Happiness at Work

Happiness at work has been researched extensively to better understand what organisations can do to boost employee happiness. Knowing what makes employees happy is important as research shows that happy employees are more productive, take less sick leave, and stay with a company longer. Happiness at work can contribute to improved overall well-being for individuals just as being unhappy at work can have a negative affect on people’s lives.

What is PERK?

Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas of the Greater Good Science Centre have identified four pillars that support happiness at work. The four pillars make up PERK, an acronym for: Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, and Kindness. PERK can be applied not just to employees but to organisations too.


Having a sense of purpose has long been recognised as a driver of career satisfaction and happiness. When our work aligns with our values and gives us a sense of purpose, we feel energised and more motivated. You hear people who love their jobs talk about having a passion or a calling for the work they do – that’s purpose.

Organisations can attract talent with a shared purpose through the telling of captivating back stories that connect with their business goals. Even less glamorous jobs can become appealing when an organisation’s purpose resonates with its employees. Through the effective communication of their values, vision or mission, organisations can tap into employees’ own core values giving them a sense of purpose.

Consider for example an organisation that manufactures protective equipment for the healthcare sector. The company’s mission might be to protect the health of frontline medical staff through the manufacture and supply of high quality personal protective equipment (PPE). Their corporate message might be one of saving lives by ensuring PPE is produced to a high standard so as to save lives. Even an employee working in the accounting department can feel a sense of purpose, knowing that they are contributing to overall mission of saving lives.


When we are engaged in our work, we have a genuine interest and connection with what we do. Engagement can be effortless for those with a strong interest in their work for example. But engagement can also be encouraged and developed when an employee’s interest wanes or they no longer feel challenged or excited by their work. One way to boost employee engagement is through job crafting whereby a role is crafted in such a way to play to an employee’s skills, strengths, interests, and preferences.

Finding flow at work can also play a role in employee engagement. When we perform tasks that we enjoy, challenge us enough that we feel a sense of growth and use our talents to their fullest, we can enter what positive psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi calls Flow.

Flow is a state where we find ourselves so immersed and engaged in an activity, that self-consciousness melts away and our attention becomes so intensely focused that we lose track of time. This kind of deep work is emerging to be more desirable to the previous mantras of multitasking in fast-paced, distracting work environments of recent decades. Performing deeper, higher quality work can be more rewarding for employees and can deliver greater, more sustainable results in the long term.


Resilience is our ability to bounce back from adversity. It is as essential to our happiness at work, as it in other areas of our lives. When we see setbacks and failures as bumps in the road rather than catastrophic events, we can learn from them, emerging stronger and more resolute than ever to succeed.

Levels of individual resilience vary but studies have found that those who flourish have a high level of resilience. Those who can bounce back after negative events have developed resilience, equipping them with the ability to handle whatever life throws at them. Resilience doesn’t mean being a superhero who never experiences sadness or regret. But it the face of a negative experience at work for example, you are able to dust yourself off, learn from the experience and move forward with confidence.

Organisations often experience setbacks from things like poor management decisions, economic downturns, natural disasters, as well as political or other changes that might impact on their success. A resilient organisation is able to quickly regroup and respond to change with vigour to take the organisation in a new, more lucrative direction.


The final pillar of happiness at work in PERK, is kindness. We all know how much more pleasant and enjoyable work is in an environment of kindness. But how can we cultivate kindness at work?

We can cultivate kindness at work in many ways including:

This list is not exhaustive but gives you an idea on the kinds of things we can do at work to cultivate kindness. Organisations can follow the same guidelines to create an environment of kindness towards its employees which in turn permeates throughout the workplace.


When we proactively nurture PERK: Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, and Kindness at work there are benefits for individual employees, teams and for the organisation as a whole. Many studies have shown that happy and engaged employees are more productive, take less sick leave and stay with a company longer than those who are not.

Considering this, it makes sense that employees and organisations pay regular attention to the pillars of PERK to ensure happiness, productivity, and overall success.

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