Is happiness at work a ‘dirty’ word?

I’d worked for a lot of large corporations, some better than others, before I started my own show. But there was one common theme when I was an employee – I seemed to leave the ‘real’ me at home. I became this suited-up, serious executive that acted like everyone else around me.

When I started my business I wanted to work in a place that I wanted to work in, where I could express an opinion and be listened to (Okay, so I’m the boss now and people tend to listen. But I wanted everyone to have a say, contribute and be heard.)

I wanted to work in a place where I could wear what suited me and express my personality, but most of all I wanted to feel connected, have a laugh and share a smile: to be part of something bigger than myself.

I had all the intention as a leader but it took years of trial and error to achieve the outcome. The reality is that I knew how I wanted to do business but I did not necessarily have the skills to do so. So I started the business with the intent of having fun – and five years in, none of us were having fun at all. We had got very serious indeed. When employee turnover reached 64% in 2006 I had to have a tough conversation with myself and see clearly that I must be the problem – very confronting for any leader.

So imagine how proud I feel now six years later to have created a workplace with an employee engagement score of over 90% in the past four years, when the national average in Australia is just 54%. I did it by getting the right people in the right roles and the first person I hired was an HR professional (known as employee experience manager). There has been a clear and deliverable commercial outcome from creating a great workplace.

But I am daily confronted by people who tell me that it was easy because my business is about encouraging people to experience things that make them happy.

My business, RedBalloon, sells experiences i.e. activities across Australia and New Zealand, from cooking classes to skydiving, hot air ballooning to romantic retreats. But that has absolutely nothing to do with having a team of happy, motivated employees. Much as the 50+ of us would like to be out there sampling our wares every day, we have a business to run!

We aren’t happy and engaged working at RedBalloon because we sell experiences; we are happy because we choose to work at a business that values happiness. A lawyer’s office could do the same; so too a bank. So why isn’t happiness part of our everyday working vernacular? I’m sure if it were we’d see a far higher average engagement score which delivers commercial outcomes.

I think it’s because businesses can often take themselves too seriously. Isn’t it referred to as the ‘great game of business’? Yet most people take themselves really seriously. Can we all lighten up a bit: after all, happy people equal happy profits. One of Deepak Chopra’s Five Secrets to Happiness is enjoyment at work and that simple notion can have huge impacts upon productivity, wellbeing and profits.

“If you love what you do every day you never have to work another day in your life” – Confucius

In the end it took leadership and commitment to creating a happy work place. And we go by the simple adage below and we ask can each team member to answer ‘yes’ to this every day: “Do I know what I am there to do, did anyone notice and did I go home feeling like a winner?”

So here is a little hint: If you do nothing else, no matter where you sit inside your organisational structure, say ‘thank-you’ and appreciate those people around you, and the good feeling will rub off on you too.

How difficult can a ‘thank-you’ be? I challenge you to authentically thank five people today. Let me know how you go at

“Don’t worry, be happy” – it’s a choice. Not a dirty word.

Naomi Simson is considered to be one of Australia’s Best Bosses. An employee engagement advocate, she practises what she preaches in her own fast growth business. RedBalloon was named as one of only 13 BRW Best Employers in Australia in 2012 for four years in a row with an engagement scorecard of over 90% in each of those years – the average in Australian businesses is 54%.

One of Australia’s outstanding entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a passionate speaker, a blogger and a published author, most recently publishing Five Thanks a Day. She has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.


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