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Fun vs. Happiness: I always thought both these were synonymous with each other. I often used the words interchangeably in conversations. It was only recently that something set me thinking. An organization started an initiative on Creating Happiness for all employees. The intent was of course pretty commonsensical: happier employees lead to better engagement at work and higher value delivery to clients. What was interesting was some of the events that were planned to promote happiness: Visits to entertainment parks, Movies@ work, Couple Days, dress as you please day, food festivals etc. You get the drift! The employees certainly seemed to enjoy the menu of opportunities that was put before them. Everyone in the company, especially the HR team was happy. That’s what got me interested in the finer differences between Fun and Happiness.

Did people have Fun @ Work or did they enjoy Happiness @ Work?

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Fun is when you enjoy the moment. You enjoy what you are doing. You enjoy the event, the occasion etc. You are entertained, but are you happy? Mmmm. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that entertainment and fun play a very big role in our life. They get us to relax and create space for laughter and enjoyment. They are important components in our life. Going for a movie is a lot of fun for me! Enjoying a meal in an Italian restaurant with friends is a lot of fun too. But is this what creates happiness? Is it the same? For me, the answer is a clear “NO”.

What then is Happiness? We experience happiness when we are connected with the foundational elements of what matters to us in our life. When I operate out of my intrinsic values and spend time on what is purposeful for me, then I experience happiness. For example, if my basic values are linked to compassion and if I spend time at an orphanage, then I experience happiness. For example, cooking for orphans may not be fun. Its darn tiring! But the process would create a state of happiness which is linked to the end result. So, one can be having a whole lot of fun and entertainment and yet not experience happiness.

As HR Leaders and Managers, we often confuse the two. Many of our engagement activities as well as L&D activities are often linked to creating fun at work. Keep the work environment active and engaging with many activities and that would result in generating Employee Happiness @ work. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs very clearly reflects that there are different employee needs and expectations from the work environment. Therefore, there cannot be a concept of one size fits all when it comes to creating a happy and engaged work-force. Having the opportunity to work on a CSR project may be so very important and purposeful for one person but may leave another person cold. HR teams, therefore, have to strike a very delicate balance while arriving at what can contribute to employee motivation, engagement and happiness at work.

Most engagement and fun @ work programmes seem to have a bias on being event based e.g. a picnic, a party, same colour day etc. Of course, these would help to bring an element of liveliness and interest at work. Do they however contribute to building the Happiness Quotient ?

Based on what has just been shared, here as some thoughts which you may want to consider when you are designing interventions on Happiness @ Work:

  • Tip 1: Engage with and empathetically listen to employees to identify what truly matters to them. What is their definition of Happiness? Let’s find that out. This can truly be a very exciting journey for both parties! Enabling employees and team members to introspect and dive deep into themselves to identify their values, their intrinsic motivators can set the platform for defining the engagement journey across the company. Many people join an organization and build their careers without knowing and finding out what really matters to them. HR can provide a very valuable service around this;
  • Tip 2: Enable employees to understand their role in building happiness for themselves within and outside the organization. Help them to look at how they can create engagement and happiness for themselves at each moment in their life. Happiness is not necessarily the end result of an activity but also a state of mind and being. Help employees to take ownership and accountability for being happy at work and in their lives as well. That will reduce the dependency for “HR activities at work” to engage and enliven. Without this shift of perspective, HR and Companies take on far too much of ownership for the happiness of their employees. This creates an unhealthy dependency;
  • Tip 3 : Build HR events and activities that cut across a spectrum of intrinsic and extrinsic needs of employees based on listening to them. Don’t create an engagement plan without speaking to a wide cross-section of employees across the organization. Use the Voice of Customer(VOC) as addressed to the employees to identify what strategy, activities should be created to create a more happier environment at work. Ideally, give employees the space and autonomy to define and design the kind of activities and initiatives that would inspire their soul.

I do believe that Happiness at work is a joint responsibility of both the employee and the organization. An individual who is clear and conscious of his or her priorities, motivations, purpose is likely to be more engaged and happy at work. He or she will willingly participate in activities/events that will contribute to and enhance Happiness at work.