Happiness and Work – Can Person-Centred Practices Help?

19 June 2015 | By Amanda George

As a fan of the 5 ways to wellbeing, I have written a blog about how they can work alongside person-centred practices

“Everyone wants to work in an engaging, exciting workplace…research shows consistently that happier, more engaged employees are more productive. We know, intuitively, that a workplace where people come first is the workplace we want to be part of.”  ~ Professor Julian Birkinshaw (London Business School)




I am a big fan of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. The New Economics Foundation developed these Five Ways based on a meta-study of existing research.

They are Connect, Take Notice, Give, Keep Learning and Stay Active.

The list is stuck on my fridge, and we have been working on them as a team, and in our work as well. I had assumed that it made sense to think about them in the context of teamwork as well, until I went to a seminar by Nic Marks, one of the original team who developed the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

He leads Happiness Works, and has a fresh take on what the 5 Ways look like in a work setting. These 5 ways are:

  1. Connect
  2. Be fair
  3. Empower
  4. Challenge
  5. Inspire

This does sound like the kind of culture all of us would like to work in.

The evidence of the benefits, according to Marks is very significant, and improving colleagues’ mood can increase productivity by up to 40%. I wonder what the impact would be on colleagues in health and social care, where we talk less about productivity and more about compassion? Intuitively I suspect that happier staff must lead to happier patients.

Marks in a blog, gives examples of how organisations have moved towards his Five Ways, and I share some of the person-centred practices that can help as well.

1) Have good relationships at work

Altassian was listed as one of the 2014 Great Places to work in Australia.

Kelly Kirby at their Sydney office says,

“We train staff how to have crucial conversations, giving them the tools to address issues and concerns respectfully.”

Knowing what matters to each team member and exactly how they want to be supported is a foundation for good relationships and communication. This can be recorded on a single page – a one-page profile. Colleagues from health – from 17 hospitals and trusts, a hospice and a university suggest that there are 10 benefits to having one-page profiles for each other at work.

As well as knowing what matters to someone, knowing where they have come from, their history, is a great way to build trust and relationships.

2) Treat people fairly

Professor Noblet from Deakin Universtiy says that when treated unjustly, people will act to restore the balance, typically by withdrawing and just doing the bare essentials. Treating people fairly is more than equity within processes, procedures and pay, it includes transparency in how decisions are made and how information is shared.

Communication charts for teams are a person-centred practices that ensures that everyone knows how decisions are made – which ones are consulted on, which are made by consensus, which are made by managers or teams, and how these are communicated.

3. Empower people

Marks gives the example of the CEO of the Physio Company, Tristan White who models ‘freedom within boundaries’, “How they lead their teams is up to them as long as it’s within the bounds of our core purpose and values’.

Having a clear purpose is fundamental to a person-centred team, and there are a range of ways to create and share this, for example purpose posters, one-page team strategies. The doughnut is a person-centred thinking tool that ensures that team members know the boundaries of how they can work within their teams purpose. People work best when they know what is expected of them – so that have clear guidelines and the freedom to work within them, and know where they can experiment. This is where the doughnut is helpful. A person-centred team has a culture of trust, empowerment and accountability. The doughnut makes it clear which areas of your job where experimentation is not allowed and making mistakes is a problem, and where experimentation and making mistakes is actively encouraged and celebrated.

4) Develop people

White talks about knowing the aspirations of her team, and looking at work-life balance so that people ‘have a sense of personal mastery as well as achieving business goals.’ She also focuses on ways to celebrate successes and milestones of both the company and individuals.

Earlier I talked about knowing what matters to someone, and their history, as important for developing relationships. Knowing about the future, and sharing aspirations, is part of developing a happy team. Regular person-centred supervision or one-to-ones are vital, to agree goals that reflect the team’s purpose and also to set personal development goals that also reflect where the person wants to be in the future – their dreams as well as their development needs.

Celebrating success and appreciating each other as well as achievements is important here as well. It is easy to appreciate someone in the way that you would like to be appreciated, but when we talked together in our team, we recognised that each of us had different preferences for being appreciated.

For Michelle it is ‘A thoughtful act’ and for Charlotte it is ‘Seeing my work recognised by others’

5) Inspire a sense of purpose and meaning

It’s not enough for your team to have a purpose: everyone has to feel their work makes a difference. In April we went on the Search Inside Yourself leadership course. This covered motivation and used the work of Daniel Pink, to argue that the best motivators for high performance are not external rewards but intrinsic motivators. Here are Pink’s three intrinsic motivators:

  • Autonomy (directing our own lives),
  • Mastery (getting better and better at something that matters) and
  • Purpose (being part of something bigger than ourselves).

Work in health, education and social care naturally creates that sense of purpose for many people. In other work areas, organisations achieve this through a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, where money and time is donated to causes of their choice. We are working with health and social care organisations, and businesses to explore how being part of a Community Circle can contribute to a sense of making a difference to one person’s life as well as through your work.

If you wanted to move in this direction, and have happier staff that could lead to happier patients, where could you start? Nic has a useful, short questionnaire  – just 14 questions – that then gives you a score on how many of these Five Ways you currently experience at work.

You can then match your score with the national population. This shows that 41.4% of the population do not experience any of these Five Ways in their work, and only 7.2% experience all of them.

Over the last two years we have been thinking about happiness in our team. We have tried having a role for ‘happiness’ within our team – a Minister for Fun’, and using the Five Ways for Wellbeing in one-to-ones and as a team. We had the ‘Happiness Manifesto’ by Henry Stewart as a team book club and then looked at his suggestions and chose actions to implement them.

Next I am going to use the questionnaire with everyone in the Autumn, and build on what we learn from that. I will share where we are and what we are trying next. Please share how you are trying to create a happy workplace, I would love to know what other people are doing.


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