Is a happier office really a more productive one? We’re going to find out

Follow along as the Canadian Business staff test-drive new mood-tracking software

Header for The Happy Office Project
Coworkers high-fiving in an office

This is not the Canadian Business staff, it’s a stock photo. We’re not high-five happy (at least not yet). (Klaus Vedfelt/Getty)

Is there an ROI on workplace happiness? If everyone in your office leapt out of bed each morning eager to grin their way through their desk-monkey tasks, interrupted only by the occasional chirpy conversation about Game of Thrones, it’d make for a positive work environment. But would all that chipperness lead to more sales, better presentations—even happier customers?

A growing body of research suggests yes. A happy outlook can have surprising benefits in the workplace, from higher energy levels and fewer sick days to greater productivity and better capacity for dealing with stress. This one statistic alone should make all employers more interested in boosting bliss: Truly cheerful employees spend about 80% of their time at work doing what they’re there to do; the least content spend only 40% of their time on job-related activities, according to a survey by workplace happiness consultant and author Jessica Pryce-Jones.

At Canadian Business, we like to think our crew of merry writers and editors hovers closer to that 80% cohort—but we’re about to find out if that’s really the case. We’re embarking on a month-long experiment with Plasticity Labs, a Waterloo-based company that’s one of a growing number of startups aiming to help employers track—and boost—workers’ moods and motivation in real time. Companies that aim to gauge employee happiness and engagement through an annual survey—the blunt HR tool used in many corporate environments—may capture how a workforce feels on polling day, but they fail to document the dips and rises that occur throughout the year in response to hirings and firings, swings in the business cycle or even news events and weather. A variety of new startups now offer employers frequent, regular data to help them determine what really influences happiness and productivity; Plasticity also offers a social feed similar to Facebook or Twitter that helps reinforce workplace positivity.

For the next few weeks, staff at CB will be answering daily online surveys designed to measure our happiness. We’ll also be participating in a variety of activities that will supposedly amp up what Plasticity calls our H.E.R.O. traits: hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism—traits that research suggests are linked with positive outcomes like job satisfaction and organizational commitment. The activities could be something as simple—and for the cynics among us, cringe-inducing—as “smile-bombing” a co-worker with an email link to a heartwarming viral video (I’ve got this one bookmarked so I’m ready for Day 1). Or it could be writing down three things we’re grateful for at the office —a ritual that Plasticity’s own research shows can lead to a significant bump in job satisfaction.

If this whole Up With People scheme sounds like it was designed by someone who owns a coffee mug that says Wake Up and Be Awesome—well, it was. Jennifer Moss is the proud owner of that mug, and she and her husband Jim Moss, co-founders of Plasticity, are unabashedly 24-hour positivity people. But they say they’re not selling kittens and unicorns: “We get that a lot of people are skeptical about this stuff,” says Jim. “So we’re all about measurable outcomes—we’re hoping to extinguish cynicism with charts and graphs.”

Plasticity isn’t paying us to do this; nor are we paying them. This is a true experiment in the sense that we don’t know what the outcome will be. Our plan is to try out the Plasticity platform and report on what happens in our office. We’ll even share what the data says about us, no matter how grumpy it makes us look.

Watch for our Happy Office Project updates over the next month. We’ll aim to file weekly reports—if we’re not too busy hugging it out.


The Happy Office Project is a special series initiated by Canadian Business. Plasticity Labs is neither providing or receiving payment for our participation, and has no involvement in its editorial content.