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The Yin and Yang of happiness at work

juli 8, 2015

Yin og Yang, klik billede for at se større.

This is a story of two progressive companies who have decided to improve happiness at their workplace.


The CEO’s have studied research and know that by raising the happiness levels of the employees, productivity and innovation will rise, fewer people will be on sick leave, there will be more customer satisfaction and loyalty – and profits will rise. They also know that it will enhance collaboration and improve the overall mood of the people working in the companies.



The CEO of Company A starts by letting the workplace know that from now on this company is dedicated to improve the overall wellbeing of the workplace. That this goal will range equally with all the other goals of the company, and that she will invite everyone to participate in achieving this goal. She works with the managers to get their sense of what is needed, and she appoints a team, consisting of managers and staff from different part of the company to drive the process. Their mandate is to map out the current state of well-being at the workplace. What is going really well, what is lacking, what needs to be changed. The team conducts a series of interviews, and the findings are brought back to the management team. From the findings, different initiatives are taken such as a change in routines that are not working (unproductive meetings, misuse of e-mails etc.), cross-team meetings are introduced to work on projects that will benefit from different approaches; mediation processes are set up; managers are given tools to be able to be better people leaders. Ideas from all staff to improve cooperation and happiness at work are welcomed and tried out.


Company B invites a speaker to introduce the notion of happiness and inspire the employees. The session is a great success, and people leave it elated and ready to go be happy! In the weeks and months after, different schemes are introduced to retain the feeling. Happiness officers are appointed in the different teams, all equipped with the go-ahead (and some funds) to be creative and boost happiness. Several ideas are introduced; among them a daily five minute exercise for everyone who wants to join, smiley stickers that people can stick on the computer of a co-worker who has helped them, Friday bars with different themes, hosted by the teams in turn. All kinds of creative and fun ideas to remind the employees that they are valued by the company and their colleagues are set in motion. The CEO talks at a meeting every month to let everyone know what a great job they are doing and that the company really appreciates the efforts of all staff.


Which company will most likely succeed?


Perhaps both….. or neither.


As with so many other things in life, my belief is that we need a little bit of both worlds. Tailored to the needs of our specific situation and probably changing with time. I see it as the Yin and Yang of happiness at work.


Yin is the “serious happiness”, where we try to change the culture through a slow and thorough shift, finding the obstacles and confronting the “demons” through conversations and real changes in the organization. Yin talks more to the “whole” and the responsibility of the organization: the feeling of work happiness is not an individual responsibility alone – in order to find lasting happiness, structures and procedures have to change, and a collective effort is needed.


Yang, in contrast, is the “light happiness” that speaks to our emotions and jumpstarts a feeling of optimism, even though our sceptical brains may try to resist:). We all know the feeling of being uplifted by a great speech, a beautiful piece of music, and by being appreciated by our peers. Yang very much is an appeal to the individual – you can make a change in your own happiness and that of others by remembering to say good morning and by smiling to your colleagues. There is of course a high element of collectivity too; we do things together to be happy.


My theory is this: in order to really change the happiness levels at work, one needs to speak both to the hearts and minds of the employees. Affirmations and smiles are not enough, but neither is mere talking, changing procedures and conflict resolution.


So, in the fictitious examples from before, it would look something like this:


Company A would need to take care not to “overthink” it, and not to focus entirely on the conflicts and negative vibes. They would need to have a little fun and games to lighten the mood – people like to have fun! Talking and acting in a positive way can actually help change the mindset and it’s lovely to be smiled at and recognized as a great colleague! Creativity will flourish, if given the right nourishment.


Company B would need to make sure that the happiness does not become merely a “paint job”. They must find ways of understanding what effect the tips and tricks have on the employees. There might be employees who absolutely hate the fun and games, and who feel forced into fake happiness. Is there a way to bring them on board; do some routines need to be changed? Do the employees feel that they are recognized for what they do, or more for what they say? Some things cannot be changed by merely posting a happy face sticker on them!



A small, but extremely important postscript: Both companies have a CEO, who really embraces the idea of creating a happier workplace – and that is the most important first step towards a happier workplace.

Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, (for instance shadow cannot exist without light).



Please see this short video if you are interested in getting a sense of the original meaning of yin and yang: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-hidden-meanings-of-yin-and-yang-john-bellaimey

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