Organizations need to be more agile if they want to conquer the future. On that path, happiness is an often unattended and underestimated asset that we would be better off reconsidering.

The concept of happiness has been put in the spotlight lately—in our personal lives, but more so in the workplace. A friend recently reminded me of this when he told me that he and his wife—ages 55 and 52—had decided to abandon their corporate lives to start a baking business. “I want to stop wasting my dreams and bring them to life,” he said, and set off on his own journey towards his pursuit of happiness, exercising what is recognized by the Declaration of Independence as a fundamental right for all human beings.

In our professional lives, happiness seems to have become the holy grail. This idea dates back to before the pandemic, when we were suddenly reminded of the finiteness of the present. Millennials were already paving the path in the 2010s, when they began to show us that there was more to life than work. Among other changes, their drive towards happiness in the workplace filled our organizations with new positions, including Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), Weekend Happiness Concierge, Happiness Engineer, and Chief Heart Officer, which aimed to institutionalize what humans have searched for since the beginning of humanity. Considering the recent phenomenon of The Great Resignation, there is still much room for improvement. Between 2021 and 2023, over 90 million people quit their jobs, making it clear that happiness is still missing in the workplace. Yet it remains one of the most important assets that we must be able to create if we want to build a future as a company. Happiness gives us the lightness, energy, and agility we need in order to face the current reality. Strangely enough, technology offers us an enormous number of tools for analyzing, rethinking, and reorganizing what we do, and how and why we do it. Not knowing how to leverage our potential for happiness isn’t an operational issue. It’s a much more human issue—it’s a matter of perspective.

A matter of perspective

Flexibility is needed in both our personal and work lives in order to adapt to new situations, environments, changes, and growth (as opposed to survival). This flexibility, however, requires a certain lightness, widely known as agility. 

The structure of our organizations can become an obstacle on this path, and not necessarily due to bureaucracy—which may be more or less present, depending on several factors—but because of the surprisingly large amount of habits, customs, and agreements that make up the foundation of how we act in our business: our culture.

Olivia’s experience in helping transform businesses throughout the world has taught us that reducing an organization chart that includes eight hierarchical levels, for example, to three, generates savings and helps change people’s predisposition—or perspective—when it comes to taking initiative. Even so, drive is often not enough to generate dynamic agility in an organization’s day to day routine.

This leads us to mention the importance of acknowledging the human aspect that has the power to undermine any positive mindsight people may have: fear. Fear of change, of the unexpected, and of the unknown.

In a world as uncertain and ever-changing as the one we live in, it’s natural for people to hold on to the structures and mechanisms that give them a sense of stability. It’s in this attempt to hang on to habits that make us feel secure that we ultimately choose slow over fast, and bureaucracy over boldness. In other words, our work dynamic slows down.

A path of agreements with people at the center

Understanding how light our organizational culture is is the first sine qua non step for understanding how open we are to change and our perspective of reality as a business. One of the most revealing tools for measuring this is the “Happiness Index.” Through surveys measuring the work environment, the Happiness Index that measures how “happy” we are as a business tends to reveal hidden aspects that organizations can benefit from.

People are the main characters, the irreplaceable variable of the equation on our path. They are the ones with the power to drive our organization towards the future or drag it—in an attempt to achieve the impossible: preserving the past—and lead our business to extinction. Our Happiness Index offers an objective perspective of the “weight” (fear) or “lightness” (happiness) with which our organizations carry out their tasks, and their desire for improvement. 

This is why working with and for the happiness of the people that make up our organizations has become so important. We can’t reach this goal, however, by renaming positions or roles in the workplace, or reducing the amount of hierarchical mandates. We achieve it by putting people at the center of what we do and working with the available tools to familiarize ourselves with their perspective of the future. Once we establish this foundation, we can recreate the agreements that will allow us to define the change towards our pursuit of happiness together, as an organization and human group. The United States’ nearly 250 year history serves as proof of the power behind this simple idea. Let’s make the most of it for the sake of our companies.

By Claudio Ardissone, Managing Director at Olivia Paraguay

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