Is It Your Job to Make Your Team Happy?

You’re leading a project. There are countless tasks to manage, business drivers you’re balancing, external and internal forces impacting time and budget, and it’s nearly 4:30 and you still need to deliver the monthly status report. The idea that you also need to worry about whether your team is happy sounds like some New Age fluff that you just don’t have time for. Certainly, you don’t have the luxury of happiness.

Besides, in an egalitarian workplace, where people are treated respectfully and as adults, doesn’t it fall to those same adults to find the internal motivators to be happy? Is it even healthy for managers to think they can influence the happiness of their team?

Alison Beard writing in the Harvard Business Review, notes a recent backlash against the happiness trend. She cites William Davies, author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being: “Fed up with organizational attempts to tap into what is essentially a ‘grey mushy process inside our brains’, in Davies’ view, there’s something sinister about the way advertisers, HR managers, governments, and pharmaceutical companies are measuring, manipulating, and ultimately making money from our insatiable desire to be happier.”

That may be true, but as report after report finds, including this one byEconstor, how we feel about our job does affect our performance. According to employee behavioral research conducted by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, whereas “commitment is largely influenced by one’s sense of purpose, feeling of personal impact and overall trust in the organization… productivity is largely affected by the quality of human relationships including cooperative, social group moods and interaction.” 

productivity doesn't have to hurt

Gone are the outmoded ideas that productive work should be pain-inducing. For today’s manager, happiness and productivity can be linked… Put a different way: happiness is often a byproduct of effective management. When you learn how to effectively communicate, delegate and, yes, celebrate with your team, happiness isn’t another to-do item on your own managerial task list. Rather, it is born of leading effectively with your team.

Here are several ways your leadership can positively impact your team’s happiness.

Accountability + Communication

Anne Grady, in an article about leading teams for the Harvard Business Review, notes while many leaders believe that holding people accountable is what drives results, they often don’t properly communicate what that result is, which leads to frustration when your team isn’t meeting expectations.

Poor communication frequently is shown to reduce team loyalty, productivity and morale, but even more so when the lack of communication directly impacts a person’s performance goals.

Rather than define what accountability looks like for your team, instead, incorporate your team into defining what the project expectations and accountability goals look like. Have them individually brainstorm solutions for different metrics of success, if that is suitable for the role, so that they know you took time to get their input.

By inviting people into the goal-setting process, you will ensure that they’re clearly aware of what is expected of them—because they helped define those goals.

Respect the Internet

According to a study by, the internet lowers worker productivity. But everybody knows that. The problem is how to deal with the looming temptations of Tetris and Twitter.

Micromanaging your team’s internet use constantly certainly doesn’t help motivation. Rather, the same study noted that your overbearing prohibition policies and presence can produce a net loss of productivity.

When you have set and clearly communicated success metrics for each team member, you can trust them to get their work done in a manner befitting of an adult.  Each person works differently, and they know what works best for them, so trust them to do their job.

happiness is born of effective managementIf your company has formal performance reviews only once or twice a year, develop your own project “check ins” each team member or even daily stand-ups with the team to create a culture of transparency and make sure they’re hitting their targets along the way. That way you, too, might enjoy 10 minutes to unwind with Sudoku to clear your mind before the next big challenge.   

People Love Stuff

As I noted above, it might feel almost unhealthy to “monitor” your team’s happiness. After all, they are adults, and nobody needs to be subjected to your Pavlovian experiments to ensure something as vague as “happiness”.

But there is a balance in a work environment, indeed something all leaders consider, which is understanding the role of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Ideally, we can hire the most talented, self-motivated people and never have to worry about their happiness – until, that is, they’re hired away to someone offering them more in the way of extrinsic motivators like a higher salary or better benefits or even a happier work culture. 

A study from Bersin by Deloitte noted that “companies with recognition programs highly effective at improving employee engagement have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers with ineffective recognition programs.” Everyone likes to be acknowledged for the good job they’re doing or done.

Praise and prizes to note milestones in a project can go a long way to making your workers feel appreciated. It doesn’t even have to be more than a dinner voucher or tickets to a movie or show, a gym membership or metro pass. Maybe give the team the day off or early dismissal if they’re able to bring a task to completion sooner than you’ve scheduled.

For the bigger picture, you may want to think about how to supplement your team members’ salaries with meaningful benefits that lead to reduced stress overall. For example, you might be able to provide more flex vacation time or offer insurance programs that are usually only reserved for senior team members. The cost in healthcare has gone up recently, and some medical plans don’t include dental or optical coverage. It may prove a beneficial investment to give employees these extra services (or a pay bump that is the equivalent) to build loyalty which in turn adds to overall productivity.

The Holistic Approach 

You want your employees to be happy not solely so they are more productive, but also so they remain on the job. According to Corporate Executive Board research, “it can cost up to 150% of a departing employee’s salary to replace them (taking into account lost productivity, recruiting fees, retraining, and other outlays).” Many employers offer financial incentives like bonuses, but forget about the physical, emotional and social part of their workers’ wellbeing.

Georgie Drury, founder of Springday, said recently on HuffPost Business, “From my experience the organizations which employees want to work for, are the ones where the CEO takes wellbeing seriously and leads by example by participating in corporate citizenship, e.g. volunteering, practicing mindfulness, committing to exercise goals, etc.”

Georgie Drury quote

Many startups competing for tech talent go the extra mile with employee perks, offering workplace programs for employees to eat healthy such as in-house chefs whipping up free healthy meals, lunchtime yoga classes, free massages or massage chairs, or the time-honored foosball tables. Other companies prefer a top-down modeling approach where executives lead yoga or mindful meditation sessions with their workers or lead group walks during lunchtime.

Certainly, addressing the physical and spiritual happiness of employees is a way to create a more attractive workplace that helps boost productivity and employee retention.

Happiness may be relative, but we’re relatively sure that you’ll be happier with the right tools for the job. That’s why we’re eager for you to try our our free 30-day trial of, a suite of software features that offer online, collaborative and real-time reporting for planning and monitoring your projects.


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