Aurelie Litynski

Chief Happiness Officer, founder of Happitude at Work

Multiple studies have found proof that happy employees are more creative, driven and loyal. This contributes to business innovation, reduces employee turnover and leads to better company performance. But what does ‘Happiness at work’ mean? And how exactly can managers make their teams happy?

Aurelie Litynski, Chief Happiness Officer, founder of Happitude at Work, has the answers. In her workshops, courses and public speaking events, she supports SMEs and multinational companies to become happier workplaces. In her approach, Aurelie combines her own experience with the science behind happiness, and extensive knowledge gained by learning from top experts in the field. In this interview, Aurelie shares her business story and explains who is responsible for employee happiness, why a good salary is not enough and what each of us can do to become happier at work.

Aurelie, one can bet that with such an unusual business project you must have a pretty interesting background. Can you tell us a little about how your personal and professional path began and developed?

I was lucky to have a very happy childhood. I grew up in the south of France between Marseille and Nice in a small village near the beach. There, the sun always shines, the sky is blue and the water is crystal clear.

However, from an early age I also wanted to discover the world and build a successful career. Therefore, after graduating from hotel management school, where I studied marketing and economics, I packed my bags and took off on my adventure. First, I went to England, where I worked as a hotel receptionist, then I moved to Canada to work as an event coordinator for another hotel. And finally, I moved back to Europe, where I took a job in event management in one of the most luxurious hotels in Geneva.

I felt like I was missing something, as if I had an untapped potential to do something bigger.

This seems to be a pretty successful start to a career. What made you change your path and leave the hotel industry?

About a year after my arrival in Geneva, I met my now husband. Shortly afterwards, he moved to Zurich for professional reasons and I decided to go with him. I thought it shouldn’t be a problem for me to settle down there, as I had already relocated so often. But I underestimated how difficult it would be in a city where I didn’t know a soul and didn’t speak the local language. So I had to take my time to learn German and integrate myself.

A new beginning for me was when I found a job as an event manager in an agency. I had a great time and experience there; I organized all kind of corporate events all over the world and learned a lot along the way.

Yet a few years later you left that field too, right? Why is that?

Within 5 years of working for the event agency, I became a mum of two and realized that it was hard to keep up with the intense schedule of event management. So I decided to change the industry and had the opportunity to work for an IT company in marketing. It was an interesting job and a wonderful team, but I felt like I was missing something, as if I had an untapped potential to do something bigger.

How did you come up with the idea of Happitude at Work?

The turning point happened during a dinner with my best friend. We were having a nice evening in a restaurant talking about our professional challenges when she said to me: “You know, I miss Aurelie from a few years ago when you were beaming with happiness and positivity. What do you miss now? What do you need to be happy at work again?” That one question changed my life completely. I got all excited when I started thinking about what made me happy and realized that I had always enjoyed creating a positive atmosphere at work, uniting teams and promoting a good emotional environment for everyone.

All of a sudden, I said: “I know what used to make me really happy: creating a positive environment for the whole team to work at its best – in fact, I should be a Chief Happiness Officer!”  It was just a feeling, an insight into what I really wanted, even though I wasn’t even sure about the real meaning of that job back in 2017.

Sounds like your friend acted as a very helpful coach by asking you this game-changing question, right?

Absolutely, and I was so excited and inspired by this idea that I immediately started researching. When I came home from that dinner, I googled ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ and found out that there is even a training for it. The very next day I was booking the course and a few months later I went to Paris to take the training.

It was an absolutely fantastic experience: the whole two days we talked only about happiness at work and how to create a positive atmosphere. I remember thinking: this is exactly what I have always felt, but I couldn’t put it into words! With this training I developed a structure and a deeper understanding of how this approach could be implemented within organizations. And when I returned to Switzerland, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do next.

Did you start implementing your business project right after this training?

Almost. A month later I quit my job with the intention of taking some time to think about how I could become an external consultant on happiness at work. But everything developed much faster than I had expected. Three weeks later we were brainstorming with my husband, which we do quite often when one of us needs fresh ideas for our professional tasks.

During brainstorming, I realized that I had many ideas and tools from my recent training, and I ended up creating a workshop which my husband performed with his new team. By the end of the evening I had the full program ready and was thinking: I think it’s my business, this workshop could be useful for many other companies as well. This is how I started.

Was it difficult to find first customers for your offer?

The first positive feedbacks about my workshop reassured me that my idea was a good one. One of my very first clients was the event agency I used to work for. I saw it as a test of my idea and it worked great, which made me feel confident about the project.

Little by little I gained more and more clients through active networking and expanded my offer from one workshop to the whole range of services related to happiness at work. Now I do public speaking, lunch & learn workshops, half-day and full-day workshops. I also offer a 6-month program that includes analysis, awareness, engagement and follow-up; and my newest service is a happiness leader course tailored for managers at different levels to help them build happy teams.

Happiness at work is not just a cool, trendy idea, but a scientifically proven approach that has a significant impact on business performance.

Let’s talk more about happiness at work. What exactly is it and what does it depend on?

First of all, I need to clarify that when we talk about happiness at work, we do not mean seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses and being absolutely happy all the time. We are talking about having more positive emotions than negative ones.

I always say: your happiness – your responsibility. The very first step of each of my courses is to create awareness and make participants realize that their happiness at work depends on themselves. The way you speak and behave in a team affects not only your colleagues, but the entire work environment and you in turn, as part of it.

Furthermore, happiness at work is not just a cool, trendy idea, but a scientifically proven approach that has a significant impact on business performance.

In particular, what impact does team happiness have on companies and employees?

Multiple studies have proven that happy employees are more creative and motivated, they perform better and are healthier. As a result, happy employees contribute to business innovation, are more loyal and stay with the company longer, which reduces employee turnover and saves hiring costs. In terms of benefits to employees, a happy working environment allows them to expand their potential and feel fulfilled at work.

And from your experience, what are the 3 most common reasons for employee unhappiness?

Lack of recognition, miscommunication and issues with team spirit. That is, if you don’t have a sense of belonging, don’t feel understood and supported by managers or team members or don’t get recognition for your impact. As one can see, these factors are primarily communication-related – it is all about the relationships within a team. But in order to address these issues and work on them, we must first understand that something is not going well, that some changes are necessary.

What signs should a manager look for to recognize that the team is not happy?

I wouldn’t say it’s a universal recipe, but I would recommend looking out for these red flags. First, unhappy employees do not participate in business meetings in terms of speaking up, being invested in, and bringing new ideas to the discussion. This is a sign that they do not care about the outcome or are frustrated and therefore are not willing to do more than necessary. Another sign is a psychosomatic one: when people are stressed, sad or uncomfortable, they get sick more often. This is how our immune system reacts to psychological stress, which can lead to various symptoms – headaches, colds, high blood pressure, etc. – etc. If you notice that some employees often have such symptoms, the reason may be the working environment. And, of course, the most obvious sign of unhappy teams is high employee turnover.

This is a psychological phenomenon: the negativity bias. We have a tendency to remember negative events better than positive ones.

If you notice signs of an unhappy working atmosphere, what can you as a manager do to improve it?

This is a very important question, because even though I say that your happiness is your responsibility, managers play a crucial role in shaping the working environment for the entire team. That’s why I strongly believe that leaders should pay particular attention to their own behavior and statements. Blaming culture and negative communication are among the most toxic factors. By saying “It’s your fault” or expressing primarily negative emotions, managers spread this feeling throughout the team, reducing trust and preventing creativity.

To make the team happier, you need to create a safe environment where ideas can be freely expressed and exchanged and where mistakes are addressed through constructive feedback. The first way to develop happiness at work is to lead by positive example. The second and very effective way is through supportive instruments such as recognition and gratitude.

In terms of recognition, do you mean such initiatives as “Employee of the Month”?

Well, that could be one of the ideas. Or you could hold regular meetings to go through the highlights of the week and focus on the positive. However, what I recommend to all kinds of teams and companies is personal recognition on a regular basis: daily or weekly. There are many ways to express gratitude and appreciation. Words have a great impact. “Thank you for your help today; you gave a great presentation; I really appreciate your impact in brainstorming” – things like this are extremely important and do not require any special planning or effort.

Photo credit: Happitude at Work

You mentioned that it is important to focus on the positive. What can be challenging about that?

This is a psychological phenomenon: the negativity bias. The human brain has evolved in such a way that it notices danger in order to protect us, to survive. Therefore, we have a tendency to remember negative events better than positive ones. But the ability to perceive and remember positive emotions is trainable. I always say: Happiness is a skill, a mindset and an attitude. Scientists find that 50% of happiness is our genetics, 10% is circumstances and 40% – the result of our efforts to work on it. That is, up to 40% of our happiness depends on how we develop it.

What can each of us do to become happier at work?

First of all, I would strongly recommend training yourself to think and act with more positivity. There is one simple exercise that is very useful: at the end of each working day, before turning off your laptop, take a moment to reflect on what went well today. It shouldn’t necessarily be something grand like completing a major project or exceeding sales goals. It could be a nice chat with your colleagues during a coffee break or a thankful email from a customer.

Try zooming in on your day and pick one thing that made you smile. This is a very efficient tool because you force your brain to find and focus on positive moments. Just by recalling them, you can get a boost of positive emotions and re-experience them in some way.

Your happiness begins with your self-awareness. You need to know what makes you happy, only then can you act effectively.

This is a great tip, thank you very much! Is there anything else we can do?

Your happiness begins with your self-awareness. I think it is very important to understand yourself and be clear about what is it you need to be happy. And it’s not about the standard package of ‘high salary, nice benefits, good title’. Of course, these are basic needs, but once they are met at a certain level, they don’t make us any happier.

What affects our feelings are other things: good relationships with others, the feeling of doing a meaningful job, the feeling of achieving something, getting recognition. So, take time to think about what exactly drives your motivation. You need to know what makes you happy, only then can you act effectively.

As for you personally, how has understanding what makes you happy helped you develop the business?

It has made me driven and very clear about why I do what I do. It wasn’t easy in the beginning because setting up a business meant that I spent less time with my children, which worried me. But pretty soon I realized that it’s not about quantity but about quality. Working on my own project made me so much happier that it automatically reflected on my behavior in personal life. As a result, I believe it has a positive impact on the whole family.

What can you recommend to other aspiring entrepreneurs or those who are considering pursuing this path?

It may sound very basic, but it is the one thing I am absolutely sure about when it comes to entrepreneurship: you must be passionate about what you do. If you start a business that doesn’t really drive you, it can be very difficult to deal with all the challenges of entrepreneurship. Starting and developing a business takes a lot of time and energy and is most definitely accompanied by a rollercoaster of ups and downs.  I think to be able to deal with it, you need to truly believe in your product and genuinely wish to develop it.

Thank you very much for this inspiring conversation and your valuable tips. We wish you every success with your project!

We sincerely thank Ana Paula Tediosi and Birdhaus Social GmbH for providing the venue for this interview and photoshooting.

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