The relentless pursuit of happiness will kill you

Ok, it might not kill you. But, it could kill performance. In yourself, your employees, or your business. Happiness is a sugary, fleeting pleasure, to be taken in moderation – like the rest of the good stuff.

Recent reports about Netflix were pleasing, they had the largest share of happy employees in the US in 2019, according to a survey by Blind. Though organisations often compete for ‘the happiest people at work’, the idea of work being a nourishment is increasingly important.

Given what we’ve seen about Netflix and their hard work in creating a high performance culture, their happiness survey result isn’t surprising – we’re pretty sure their performance and happiness are linked in a powerful way. 

We think there’s way more to this result than ‘happiness’ – we’re keen to help everyone focus on a helpful version of pursuing happiness at work.

Highly gratifying work vs. happiness

Happy people do great work. Well…sometimes.

Sometimes happy people don’t get much done, don’t want to be unhappy (ever), or lack the resolve to come together behind your collective purpose when the shit hits the fan. They’re happy, but aren’t necessarily performance happy. There’s a big difference.

If a high percentage of employees say they’re happy or unhappy, it’s worth asking what’s behind that. If they feel happy because they’re having fun at work; they enjoy the free cake, the circus days of organised fun, or bring dogs to the office, that’s great. BUT are they engaged in high quality work, in a highly autonomous environment that’s fuelling a culture of collective confidence? Are they in high performance work relationships that balance challenge and support effectively, pursuing highly gratifying work, that delivers essential value? 

These two types of happiness are critically different. At Netflix, happiness may come from the huge satisfaction gained from being part of something professionally rewarding that allows people to look forward to work. Their career ambitions are being served by a culture harnessing collective ambition (rather than fleeting happiness through hollow acts, that try to take the edge off work being a bind).

Is everyone in your organisation on board, making a difference to the things that matter? Are they seeing the direct link between their effectiveness and the success of the business? Is the work they’re doing fuelling their sense of contribution/competence? Are they being given freedom to skillfully use their expertise, contributing to your mission? If all these things are true, you’re probably building a culture of ‘high performance happiness’ (sic. Cliff Oxford).

For any CEO or HRD out there, surely that’s the real crux when it comes to happiness and your people. Other forms of happiness are available, but probably not as great for the bottom line.

High performance happy

“You don’t make the pig fat by weighing it.” 

By simply counting the number of happy employees, instead of using happiness as an occasional barometer, you could be creating a beautiful recipe of delighted mediocrity. 

At Netflix, there’s probably been some great high performance foundations put in place culturally. They’ve pursued their own recipe for success that gives them the best chance of achieving their results, in a way that… makes them happy. 

So, happiness is an output, rather than the aim. They’ve identified the ways of thinking and working likely to give people a sense of satisfaction and being valued at work.

We know that a focus on performance, as well as results, is powerful for any business.

Performance is simply doing the things you need to do to get the results you want. If you’re clear on the results you want and even clearer on how you want to achieve those results, in a way that creates satisfaction, then you’re well set for the right kind of happy people at work.

So, we’d urge you all to forget the happiness industry that could be about to reach a new level of frenzied “fun at work” initiatives, and instead collaborate with everyone in your organisation, to enjoy pursuing meaningful results, in a way that brings you all happiness.

Whether this is working hard to foster greater psychological safety, by clearly outlining the what and how of your company’s ambitions, or going on a quest to help everyone increase their sense of confidence, control or connectedness in their daily contributions, it matters not. What does matter is that you remember for most people, the role of work in their lives is something that they’d love to know is a force for good – for them personally and the work they’re part of. 


When ambitious people are met with an environment that values and nurtures their talent, ensuring it’s always put to best use, then there’s some lasting happiness, that’s serving every one to great effect.

Dr. Chris Shambrook

Chris has been a Director of PlanetK2 Performance Coaching since September 2003, while also having an embedded role as performance psychologist to GB Rowing since 1997, achieving great success across five Olympic Games.

Chris is reknowned for his practical approach and for developing winning thinking, transforming human performance to ensure business goals are delivered. Chris specialises in leadership development, culture change, coaching and career counselling.

Author: Editorial Team

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