Jessica Pryce-Jones on the Science of Happiness At Work

Opener Institute CEO Jessica Pryce-Jones interviewed by CNBC South Africa

Notes from

Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success
Jessica Pryce-Jones

Wiley-Blackwall, United Kingdom, 2010

Why Happiness at Work Matters

If you’re not concerned about happiness at work, you should be…

If you’re happy at work you:
• Get promoted faster
• Earn more
• Get more support
• Generate better and more creative ideas
• Achieve your goals faster
• Interact better with colleagues and bosses
• Receive superior reviews
• Learn more
• Achieve greater success
• Are healthier.

The higher your happiness levels, the stronger your immune system. You’ll be less affected by stress hormones, develop 50% more antibodies to flu vaccines, be less likely to get heart disease, diabetes or have lung problems…

Our research found…that if you’re really happy, you:
• Are 180% more energised
• Are 180% happier with life
• Are 155% happier in your job
• Are 108% more engaged in your work
• Love your job 79% more
• Are 50% more motivated
• Have 40% more confidence
• Achieve your goals 30% more
• Contribute 25% more.

Happiness leads to all these positive outcomes, not the other way round.

Happiness at Work: A Definition

Here’s what we think it is:
Happiness at work is a mindset which allows you to maximise performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.

The first key to happiness at work is your approach and being aware of it. Being mindful allows you to have a perspective on a situation, which means you’ll manage it better.

Secondly, our definition of happiness focuses not only on the individual but also on their role within the group because that’s where most work takes place.

Thirdly, it’s important to recognise the “yin and yang” effect. Growth of any sort involves accepting that discomfort and difficulty are part of the process. Happiness at work doesn’t mean that you have to feel good 100% of the time. Or that you shouldn’t feel the usual negative emotions you do at work. Like anger, frustration, disappointment, failure, jealousy or shock. Just like the times when you feel so stretched that you aren’t sure how you will cope. Those are the moments that help you achieve your potential. The times that you look back at with a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

If you continue to put up with what you’ve always had, that’s what you’ll always get. And if we all do that, nothing will change.

We need to make a fundamental shift to work that brings together some of the key recent findings in organisational research, neurology, psychology, behavioural economics, psycholinguistics, and anthropology. To create new models, new practices, and a new approach…regardless of sector, nationality, product, service, role or status. The only way to do this is to galvanise people around something that is practical, that’s compelling for individuals as well as organisations, and that produces real results, results of real and lasting value.

Three Myths

Myth 1: Financial Capital is all that counts
Organisations do better when people feel good about themselves and the colleagues they work with.

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in another guise
Happiness is a bigger concept than either Job Satisfaction or Engagement. Happiness encompasses both and is more consistently and progressively inked to productivity. Like financial capital, this takes time, effort and energy to build. Unlike financial capital it endures much better when institutions and markets crash and burn.

Myth 3: You’re born happy or sad and there is nothing you can do
We have a happiness range rather than a set point. Simply by changing behaviour and doing things differently you can have a big effect on how happy you are and push yourself up to the top of your range. Increasing your level of happiness at work is just about analysing then applying the right strategy for you

Psychological capital …
encompasses the mental resources that you build when things go well and draw on when things go badly, including:
• resilience,
• motivation,
• hope,
• optimism,
• self-belief,
• confidence,
• self-worth, and
• energy.
All of which are key elements of happiness in a working context.

If you don’t have a high level of psychological capital because you aren’t happy at work, you’ll only be going through the motions.

  • Happiness at work happens best from the ground up, working with individuals who know what they need to be more productive, which means it is easier, cheaper and more flexible for organisations to implement.
  • The happier you are the more productive you are.

The 5Cs Approach

Contribution – is about the effort you make and your perception of it:


  • Achieving Your Goals
  • Having Clear Objectives
  • Raising Issues Important To You
  • Feeling Secure In Your Job


  • Being Listened To (the 2nd most important statistic)
  • Getting Positive Feedback
  • Being Respected By Your Boss
  • Being Appreciated At Work

Conviction – is about the motivation you have whatever your circumstances:

  • Being Motivated At Work
  • Believing You Are Effective & Efficient
  • Feeling Resilient When Times Are Tough
  • Perceiving Your Work Has a Positive Impact On The World

Culture – is about how well you feel you fit at work; where your preferences for how you like to work are matched – a fixed-fluid continuum of:

  • Relishing Your Job – having the right systematic vs. organic mix
  • Liking Your Colleagues – indicating strong social support
  • Appreciating the Values Your Workplace Stands For – something you can use to increase persistence
  • Having A Fair Ethos At Work – really important for psychological well-being
  • Being In Control of Your Daily Activities – you probably have more control and influence than you realise.

Language reflects Culture: if you don’t like what you hear change your terminology

Commitment – is about the extent to which you are engaged with your work, a virtuous circle of “head and heart” feelings and beliefs which all interact and reinforce each other:

  • Believing You Are Doing Something Worthwhile:
    1. i. Finding meaningful work, and
    2. ii. Identifying your overall purpose

Fundamental to this is making a difference to yourself and others.

  • Feelings of Interest In Your Job – more likely if you have a calling, leading to s sense of vital engagement.

Job crafting (changing your job to make it more meaningful to you by expanding, reducing, doing differently, or changing how you see it) will help take you there if you are not in the one third of people who are likely to be working in their calling.

  • Connection To The Vision Of Your Organisation – affected by a strong vision statement and leaders who can communicate it effectively.

All of these are boosted by:

  • Strong Bursts of Positive Emotion – tells you you are on the tight track, and helps you access positive emotions when the going gets tough.

Commitment is much higher when you are happy.

Confidence – is about the sense of belief you have in yourself and your job, and the C on which all the others depend:

  • Getting Things Done – influenced by self-control, understanding procrastination, and using mind tools that work for you such as understanding your beliefs, using self-talk, and working with imagery.
  • Having High Levels of Self-Belief – happens when you:
    1. Experience success,
    2. Observe others like you succeed,
    3. Are persuaded to take on challenges, and
    4. Correctly interpret your mental and physical state.
  • Understanding Your Role Backwards and Forwards – made up of:
    1. Knowing your job fits your initial expectations,
    2. Seeing how it meshes with your overall career plan,
    3. Wanting to stay, and
    4. Recommending your organisation to a friend. This acts as a proxy question for how happy someone is at work.

Too much or too little Confidence lead to the same: lack of performance.

These three are so closely linked with happiness that we found that are also proxies for assessing it.

Pride – an internal positive connection with what you’re doing and its overall value to you here and now, and comes from:

  • Identifying with your organisation
  • Understanding your level of Contribution
  • Knowing who your work affects, and
  • Being aware of its wider impact

Trust – the faith you currently have in your organisation, your workplace and its leaders. And vice versa. It comes from:

  • Your colleagues, and
  • Your senior leaders.

Pride and Trust work similarly – if you have one you’ll have the other too.

Recognition – having the effort you make noted and expressed by people you respect, and comes from:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • How you work, and
  • How dedicated you are.

It has nothing to do with money and lots to do with being recognised in the way you most prefer.

And lying at the heart of all this is
Achieving Your Potential – if you think you are you will be happy at work, strongly associated with:

  • Feeling energised – pay attention to what energises you because it is a good internal marker of your happiness. (Doing long hours may mean you don’t have enough recovery time, and it looks like a 48hour week is the maximum you can work before productivity starts to rapidly fall off.
  • Using your strengths and skills – work to your strengths but don’t lose sight of weakness – successful people are aware of both, and spend time boosting and refining their skills too. Remember the fastest way to develop your potential is to learn.
  • Overcoming challenges – like most people you wont like being given challenges but overcoming them, and it is normal to experience less happiness when you start tackling a difficult project and more as you work your way through it.

Happiness is complex because people and the organisations they work for are complicated. So a simplistic answer was never going to fit the bill. But it is worth remembering that work has had and continues to have a bad press; even when people are miserable in their jobs they still estimate that they enjoy 30% of their day.

Now recession has of course affected everyone and has decreased happiness levels at work. That is hardly a big surprise. The consequences are that people tend to stay longer in their jobs, take less time off sick, and are working longer hours. That might be good news for employers, but here’s the flipside: energy and productivity have decreased significantly across the board, so you might feel that you are doing more but you’ll be feeling worse and delivering less. And as a result you may feel you want out as soon as economic upturn comes along. Yet the fact is that you don’t have to quit to change: you can make your working day better and your job more personally sustainable, and there are lots of simple things that you can do to help yourself.

The easiest place to start is by being more mindful and aware of your situation. All that involves is stepping back to recognise how you feel in any given moment – and why. Doing this is one of the easiest ways to build your psychological capital and to protect it too. But that psychological capital is not going to be banked in a vacuum; other people have an effect on how you feel and you’ll have an effect on them to. Being mindful of that is the first step towards understanding that although work can’t “make” you happy, you can make yourself happier at work.

See also Jessica Pryce-Jones website including their iOpener People and Performance Questionnaire (ippq) at

One thought on “Jessica Pryce-Jones on the Science of Happiness At Work

  1. Pingback: Your recipe for success at work – MARY-ANN&CO

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