the boss. (It’s really scary to see this in action!) Second, such behavior does absolutely nothing to earn the loyalty or respect of one’s employees (except maybe to their face) and everything to create an atmosphere of distrust and fear.

*While “imaginary” violence may not actually physically harm a person, the malice/intent to harm is still there even though the action hasn’t actually occurred. It’s both a little scary and traumatizing for employees to be subjected to these kinds of behaviors on a regular basis. Recent social psychology researchhas shown that blowing off steam this way actually leads to more anger and a tendency to depersonalize/dehumanize the object of one’s imaginary violence.


The environment at work doesn’t need to be boring or strict. In fact, Southwest, Google, and Zappos are proof that happy employees improve the bottom line.

Bosses, managers, or supervisors have so many tools at their disposal. The research in Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, and WorldBlu (to list just a few) proves that people who are happy at work are more productive and engaged.

Start by implementing these concepts, but don’t stop there. There are many ways to encourage happiness. Just remember that every organization and group of people are different. Sometimes it takes a few tries to see some progress.

If you are a CEO, manager, or leader at work and want to create a happier and more engaged workplace then reach out to me and ask me about my new beta program to help build stronger culture and teams at work.

Are you a leader at work? What would you add to the list?

If you want to build more trust with your team and get better results, I suggest you start with digging deep each week. Peel away your armor that you’ve built up to protect yourself. You have to work at shedding this armor so you can build great relationships.

12 thoughts on “15 Proven Ways to Encourage Employee Happiness and Engagement”

  1. Karl, I love this article!
    I am a new manager presently trying to turn around the morale of a great group of people. Their previous manager was a controlling boss who made it clear that all decisions were hers alone. Some of the staff felt undervalued and resentful to be blown off as unimportant.
    The ideas you outline are brilliant, and I’m sure I will benefit from many of them.
    I find a team approach is much more effective than a bully-boss attitude. It is not only important to make employees feel that they are valued, but I actually do value them, their ideas and input and advice. Before I change a policy or make a decision, I find it benefits all of us, myself included, to brainstorm as a team. Even if I don’t use someone’s idea, I always thank them for it. I want everyone to feel their input is valued so they’ll feel happier and more vested in the company and care more about their jobs.
    I also find that occasionally scheduling a noon staff meeting and providing lunch is a fun morale booster too!

  2. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Deborah! Showing appreciation for an employee or co-worker is so important. You make a great point. A small gift like a free lunch is a wonderful way to make employees happy. Thanks for adding to the ideas on this post!

  3. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    No problem. I fixed it for you. If you want me to delete this comment just let me know. 🙂

  4. Good stuff, Karl! I’m really a fan of letting people have autonomy, which leads to them owning whatever it is they are working on – and taking pride in that, as well.

    One thing we’ve been doing over the last couple of years that has been really successful is to have culture fit interviews for everyone before they are hired. In fact, we do this before we even see if they are the right skills fit (well…HR does this at a high level to get candidates that are at least close to what we’re looking for). It’s been great. We really don’t hire anyone unless they pass the culture fit interview – and that’s led to a group of employees who exhibit the culture/values/ethics that we as a company value. And when we have employees who align with us as a company – that’s a great start toward employees who are happy and engaged.

  5. This is such a beautiful article Karl. I think employees are craving this kind of working environment (I know I did before I left). Maybe I would have stayed if the culture and my managers embraced your wisdom.

  6. Karl, you have put together a really well-thought out list here to improve the quality of the work and relationships between employees and managers and the overall work environment. What really stood out for me from so many of your points is really to “lead by example”. It all really starts with each one of us, as leaders, in terms of initiating effective change, and also not forgetting our humanity along the way. A business leader will have an enormous effect on the overall dynamics of the company or business all based on their personal approach: are they happy? do they work with meaning? do they practice empathy? lead with ethical consistency? etc. OR is it all just a “job” that is carried out robotically and perhaps all too often very unconsciously with respect to the important human-to-human interactions that must be taken into consideration always? The difference here will make for either a mediocre or exceptional work environment and experience.

    Really great to see you adding value like this to help make each work environment and business the best that it can be for all involved! Thank you.

  7. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Lance! I really like the idea of having a culture fit interview. They might be able to do the work, but if they don’t fit in within the culture they won’t thrive. I would love to talk with you more about this when you have time.

  8. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Stacey! There are so many talented people who leave work because they don’t have the support that they need to deliver great work and be happy too. I know I can’t turn every company around, but if I can get just 20% making happiness a priority then it will start a domino effect that will change many lives.

  9. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Evita! We are ALL leaders in our own communities. We can help make people happier. A simple act of appreciation can ripple throughout a company. It shouldn’t just be the big things that we celebrate. It should be the small acts of kindness that show people we truly care.

  10. Great article Karl and remembering my days in the corporate world I definitely feel empowering employees to feel like their entrepreneurs so they take more pride in their work!

  11. Karl Staib - WHN Author and Speaker

    Hi Natalie! Taking pride in our work is so important. When we feel like our work matters we enjoy our work more and create better results.

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