How Companies Define Employee Happiness

August 22, 2022

employee engagement happiness

Happy employee jumping with umbrella

There are countless studies that show the importance of happiness on a variety of personal outcomes. On a personal level, increased happiness has been linked to success, generosity, kindness, and improved health. The country of Bhutan has even made an effort to promote the concept and importance of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which emphasizes sustainability, culture, and good governance over Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which prioritizes economic output.

For successful companies, employee happiness is also an increasingly important concept because of the myriad of benefits. Happy employees provide better customer service, make better decisions, and are less stressed. These factors contribute directly to the success of a company by not only reducing employee turnover, but also by improving productivity and creating an incredible work atmosphere.

The Greater Good Science Center has conducted research into the key components of workplace happiness. Their article, The Four Keys to Happiness at Work discusses some of the benefits to a happy workforce and finds four important factors. We’ll summarize their findings here, but the entire article is well worth a read. The framework they came up with is abbreviated PERK - Purpose, Engagement, Resilience, and Kindness.

  1. Purpose - When employees feel like they make a valuable contribution.
  2. Engagement - When employees enjoy the work and feel important and effective.
  3. Resilience - When employees are able to manage challenges.
  4. Kindness - When employees treat each other with empathy and compassion.

Famously, Airbnb, Google, and Zappos are well-known companies that have placed a strong emphasis on culture and employee happiness. Let’s take a look at how each has defined employee happiness, and the initiatives they implemented to support and foster it.


Airbnb has a very clear mission statement, which gives employees their Purpose:

Create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.

This mission rallies their employees behind a common purpose, and provides a foundation for their service and their culture. Moreover, according to the Airbnb website, they have a strong belief in work-life balance and being kind to their employees:

There’s life at work and life outside of work. We want everyone to be healthy, travel often, get time to give back, and have the financial resources and support they need.

This focus on being mission-driven and employee wellness has led to Airbnb being consistently ranked among Glassdoor’s best companies to work for.


One of Google’s most famous employee-friendly policies is the 80/20 Innovation Model, where employees are encouraged to spend 80% of their time on core projects, and 20% of their time on innovation that sparks their interests and passions. This policy takes direct aim at the Engagement element of the PERK framework by allowing employees to spend time working on things they are passionate about. This benefits the company as well, by serving as the bleeding-edge of their innovation since employees may build something that can provide unique solutions and products.

Additionally, Google provides employees with a variety of unique benefits like meals, lectures, and fitness centers to help ensure employees have everything and anything they can need to do their job effectively. They have termed these benefits as “Googley extras” because they are:

Programming, spaces, and resources to support your growth, productivity, and wellbeing.


Since its founding, Zappos has been almost singularly focused on delivering the best customer service experience in commerce. To do this, they have created a culture around, “delivering WOW.” Zappos’ core values address Resilience by giving their employees tremendous flexibility to do whatever they deem important or necessary to deliver that level of service to their customers.

In fact, they have imbued their core values into every aspect of their culture:

At Zappos our 10 Core Values are more than just words, they’re a way of life. We know that companies with a strong culture and a higher purpose perform better in the long run. As we continue to grow, we strive to ensure that our culture remains alive and well.

Zappos also encourages employees to be true to themselves, and fosters Kindness throughout their culture by asking:

How much fun do you have in your job, and what can you do to make it more fun? What do you do to make your co-workers’ jobs fun as well?

The “pursuit of happiness” is so important that it has even been enshrined in the opening paragraphs of the United States Declaration of Independence. So that’s nothing new. However, companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of employee happiness to their bottom lines because countless studies have shown that happy employees are linked with better business outcomes.

If you’re trying to focus on and improve the happiness of your employees, the solutions you implement need to be unique to your company and your mission. The Greater Good Science Center’s PERK framework is a great foundation from which to work. While Airbnb, Google, and Zappos all have different approaches and emphases, they all seem to intuitively share the tenets of the PERK framework. As you begin to implement your employee engagement programs, keep Swell in mind to help you measure and track your progress.

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