How to be happier at work

Helping customers, taking care of stock, balancing the books – small business owners have a lot on their plates. With so much going on, happiness is probably the last thing on their minds.

Yet research tells us that small business owners can create more than just a pleasant work environment for themselves. One survey suggests happy people are more productive, have fewer safety incidents and sick days, and score better in customer ratings than unhappy people.

Another study suggests that small business owners can also benefit from creating a positive environment for workers, as happy employees are more likely to help others, learn new skills and set ambitious goals for themselves.

Many workplaces are beginning to realise that happiness is good for business. Enter Alexandra Blakemore, who has created The Happiness at Work Program along with Dr Timothy Sharp of The Happiness Institute.

Blakemore believes a positive attitude can do wonders in a small business setting – boosting both productivity and mood. “The idea is to get people thinking in a more positive way,” she explains. “The knock-on effect is that they are happier at work.”

Structure your day and workload

Want to cross happiness off your to-do list? According to Blakemore, small business owners can start by setting boundaries for themselves. “You need to give yourself a proper work structure,” she says. This means scheduling tasks and establishing what is and isn’t work time.

Structure is essential to the happiness of sole operator, Eliza Olsen. “I need to have planned out what I would like to achieve for the day,” says the mother of three (soon to be four), who sells her own homemade baby toys and accessories online.

“I ensure my children are in childcare on the days I work from home. I need to have a clear and organised workspace and a good cup of coffee. When I do these things, I'm more productive and enjoy working much more.”

Visualising your day, as Olsen does, can also help you stay on top of your workload – a major contributor to happiness. “You need to look after yourself as you would an employee, as opposed to running yourself ragged to fit everything in,” says Blakemore.

Reflecting on what’s going well in the business can also make you happier, she adds. “When I get up in the morning, I say some key things that I’m grateful for. Start your day as positively as possible. It's amazing how differently your day will flow.”

Create a beautiful and comfortable workspace to boost your happiness

Get to know your team

If you have employees, you need to consider their happiness as well as your own. “Small business owners need to set aside time to bond with their team and learn what they do and don’t enjoy,” says Blakemore. “Ask yourself: how can I get people to work at their best?”

Investing that time will help grow your business tenfold, she continues. “If you have engaged staff who understand that you care about them, they’ll perform better at their job.”

Café owner Sophie Phan knows how important it is to connect on a personal level with your team. She has regular chats with her three employees to get to know them and, if possible, give them what they need to work better.

“Different people have different ways of promoting happiness at work,” she says. “We do it by socialising with each other, being ourselves and creating a friendly environment where everyone can enjoy working.”

Team morale is also a priority for hairdresser Emily Eaton, who believes career development is one of the best ways to keep employees happy. “We start our apprentices on a training program straight away,” she says.

“We give them a pair of scissors on their first week, teaching them to cut a straight line on a mannequin head. They do that every day until they’re competent, and then we set up the next thing to train on."

“It gives our apprentices goals to work towards and stops them from getting bored,” she continues. “We feel a bored staff member is one that leaves.”

Eaton and her business partner, Megan Anderson, also take employees to classes and events hosted by their colour suppliers. And they involve the team in their vision to be a sustainable salon. “We educate our staff and clients about sustainability,” she says.

“It makes them feel good that they are looking after the environment and doing the right thing.”

This inclusive behaviour encourages employees to put themselves out more: to share their ideas and contribute to the business. “When people are happy, they feel like they’re being heard,” says Blakemore. “It’s much more of a collaborative effort, rather than an 'us and them' mentality between the employer and workers.”

Modern technology makes it easy to manage your small business


Find your work/play balance

Is there such a thing as too much happiness? If social lunches and bonding activities take over from the work itself, you might have a problem, Blakemore warns. “But conscientious workers should be able to straddle that fine line, rather than take advantage of their nice boss,” she says.

And happiness doesn’t have to mean special events or time spent away from work. For acupuncturist and herbalist Trish Stoeckli, personalising your workspace with the likes of pictures and music can be a great mood booster. “I like to have a personal environment, reflective of my own tastes,” she says. “Enjoying my surroundings makes me feel happier being away from home.”

She likewise encourages her team to personalise their workspaces, as well as their approach to work itself. “When your team has a say in how things are run, they take more ownership and feel that things are ‘theirs’,” she says.

Giving employees this kind of freedom is one of the many ways to achieve happiness, but Blakemore says every workplace is unique. “Everyone needs to find their own groove: what it is that sets the right tone for them,” she explains. “And like exercise and diet, you've got to continually remind yourself to do it.”

Five steps to happiness

Alexandra Blakemore shares her top tips for creating happiness in your business.

1. Practice gratitude. Each morning, write down three things you are grateful for. This will help you start the day with a positive and happy mindset.

2. Smile. Everyone can get so busy that they simply forget to smile. In times of stress, a smile can alleviate a lot of pressure.

3. Be polite. Good manners have a powerful ability to creative positive interactions.

4. Create your own space. Adding some personal touches to your work environment will help you feel more welcome and relaxed.

5. Look after you. Try to balance your personal needs and work; the healthier you are, the happier (and more efficient) you’ll be.