jenn lim, zappos, happiness, delivering happiness Jenn Lim on stage Jenn Lim on stage Jenn Lim on stage Jenn Lim on stage
Small Business

Growing Your Business

Thinking Outside the Shoe Box: A Culture of Happiness

A happiness-at-work movement is underfoot, and it all started with shoes.

After creating the Zappos Culture Book for the popular online retailer – whose core values include such atypical business principles as "Be humble" and "Create fun and a little weirdness" – consultant Jenn Lim collaborated with CEO Tony Hsieh to launch his book, Delivering Happiness, in 2010.

Twenty translations and 27 weeks of New York Times bestseller-list status later, Lim and Hsieh took the book's message even further by creating a company named after the book.

As CEO, CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) and co-founder of Delivering Happiness, Lim now travels the globe speaking about lessons learned at Zappos. One of her goals is to chip away at the lack of connection between workers and their jobs. A Gallup poll found that, in 2014, only about one third of U.S. workers were enthusiastic about, and committed to, their workplaces.

The Subjective Science of Happiness

"There's a caveat here, that when we say happiness, it's not just rainbows and unicorns," Lim says. Something as abstract and subjective as happiness can be challenging to apply in a business setting; the "naysayers," per Lim, are her movement's biggest obstacle. That's why she and her team draw on practical, scientific backing to strengthen their case, pointing to research that correlates increased employee engagement, retention, productivity and profit with workplace happiness.

"You can't say 'nay' when it makes sense all around," says Lim.

The size of a company isn't the hardest part – though it can certainly complicate diffusion – since principles of work-based happiness are universal and can be applied accordingly, says Lim, from the tiniest startup to the most dominant Fortune 500.

"Leaders that are invested and committed do make it easier to push the movement forward, but not every leader will 'get it' or want to be involved." In that case, an individual's mindset matters, and smaller teams within a company can take control and make it their own. "The great thing about happiness is you don't have to wait for someone to let you be happy," says Lim.

Delivering Happiness to Your Employees

So, how do you build a culture of happiness? A distinct sense of purpose beyond profit margins is a strong starting point. "You have to be very clear about it," says Lim. "We were not just selling shoes at Zappos, we were also delivering happiness into the world."

This understanding of a higher purpose pairs well with another imperative for delivering happiness at work: the creation of an environment that allows employees to be their authentic selves, something that ultimately translates to customer loyalty, engagement and satisfaction.

"Consumers today are more educated, so there has to be a more personal, emotional connection," Lim explains. If workers are happy in their roles, customers will hear it on the other end of the phone or email. "You can't artificially build that," says Lim.

While core values are easily found on the pages of employee handbooks or in frames lining the walls of break rooms the world over, establishing these values and actually living by them – more specifically, hiring and firing by them – is a crucial happiness culture component.

"When it comes down to it, not many companies actually live by their core values," says Lim, pointing out that "one of Enron's core values was integrity."

Sustainable happiness in a company really comes back to relationships, says Lim, which can be accomplished through building a sense of connectedness.

"People aren't just showing up to work because they have a job to fill or responsibilities, they're showing up to work because they're with friends," Lim says. That emotional connection – found in meaningful relationships formed internally – can have a powerful impact on employee retention and engagement, and in generating happiness that extends outside the four walls of the workplace.

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