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Since the beginning of 2016, I have been delivering a series of workshops on Happiness and Success.


The first workshop this year was at the Nürtingen University (HfWU) MBA and International Finance Alumni Conference. For me it meant, a reunion after 10 years of graduating from the International MBA, a fantastic opportunity to see old classmates from around the world, meet new people and even network with possible business partners. I had the chance to share my experience and know-how by facilitating the workshop "Happiness drives success".


Weeks later, I organized a similar workshop with entrepreneurs; focusing on how they can combine their life, professional priorities and goals, doing the work they love.


In both events, there were skeptics who asked themselves what happiness has to do with business and the corporate world. And a couple of them didn’t even show up.


I opened the workshops with a body-percussion exercise and only after a couple of seconds, participants were laughing and taking off their business jackets to get confortable for the discussion.


My first question was “do you consider yourself to be successful?” followed by “do you consider yourself to be happy?”


Interestingly, about half of the participants considered themselves to be happy but not successful. They mentioned that they were happy with their personal lives however felt that they have not accomplished important professional and financial goals. This again impacted negatively their happiness. About a third say to be both. Some felt neither happy nor successful. And a few considered themselves to be successful professionally but not happy in their personal lives.


Looking back at our discussions, years of work with client companies, my research in this topic and even my personal experience, lead me to say that we have taken for granted certain things about success and definitely many things about happiness.



What do happiness and success look like?


Researching online on what happiness looks like to people, I found things like “children´s smiling faces”, “a smiley”, “my first kiss”, “laughter”, “a double cheeseburger and fries”, “sunshine”, “two people together”, etc. In general, the answers were very personal and not one of them was merely professional.


Success on the other side had different faces and it looked something like this: money, cars, houses, holidays, jewelry (material success), relationships, self-esteem, marriage, family (emotional success), promotion, learning, challenging (intellectual success), sense of purpose, belonging, reason (spiritual success), health, fitness, vitality, appearance (physical success), organizational growth, profit, reputation (commercial success), influencing others, promoting ideals (political success), home, garden, recycling, save the planet (environmental success), longevity, time management (time success), teamwork, collaboration, innovation (collective success), etc.


So who is to say what success is and what happiness means to us. We all see success and happiness differently. They look different for every single one of us, because we focus on types of success that are very different, but all important in their own way.


How would you define success in your life? If you have covered your basic needs -food, water, warmth and personal safety- success is probably about feeling that you belong, that you and your efforts are getting noticed, and that what you are doing has a meaning for both you and the people around you.


Now think about happiness and try to understand what happiness is to you. What makes you the happiest person alive? What excites you?



What comes first, the chicken or the egg?


There is a general belief that success comes first and happiness second… that is: first the egg, then the chicken.


Most of us follow the formula: if you become successful, you will automatically become happy. We think: "If I get promoted or get that client, or hit that business target, I’ll be happy. If I can just pass that exam and graduate, I’ll be happy. If I lose 5 kilos or even better 10 kilos, I’ll be happy. If I go on THAT date, marry him/her, have a house, have a baby, I’ll be happy… and so on.


However, there is a spin: success doesn’t bring happiness.


The fact is that we become accustomed very quickly to whatever we have accomplished in our life and, within a few months or even days, we take it for granted. This leads us to pushing happiness further out with each victory and it becomes unreachable.


Therefore, what do you do if you are pursuing success to be happy?


Try the other way around!


Working on your happiness will set the scene for success and each small step you take toward your happiness will make you successful.



Should we sacrifice happiness for success?


Happiness fuels performance, achievement and drives success.


I am not alone on this thought. Groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience has proven that our brains are hardwired to perform at their best when they are positive. According to neuroscientists like Richard Davidson and scholars like Shawn Achor, happy people are better workers.


Only when we are happy on a sustainable way, we can remain healthy, continue to contribute to our relationships, communities, work, our finance and our companies’ bottom lines. If we don’t cultivate sustainable happiness, we will end up feeling tired and defeated in the rat race of life.


When we are positive we are more engaged, creative and productive at work. When our mindset and mood are positive we are smarter, more motivated and thus more successful. Many companies and even governments know this and are taking the topic of sustainable happiness seriously.


Yet in today’s world, we ironically sacrifice happiness for success. We have huge pressure to succeed at any cost and treat happiness as a weakness, a sign that we are not working hard enough.


10 years ago, I met a partner at my consulting firm who told me that I was “too happy” to be a consultant (-what ever that meant-) and he wouldn’t take me seriously. Only months had passed and he was leaving the company, with what some rumored to be a burnout syndrome, anger management issues and low client satisfaction.


Happy and in this case “too happy” employees perform better than unhappy ones over the long term. They show up at work, they’re less likely to quit or get sick, they go above and beyond and give an extra mile, and most importantly they are multipliers and inspire others to commit to the job.


Happy workers generate innovative ideas, produce higher sales, receive higher performance evaluations, get higher pay and enable a supportive working atmosphere. Better yet, this leads most of the time to happy customers too.


So yeah, blame me for having a smile on my face!



How important is happiness at work, really?


It might seem a little over the top to worry about whether or not your employees are happy, when the economy is in terrible shape and you are under pressure to deliver.


But please bear something in mind. Workplace stress affects not only workers' personal lives but also threatens companies’ existence. In fact, research shows that unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 15 to 25 extra sick days a year, depending on their country and culture of origin. This problem is costly to all our economies.


Worldwide, a significant number of high performers burn out in the first ten years of their careers. Some countries and companies are struggling with this issue and just begin to understand its importance.


For example, the German workforce has a burnout issue. Mental illness is now the second most important cause of disability in Germany. And inability to work due to depression has increased, more than doubled since the year 2000. In 2011 psychological illnesses caused by workplace stress resulted in 59 million lost days of work, costing the country's economy an estimated 6 billion euros.


Gallup’s research on German workplace engagement in 2014 shows that only 15% of employees are engaged, while 15% are actively disengaged, which is a strong sign of unhappiness.


According to estimates by Asklepios Clinics and Manager Magazine, the percentage of formally reported burnout cases among German DAX companies is up to 8% of the total employee population. This probably doesn’t count those employees who don't report a burnout case or are in the middle of one and don't even realize it.


So you see, this is not esoteric. Being happy matters. Feelings at work matter.


However and despite these facts, many Fortune 500 companies are still using incentive programs that were proven ineffective almost a generation ago. They have sometimes too many disengaged, unhappy employees (and even worse, leaders) that aren’t any fun to work with, don’t add value, infect others with their attitude and impact the organizations in negative ways.



What matters the most


After losing someone she loved, American artist Candy Chang created an interactive wall on an abandoned house in her neighborhood with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence, “Before I die I want to…..”


Anyone walking by could reflect on their lives, pick up a piece of chalk and share their personal aspirations in public space. The “Before I Die” walls have been created in over 35 languages and over 70 countries, including Iraq, China, Haiti, Kazakhstan and South Africa. In Germany there are two, in Aalen and Aachen.


This was one of the eight exercises I used in the workshops. Participants had to share what they wanted to do before they die. It really helped them to set priorities. They had to discuss about what really matters to them while still alive.


Others exercises aimed at identifying talents, finding passion, setting a list of the top 10 things to do in the next few years or even in the life-time; re-writing their job title and job description, considering the impact their jobs have on their customers, clients, colleagues and family. Additionally, I asked participants if they could have or do anything, what would it be? And what would they do if they knew they could not fail?


Many of the workshop participants had an “aha” moment solving the exercises. I would like to share some of the things people said to me:


“I always separated private and business life. Now I realize that I need to be happy personally to be successful businesswise.”


“I need to start appreciating life more and feeling happy for myself. I am still alive. Before I die, I want to do what makes me happy.”


“I want to ‘be’ more then ‘do’ more.”


“I want to be an opera singer instead of a investment banker.”


“I am in control of my future path and will not blame my boss anymore. I will take my job and craft it so it has meaning to my life and values. I am responsible for those changes, will plan and execute them.”


“I need to organize myself better and find more time for me and my family. And in the end this is what matters to me the most.”


“I want to publish 2 scientific papers in 2016 and spend more time with my mom and dad. Anything else needs to wait.”



Start with you – find your element


At the end of the workshops, participants agreed that it is important to identify what talents we have and what we are passionate about. Ideally, we should combine these two, talent and passion into what English creativity, innovation and HR advisor Sir Ken Robinson would call “The Element”. He explains that we can find high levels of achievement and personal satisfaction upon discovering the thing that we naturally do well and what ignites our passion.


There is a challenge to this. The reality is that not everyone has the luxury of finding his or her element. For some it takes years and almost a lifetime to identify it, some can make a living out of it, some can’t and others don’t want to.


Most of us don’t have the freedom to just quit our jobs and start over. We have responsibilities, we need to pay our bills and support our families. But one thing is true, we need to make time to reflect, to take the steps to figure out what we actually want to do, embrace our uniqueness, find ways to live our values at work, do work we love and surround ourselves with people who make it possible.


Whether or not you can, or want to, you owe it to yourself to ensure that there’s some part of your day or week when you’re doing what comes most naturally to you and makes you feel authentic and in the “flow”.



Organizations can design for happiness too


The topic of happiness in the workplace is so important that organizations should have their bottom lines in mind. Managers need to understand that they have to establish value not only when it comes to their customers, but also when it comes to their people. Business owners need to let employees in on the long-term plan.


During the “Happiness drives Success” workshops, participants shared their own experiences within their organizations and together we discussed some ideas to improve employees’ well-being. We discussed about how to design organizations and brands with happiness in mind.

Depending on how your organization is, its industry, culture and budget, there are numerous initiatives out there.


Simple changes such as no e-mails or calls after 7pm or before 7am can make a difference. Others go the whole way and develop a corporate philanthropy strategy for customers and employees, create a vision, appoint a Chief Happiness Officer, link people’s work to their company’s purpose, reward employees with bonuses, extra paid days, home-office days, company perks such as gym membership, gift cards, massages, free gourmet lunches, free fruit, juice bars or ping pong tables, offer childcare facilities and use social media to create connections between the company, employees and customers and allow them to personalize their experiences with the organization.


All of these ideas are good and legitimate. However, sometimes money, bonuses, company perks and additional vacation time are not enough to keep employees happy. Employee appreciation, involvement, autonomy and respect on a personal level are much more gratifying.



18 tips for happiness in the workplace


Companies that keep employees happy and motivated are more sustainable and competitive; because they have fewer staff fluctuations, happier customers, better results and a positive bottom line.


I help clients design innovation, transformation and people strategies. Where possible, I recommend clients to consider the “happiness” element to drive their success. Your organization should too.


If you need to start somewhere, here are 18 tips to help you make it achievable:


Analyze where your company is standing. Look at your human resources, business and customer data. Take an employee satisfaction survey. Organize leadership workshops to pay attention to the results and align.


Manage the initiative. Develop a strategy and plan to move forward. Include an Employee Motivation Program. Get buy-in for the execution. Monitor and track progress regularly. Assign a responsible: it can be a Project Manager, a Relationship Manager, someone from HR or the Business who has stand-in and acceptance.


Look at employee’s workloads and ask honestly if it is a realistic expectation. Create attainable goals, define clear responsibilities and set an example. Ask yourself if the expectations that you set for your employees are comparable to the expectations that you would set for yourself. Cut back on emails and meetings.


Give employees what they need to do their work right. Offer management support, the right information, contacts, materials, resources, tools and budget. Ask employees regularly what else you can do for them to enable them to do a good job.


Encourage ownership and empower individuals. Let your employees contribute to the company's strategy and make changes or improvements in the way the business is run. Make employees part of the big picture and include them in problem solving and decision-making. Every single individual contributes to the bottom line.


Trust your employees and let them work with a high level of autonomy. Trust that they will do their job right. Let them handle it!


Support new ideas and give employees time to work on projects they are passionate about. Foster creativity and watch how thinking outside of the box becomes the norm.


Listen. Ask employees for their input and foster a feedback culture. Encourage employees to ask questions and remind them that their concerns are valued and important. It will provide you with important insight on your business from the people who help keep it running.


Say "thank you." Compliment an employee today, every day. The small stuff adds up.


Be transparent, communicate openly and manage expectations. In any business there is going to be bad news and rumors, which are typically worse than reality. People want to know the truth about the company from you and not only from the media or other people. Establish an ongoing dialogue between management and staff. A one-on-one conversation goes a long way.


Support career development. Invest in training and career mentoring. Encourage learning new skills. Employees who see opportunities for growth within a company are more likely to be happy and stay.


Strengthen employee recognition. Recognize when employees are making progress. If they take risks, reward them. Help employees feel that their contributions are valued. When a “thank you”, pat on the back, high five or recognition in the office or on social media just won’t do, monetary incentives might hit the spot.


Ensure employees stay healthy. Encourage exercise, sleep and people to get moving and be less sedentary. Your employees should know that you truly care about them and their health.


Forget work-life balance. Employees want work-life integration. Be flexible about where and when employees can work. Let them decide when possible. We are in a mobile era!


Encourage individuality and bring out the best in people. This will not only help create a diverse and inclusive culture, it will also foster an open and innovative work environment.


Boost socialization. Happiness is sustainable when there is social support. Host a team dinner, organize company’s teambuilding events, start a tradition. People need to feel like they know each other and belong. Don’t forget to have fun!


Get personal. Celebrate personal milestones, birthdays, work anniversaries, birth of employee’s children. Show concern and interest in their lives. Knowing your employees on an individual basis is the only way to know how to manage them effectively.


Smile. Laughter is contagious. Spread it out. A positive work environment is the result of positive leaders. Give your employees a reason to come to work, every day.


The process of implementing initiatives to improve workforce happiness takes time. You and your organization should not make the mistake of trying to do everything at once. You need to learn to see problems as challenges and not threats, have patience and be flexible, because things don’t always happen as planned.


Important is to set realistic priorities, work out how to make things happen, stay positive and embrace change; because fighting it is harder.


On difficult days, you might want to try body-percussion, laughing and shaking it off!


Marialejandra Rodriguez is an Entrepreneur, Business Consultant and Leadership Coach. She is married, has two children and lives in Frankfurt, Germany. For more please visit: http://www.kaleidoscope-innovation.com


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