The art of bringing happiness to work culture

We chat to Delivering Happiness’ culture chief Sunny Ross about the pursuit of happiness — and why it starts from within.

Written by
Georgie Tomich
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How did you come to help people find happiness in their work and lives?

Well, I found myself in a sort of soul-sucking office job right out of college. I was very enthusiastic to get into the workforce and I didn't last a week, and it really scared me. Work was going to save me. It was a way to escape from a troubled childhood and some problems with my family, but when I saw that it wasn't going to save me, I ran away. I actually found myself job hopping and pretty unhappy, because I had been pursuing happiness outside of myself and looking for it around me. I was an ultra marathon runner and had to stop at a certain point when I hurt myself and the job market fell out and right then was a full stop, in all areas of my life — I couldn't work, I couldn't exercise. It was one of those full stop moments — quite like the pandemic really. And at that point I was given a book by a young CEO called Delivering Happiness and this was about approaching happiness internally, through passions and purpose, and that was a pivot in me because for the first time in my life, I stopped chasing it and I started looking for it inside. It became my mission to change the way we work. 

What are some common work culture missteps that can lead to unhappiness? Are there simple ways that we can make workplaces ‘happier’?

It’s a matter of awareness. One of the biggest mistakes is the desire for leadership to outsource it, but not live it themselves; it becomes a sort of a flavour of the month, ‘I do as I say, not as I do’ scenario. Leadership has to be on the same page about why this is important, and what they are doing to make these changes. It starts by taking a more authentic approach than has been done before, and it's often a more personal approach. Inviting, not just leaders who have the power at the top of the organizational chart, but also social leaders — your top employees that really represent the ethos of the most successful, and the best workers that you have to see if these values describe them. That what creates sustainable change. 

If you're going to change your culture, we need to ask, what's behind that lack of trust, what's behind that lack of autonomy, and the micromanaging? "

One other big downfall we see is being prescriptive about culture. Companies pay a lot of money for a big consulting firm to come in and help them figure out their values, and the consultants do a good job and produce a set of values, but they aren't lived — they become a plaque on the wall, meaningless, and actually can disenfranchise employees even more. If you're going to change your culture, we need to ask, what's behind that lack of trust, what's behind that lack of autonomy, and the micromanaging? Oftentimes what it comes down to is our bones, our values and our core beliefs about why people work, what humans are capable of and what we can trust them with. So, real culture change fundamentally asks you to review those beliefs, and to think about updating your mindset.

Work/life has become increasingly blurred in the wake of COVID. How do we maintain happiness at the office, when our office is our home, and how do we maintain a good work/life balance when the two are so intertwined?

We're in a new world of work and it's time to upgrade a lot of our old paradigms and thought processes that haven’t necessarily worked in the past. It's about what we have learned and how we can go forward. That our whole being wellbeing matters. It’s not just about whether we can be more fulfilled at work, therefore we do better work. It's not even about whether we can have more wellbeing in the workplace, but it's the whole person and their wellbeing that's brought into work now. And you never really were two people anyway — you were always one person you separated the two.

We see employers and leaders realising en masse that they need to expand their range of care to think about emotional wellbeing. It’s not just about expecting the employee to show up and do their job, and punch-in-punch-out, because there's nowhere to go.

For many of us we’re at home, and without any lines between your personal and work life, the lines have blurred. So it’s about having the ability to be yourself. We don't want to put one mask on, and another one when we go on our Zoom calls. And if you don't have your people bringing their whole selves and their joy and their passion to work, you're missing out on the competitive advantage that that gives you, in terms of innovation, productivity, and recruiting and attracting those people who say, “I can be myself there, that feels really good. I don't have to pretend to be somebody that I'm not,” because when we do that we're really living sort of against our values and against our truth.

"We see employers and leaders realising en masse that they need to expand their range of care to think about emotional wellbeing. It’s not just about expecting the employee to show up and do their job, and punch-in-punch-out, because there's nowhere to go."

We know that emotional wellbeing is directly correlated to our productivity and to our performance at work. If we're stressed, burnt out, or don't feel we can be ourselves, we're not going to do our best work. So, it's a huge opportunity for us to step up into a new paradigm. I think that's one of the big learnings from this pandemic, and the merger of work and life.

Can you tell us a bit about the Delivering Happiness model that your organisation has developed?

There’s really five main elements. One is your values and your behaviours. And the second part of that is, you can have values but if you're not living them, and they’re not in your behaviours, they're really not going to do much good. The other really constitutes elements of the science of happiness. So things like autonomy, a sense of belonging and connectedness and also a sense of progress — are moving you forward. And there's another sort of subsection that's been popping up around mindfulness and gratitude. So those elements come in sort of in the middle there, and then one that we put on top, is higher purpose. So this is the most meaningful, and the most lasting and sustainable type of happiness that you can get is when you feel a sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself. 

Many of our sector work with clients who may be experiencing unhappy moments in their life — whether that be personal or financial issues, domestic violence, or homelessness. What advice would you give to them to maintain their own sense of happiness at work, while meeting their clients’ needs and supporting them?

There’s a model we use which is called ‘who’. And there’s three layers: and in the middle is the most important in the world — you. This comes with great power and accountability. You have the most ability, and the most accountability for your own happiness and wellbeing. So it’s me, we, community. When you start with yourself, you make the changes to yourself, you want to expand that out to your team, but it's inauthentic if you don't start with yourself. You can't really sustain pleasing your clients and create happy clients, if you don't have happy employees. So the we-me, inside out model is about creating more happiness and well being internally that ripples out to a team, your organisation and your community.

And, if you returned to that first job out of university, would you do anything differently this time around?

Oh, absolutely. And that's why perhaps I've grown so much in the field because I wanted to learn all about it. Why was it so bad? There were dynamics of power and privilege there, and there was really a bad office culture — it was not a place you were allowed to express yourself, or bring any creativity, you didn't have much autonomy, you were given directions and expected to fulfill them. There's been more than 20 years’ of research in the field of positive psychology and the subfield known as the science of happiness, which tells us how individuals and teams can thrive. And that's different from traditional fields of psychology which is about fixing things that are broken, right? It’s actually about positive psychology: how do you take the average person, team or organisation, and help them thrive.  So, if I had a shot at that first job, you bet I'd be interested in taking it.

Sunny Grosso held key roles in several business start-ups before becoming a founding member of the Delivering Happiness consulting team. She is a happiness coach and global culture consultant on a mission to build positive work cultures, and inspire others to live big by being true to themselves and following their purpose. You can hear Sunny speak on June 24 at our upcoming virtual INSPiRE Summit.

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