The 5 Tenets of Employee Happiness, According to Psychology

The late Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that to be happy, one needs to seek the “joy of achievement and the thrill of the creative effort.” His words still ring true today, especially when applied to the corporate world.


Google, for one, understands this. It’s made employee happiness an exact science, utilising people analytics to power and finetune their People Operations strategies. It’s certainly paid off, boosting employee satisfaction alone by a whopping 37%.

A study by the University of Warwick has also indicated that employee happiness boosts productivity by 12%. Additionally, Forbes recently reported that happy employees directly benefit the company’s bottom line, with stock prices of companies in Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work For” increasing by 14% per year from 1998 to 2005.


Clearly, there’s a compelling argument for happiness at the workplace. What so many companies misunderstand, though, is that lavishing job perks and building “happy” workspaces alone don’t guarantee employee happiness.

According to Martin Seligman, psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of positive psychology, happiness comes down to five core elements. Here’s what they are, and how companies can apply them to boost employee happiness.

P.S. Learn how you can supercharge employee happiness with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on leading workplace communication and engagement!


1. Positive emotion

At the most superficial level, happiness consists of feeling positive emotions and being in good moods. It’s not rocket science: when you’re in a good mood, you’re happy.


Gratitude, in particular, plays a significant role in eliciting positive emotions. For example, being thanked by a teammate or superior for doing an excellent job with a presentation can make your entire day. Better yet, incorporating gratitude into the company culture helps to make employees feel valued, appreciated, and cared for at work.

2. Engagement

Stagnation is never good news. For people to truly be happy at work, they need to be engaged in what they do. Here, the key to employee engagement is ensuring that people are given the tools and opportunities for constant growth.


Of course, growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Optimally, people learn best when they’re able to apply their skills to a task that’s a little more difficult than what they can manage. It’s crucial that they’re being given assignments at work that will challenge their abilities without completely overwhelming them.

Equally vital to keeping employees engaged is ensuring that they each know their five biggest strengths and can actively leverage them for workplace success. According to Seligman, people are at their most engaged when they can use their highest strength to meet the challenges they encounter at work.


3. Relationships

Strong, genuine, interpersonal relationships are one of the strongest bedrocks of employee happiness. Knowing that your co-workers are also your close friends makes it that much more exciting to come to work.

Since friends naturally trust each other more and share strong bonds, it also facilitates better collaboration. For that reason, companies often focus on team building efforts, like company outings and retreats.


There’s a missed opportunity here. One of the biggest factors affecting the strength of a relationship is how people communicate with each other. Everyone has different communication styles.

For example, introverts might prefer communicating digitally over face-to-face interaction. Being approached at their desk too often would put them on edge, while it would likely have the opposite effect on extroverts.


People naturally sync better with each other when they can understand and take differences in communication styles into account in their daily interactions. This alone can eliminate tension and awkwardness from workplace relationships and facilitate stronger bonds.

4. Meaning & purpose

Seligman defines the sense of meaning as “a longing to serve something larger than you are.” Often, when an employee can’t see the end result of their work or the benefit accrued to the end user, they’ll feel detached from meaningful work. This, in turn, lowers their motivation and adversely affects workplace happiness.


Conversely, when people know the impact that their work has in improving someone’s life or in contributing to societal advancement, it confers a sense of fulfillment that is crucial for happiness.

According to Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, three of the biggest myths surrounding meaningful work is that it depends on where you’re working, what you’re working as, and whom you’re working for. For instance, when John F Kennedy asked a janitor at NASA what his job was, the reply was: “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”


Allowing employees to interact directly with the end user goes a long way in helping them realise the value and importance of their work to someone else’s life. It can even be as simple as getting together to read positive customer testimonials together.

5. Accomplishment

Everybody wants to feel like they’ve done something with their lives. At work, we want to feel competent and confident in our abilities; to know that we’ve succeeded and done an excellent job and that we’re recognised for it.


Far too many companies leave rewarding and recognising employee achievements to the quarterly performance reviews. In between, employee accomplishments go unnoticed and ignored. This is also why policies like “Employee of the Month” are put in place–to invite friendly competition and provide admiration from peers.

To really uplift employees, though, leaders need to make it a point to celebrate their people’s achievements regularly. It doesn’t necessitate pomp and grandiosity. Simply be specific about the performance you’re praising them for and why it’s such a praiseworthy act.



SSA Academy provides customized programmes and solutions to address your specific needs. Send us your inquiries and we'll get back to you shortly.

For Course Enquiries, call us at
Tel: +65 6842 2282

For Corporate Enquiries, call us at
Tel: +65 6632 9540

Our training centres:
PAYA LEBAR: 11 Eunos Road 8 #06-01 (Lobby A),
Lifelong Learning Institute, Singapore 408601
JURONG EAST: 135 Jurong Gateway Road #06-317,
Singapore 600135
TAI SENG CENTRE: 3 Irving Road, #01-22, #02-04, #02-05, #02-07,
Tai Seng Centre Singapore, Singapore 369522

Or email us at