I have always been interested in the topic of happiness, and so as part of the completion of my Masters of Arts in Leadership degree, I decided to research the topic within my organization, North Vancouver Recreation and Culture. Through the Happiness Research Project, I have spent countless hours exploring the research that surrounds happiness. What I’ve learned, is it’s a very simple, yet very complex subject.

The question I grapple with is, how do we ensure employees are engaged, satisfied and happy at work and how does this benefit organizations themselves, especially when they are in the midst of large organizational change?

Being happy at work is a fundamental element of a person’s life satisfaction.
-Diane Scott, RN, MSN (Scott, ND).

There is extensive evidence that indicates happier employees use less sick time and are more productive than their less happy counterparts. Organizations with happier employees experience better customer service and less employee turnover. It could then be argued that employers have an obligation to their staff and the organizations they serve to make the time spent at work as enjoyable and productive as possible.

People are drawn to careers in Recreation and Parks often because the roles align with their personal values related to enjoyment, fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness. As recreation professionals, we provide the pathways for community members to reach their greatest potential through these same values. That being said, there is still work to be done to create organizational practices that enhance employees’ happiness while at work.

What makes us happy at work?

During my research, participants shared that their feelings of happiness at work were enhanced by the following factors:

• Flexibility through control over their schedules;
• Autonomy, or the ability to make decisions;
• Working with a supportive team;
• Knowing their work was valued;
• Creating a positive impact within the community they serve.

To better understand the level of happiness at work among my research participants, I had to find a baseline to understand what made them unhappy at work as well. Research suggests that personal unhappiness may be the result of poor health, separation, unemployment and lack of social contact. In the context of work, participants shared the following factors that made them unhappy:


• Unexpected or tight time constraints;
• Feeling criticised;
• Not being heard or overall communication breakdowns;
• Gossip amongst the team.

As I dug in further, an interesting theme arose within the data that reflected something deeper. I identified a particular variable that could immediately make participants feel unhappy at work – and that was one of intention.

The Importance of Intention

The majority of people want to do a good job while they are at work, and with this, their intention is to do the right thing for the best of the organization. If a superior or co-worker questions their intent, their level of happiness at work plummets and their productivity follows suite. This is extremely important for leaders of organizations to hear and recognize.

In addition to this, as our communities evolve, the recreation sector, as an example, is being forced to keep up. These rapid changes can sometimes throw a wrench into the happiness levels of our otherwise steadily happy workers. And as we know, often situations like these are unavoidable. But unhappiness coupled with organizational change has the potential to lead to organizational disaster, therefore my research needed to look next at how organizational change affected participants.

How to increase happiness

Participants said they understood that some organizational change was necessary and even felt that change could also be great and exciting. Yet these same people were sometimes left feeling that communication would break down during the implementation of these changes.

I observed five themes within the data that served to improve employee happiness during organizational change. They included: improved systems, relationship building, teamwork, communication, and positive leadership. I also observed participants working together to create complex solutions to improve and enhance their happiness at work while moving through organizational changes.

When I asked participants, here is what they offered as their top 3 recommendations for improving happiness through change at work:

1) To improve organizational flow, create a task force to review work processes and reduce wasted resources. As part of improving workflow, set an expectation that available time is to be used to connect with teams, instructors and leaders at work. This is often the first thing to drop, yet one of the most important criteria for building strong teams.

2) Add fun to meetings! Find a way to put fun into training sessions and in-services. These are often the best times for team members to connect. Don’t waste the opportunity building a dense agenda. Take time to create a recognition plan and celebrate milestones.

3) Create a coaching and mentoring program for interested employees. Make this relationship one of choice, not required or assigned based on organizational hierarchy. Have it be focused on building one another up by creating learning opportunities and potential for growth.

The benefits of working with happy, healthy employees are clear – plus it makes spending your day at work a lot more fun! The best way to ensure your employees are happy at work is to lean in and ask them. Do this in a way where they can answer authentically and anonymously. Consider using a methodology that supports positive suggestions for change, hire a facilitator, create a survey, or consider implementing some of these recommendations within your work teams and watch your customer service and production levels soar.


Jennifer Folkersen is a Recreation Programmer with North Vancouver Recreation and Culture. She has spent nearly 20 years working in Recreation in both the Municipal and Private Sector and has worked as an instructor, youth, sport and fitness programmer, personal training coordinator and Recreation Facility Clerk Supervisor. Jennifer sits on the Langara Recreation Studies Department Advisory Committee connecting education to recreation and holds a Recreation Leadership Diploma from Langara College and a Masters in Leadership from Royal Roads University. Recent research includes a study in Employee Happiness and Organizational Change. Jennifer seeks to provide opportunities to stimulate innovative thinking practices within the field of recreation. Jennifer can be reached at Jennifer.folkersen@nvrc.ca.

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