Why Happy is a Great Place to Work: A Talk From Our Team

In: BlogDate: Nov 02, 2023By: Claire Lickman

The speakers at conferences are usually senior leaders who praise how well things work at their organisation. For Happy’s talk, we asked three of our frontline staff to talk about their own experiences and a sense of what it’s like to work in a happy workplace.

In this talk from the 2023 Happy Workplaces Conference, Sal, Laura and Rebecca share what makes Happy a great place to work. This includes discussing the four-day week and how it works in practice, as well as how Happy’s staff live the company’s values.

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Sal, Laura and Rebecca speaking at Happy Workplaces Conference 2023

Henry Stewart: So we've got we have a lot of CEOs talking about how they've created happy workplaces like Alan before, and we've got some coming. So we thought it would be good to hear from some frontline staff about what it's like to work in a happy workplace. So from Happy, we have for you, Sal, one of our IT facilitators, Laura, one of our Happy People Account Managers, Rebecca, one of our IT training Account Managers.

And Maureen will ask the questions. Over to you, Maureen.

Maureen Egbe: Lovely. Thank you. Well, first of all, hi Sal, Rebecca and Laura. Thank you so much for joining us today to share how it is to work at Happy and what makes Happy a great workplace.

Okay, so guys, if you've been to, everyone, if you've been to Happy before, you know that we have a special afternoon treat.

So my first question to Rebecca, Sal and Laura is, what's your favourite ice cream?

Rebecca Sotomi: Ooh, okay. Mine changes with the weather, but at the moment it's Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough.

Laura Ffrench: I think mine's the mango Solero.

Maureen Egbe: Okay, and Sal?

Sal Agoro: Mine is the Oreos. I love the Oreos. That feel of having a biscuit as well as an ice cream all in a sandwich. Yeah.

Maureen Egbe: Okay. Well discussion for another day of whether that is a biscuit, but our first question is, thank you guys for sharing that.

Our first question is to Laura about celebrating mistakes. That's one of our values at Happy. So what happens if you make a mistake at Happy?

Laura Ffrench: Good question. So just to give you a bit of an overview, I started working at Happy about three and a half years ago. And one of my favourite parts of working here is that mistakes are celebrated.

It felt so liberating to find out that I could be open about my mistakes. And also that I wasn't alone in making them because everybody's open about their mistakes at Happy. We even include it in our monthly strategy reports.

In previous jobs, I had experienced all sorts of behaviour towards making mistakes, making me want to cover them up or not really looking for the support that I needed for them.

And so an example of a mistake I did make it Happy was when I was directly in contact. So I was just training to be an Account Manager and I was quite new to the role. I was directly in contact with quite a big client, and in an email to them I said I'd follow up the following day, and I forgot to follow up, and the client ended up not booking with us, and but instead of being told off, I was given feedback and told to celebrate the mistake, and it was left up to me to resolve the situation. I learned more from this experience than I'd ever learned from any previous mistake, because I felt I owned it, it was my journey, and I wanted to improve for Happy and our team, not out of fear of getting it wrong.

It really gave me so much confidence and it really helped me grow. So yeah, it really feels like I work in an environment where it's completely accepted that you learn from your mistakes.

Maureen Egbe: Awesome. That sounds really great. I'm really glad that you had that experience. And as you said about it lifts your confidence as well. Really well done.

Laura Ffrench: Yeah.

Maureen Egbe: Thank you. All right.

So talking about the mistakes, I want to ask around strengths, you know, that's one of the things that we look at Happy about working to our strengths. So Sal, what is it like to work to your strengths?

Sal Agoro: For me, it starts off by finding my natural abilities. And it took a while to get there. So when I started at Happy, I had to do during the induction period, I had to do a self-assessment questionnaire. And this was targeting our strengths. And I found my five strengths. That was where I discovered my five strengths.

And having found that, It's giving me joy because I now work at least 85%, I can say, that's even higher than the target. 85% of my role brings me joy. And that's just because I'm doing what I love to do best. So day in day out, I'm creating customer delight. This comes easily, effortlessly. It's natural.

I'm in my natural habitat when I'm doing this. So at the end of my working day, I don't feel tired. I don't feel stressed. I don't feel, I mean, I'll take that back. I may feel tired, I'm no spring chicken, but I don't feel drained. I don't feel burnt out, if I can say, so I get a little rest and I'm ready to fire on the next day.

So my scenario, I can create, I remember several scenarios, but one that comes to my mind a lot is the other day, my colleague, and I've just noticed she's joined. Please don't take it bad! She gave me this big, massive manual to update and edit. Honestly, I don't particularly enjoy this task, but I'll do it. I'll step out of my comfort zone and get it done. So when I talked about 85% of my role bringing me joy, you see that 15%, some of it comes from this. This is my joyless time. I will still do it, like I said. So I delegated it. I knew on this occasion, I don't want to do it. And I'm in a place where I can say I don't want to do it.

So I asked someone else in my team to do it because they are better at it, they have the desired strength and I could work on something else. So working smarter was really a good thing for me. It's helped me work smarter. And I can also see that when I'm doing this, I'm working not as hard as, and imagine how much I've grown from doing what I love to do best. I think I've become a specialist in my own field.

Maureen Egbe: Can I ask, okay, so in terms of strengths, because you said there was five strengths?

Sal Agoro: Yes.

Maureen Egbe: Okay. Which one is your best one or your top one, shall I say?

Sal Agoro: Yes. So if you want, I can give you all my five, but the top one, I, that's my leaning. I lean on that. I go to that one naturally.

Relator. I relate well with people I come in contact with: my colleagues, my class in my class, and even taking it outside Happy, my Relator strengths is my top one.

I also maximize very well, and I work in harmony. So those are the first top three of my five.

Maureen Egbe: All right. Well, I definitely can say that I see how you relate in the classroom. So really well done.

Sal Agoro: Thank you.

Maureen Egbe: So this is really nice with these different themes and it's about looking at the values also that we bring in Happy and hopefully people everyone can see that the proof is in the pudding.

So Rebecca, I'm going to come to you around trust, which is another value of ours.

What has been your experience around trust at Happy?

Rebecca Sotomi: I'm probably the youngest member of Happy in terms of tenure. I've been at Happy just over a year now. And so for me like my previous roles, still kind of fresh in my mind. And so, as a contrast, thinking to where I was before and how I was very micro-managed of how and when things needed to be done. Even in terms of like, targets, like I had no control over that, but coming to Happy and beginning my induction, you know, these are the tasks that you need to complete, and just having the freedom to decide when to do them and how to do them has been so freeing. Being able to set my own deadlines and being able to to set those deadlines and have those conversations with clients and know that I'm responsible for meeting those deadlines has been really really freeing because I think there's there's certainly a level of, there's a different level of ownership around how you do things when you set the trajectory of how it works.

Maureen Egbe: Okay. So tell me something. So when you first had that, you know, the ability to be able to take ownership, you know, how did it feel?

Rebecca Sotomi: It felt very strange.

I'll be completely honest, like, especially like initially, like I'd come in and I'm almost started off feeling like, is there someone looking over my shoulder, because I was so used to that. But then actually realised that there's no one looking over my shoulder. I'm trusted to do my job in the right time frame, it has been so freeing and I like my blood pressure has gone down a lot.

Maureen Egbe: I'm glad. Okay, thank you for sharing.

All right, so, it's funny because we had Lisa talking about psychological safety, and that's something that we're really trying to practice at Happy. So Laura, can you explain what you've done around psychological safety?

Laura Ffrench: So this ties into, it ties into celebrating mistakes really which has been a value of Happy's for quite a long time.

But it wasn't until a couple of years ago when Nicky, one of our staff facilitators, ran a session for all staff, but excluded our senior leaders on the topic elephant in the room. I know this has just been mentioned. And she explained a little about psychological safety in the session, but then the session was basically, we could all put, we put post it notes onto a Jamboard, and this ensured any contribution was anonymous, but it gave us the space to raise anything that we didn't feel safe enough to speak about.

And we realised there were some common themes that we needed to uncover and address. And so we created a psychological safety Action Group, and I decided to be a part of the group. And the first thing that the group did was share the feedback with the senior leaders, with our senior leaders, who took on board the feedback, and they started to improve on some of the concerns.

For example, some of the staff felt that some of the they didn't have enough time to reflect on information. So basically, decisions were just being made much too quickly. And Henry, our Chief Happiness Officer, he immediately made changes to this. And now he sends information on big decisions well in advance of staff meetings.

So the, the group is still ongoing and at the moment we're working on some internal training following a survey, but we're realising it's very, very complex subject. So it's just very much work in progress.

Maureen Egbe: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you. Right.

So our next question, and I'm going to look at, we've had lots of talks and even on our podcast and so on about appraisals. So we don't have appraisals, but I'm not going to talk about that. I'm going to give that over to Rebecca.

So how do appraisals work at Happy?

Rebecca Sotomi: Right. Okay, so we don't have appraisals. We have snapshots. And what the snapshot is, essentially, it's sort of split into I would say two main parts. So it's your Radical Disruption, which is sort of like your goals, and that's spanned over four months.

So it's your goals, and then it's your joyful score of how, how much joy you're getting out of the work that you're doing.

What's really nice about the snapshot is that it's very much self-led, so your, your M&M, your Mentor and Multiplier, will have that conversation with you and coach you through your, almost your goals, but it's very much self-led which is quite refreshing. And so the first part is kind of reflecting on your previous one of how you found the process was it the right Radical Disruption? Were there any challenges with achieving your Radical Disruption and then looking forward to actually what, what do you want to focus on over the next four months?

And your joyful score is around, and this kind of feeds into your strengths as well, of how much joy you're getting out of work and how much of your strengths you're being able to, to use up in your day to day.

Maureen Egbe: Okay, so you set your own Radical Disruption.

Rebecca Sotomi: Absolutely.

Maureen Egbe: Okay, do you want to share your last one?

Rebecca Sotomi: All right, so I'll share my two previous ones. I've had two so far.

So my first one was around, because I've recently taken over managing health and safety at Happy, so my first one was around trying to get everyone up to date, documents up to date, fully compliant. So that was my first one. And I learned very quickly that when you set your Radical Disruptions around other people, it can be challenging to meet your deadlines because you have to kind of factor in everyone else's workload and everything they have going on.

A friend of mine always says that when you're going on a road trip, you always have to account for an extra half an hour for every, for every person that's coming on the trip. So, you know, seeing that as well in a, in a work context of, yes, I might have my deadlines, but other people have lives and have things going on as well. I may not always fit into my, to my deadlines. So that's my previous one.

My current one is around organising myself into, in being more productive and trying to almost set up my calendar and set up my tasks, set up my to do list, in such a way that I don't feel overwhelmed or like I'm missing things. That's what I'm currently working on.

Maureen Egbe: Okay. Well, wishing you the best of luck. I'm sure you'll achieve it.

So Sal, I'm going to come over to you. And we've talked about our snapshots. So that's an opportunity where we can discuss with the M&Ms, Mentors and Multipliers, about what it is that we want to achieve.

So I want to just touch on about praise and recognition. So how is praise and recognition culture at Happy different from previous companies?

Sal Agoro: Very noticeable. First things first, very noticeable. So, previous places I worked, and I've shared this on one of my courses I attended with a colleague the other day.

You see, where I worked before, no one says anything. You do all the work. You get maybe group recognition, but when it comes to like praise, individual praise and recognition, it doesn't happen. You meet all your deadlines, meet all your targets. It just doesn't happen. It's not their culture. It's not their way.

It's more like tough love, if I can say. But it wasn't until my leaving day though, when I was leaving that company, I realised that they gave a speech. And doing that speech, they recognised all of those little things I'd been doing. But why didn't anyone say it? They waited till that moment. I spent quite a good number of years there, and it wasn't until that last day I heard all of this.

So bringing it back to Happy, it's, that's no comparison at all. At Happy, they don't gate keep on, on recognising efforts. You will hear it, you will see it. We even have appreciation cards. Can you see mine? All tagged up. And I leave them there till they start dropping. When it starts dropping, then it's time to go, and maybe another new one comes. So yes, we have a whole pack of them. We never run out of these cards. And every now and again, someone will tell you something like, Oh, good job there. Well done. We technically just celebrate each other.

Happy is one of the places I've worked where we also celebrate Employee Appreciation Week, or is it a new thing? I don't know, but I only heard about it when I got to Happy. And you know what, this year we all got, everyone at Happy got a pre-loaded voucher to spend on anything of our choice. I mean, that's not what gives you joy, for some, but it's a little bit of these perks here and there that just goes a long way. And it gives you that moment thinking, I feel seen, I feel appreciated. I feel acknowledged when this happened.

And you know what, it's even giving Happy itself a positive reputation. Let me start counting just for this year. Great Place to Work. We have an award. Investors in People, name it. We even ranked second, was it, Best Workplace in a medium company, medium sized organisation, and even listed as UK's top companies to work for.

So when you give praise, when you give recognition, honestly your staff, your colleagues, they would acknowledge it. And maybe that's why I'm still here. It's been seven and a half years for me, I'm still counting.

Maureen Egbe: It's gone very quickly as well, hasn't it?

Sal Agoro: It has, it has.

Maureen Egbe: Well, thank you for sharing all those accolades. Henry, you're going to have to take Sal around with you.

Sal Agoro: Yeah. Yeah.

Honestly, it's a great place to work as well. So just being praised, being recognised.

Maureen Egbe: Yes.

Sal Agoro: Amazing.

Maureen Egbe: No. Awesome. And thank you for sharing that and saying that I need to say thank you to John, because John is one of the people that sends those appreciation cards because I remember one dropped from my letterbox and I was was not expecting that. So it is Happy. It's great for doing that.

Okay, let's have another question because I know our time is going, so actually let's take this to our four day week. So the four day week is something that's really popular at the moment and we've put this in place.

So Laura, can you tell me more about the four day week?

Laura Ffrench: Yes, we were doing the productivity summer for quite a few years. Which is the same as the four day week, but only in August. So when the UK pilot, the four day week started everyone at Happy agreed to join it. And we basically had a staff meeting where we discussed how we could make it successful, and we shared ideas around do's and don'ts, productivity, and what support we needed.

And then we did prepare ourselves. So we did some, you know, we attended a Productivity Blitz session and we shortened our meetings to 30 minutes. So all of these things added to a much higher efficiency level at Happy and our income increased. So the success of it, so that we basically voted it in permanently.

It wasn't easy to start with, because we basically had to do the same amount same amount of work in less time, which was quite daunting at first. But we started working more collaboratively and each team was empowered to find solutions to things like office cover and client work. And the results were amazing, both financially and for staff's well being.

Personally, I felt it's a huge benefit for working here because I, I learned how to be more productive, but also I get an extra day to do the things that I love outside of work, you know, like walks and cycles. So yeah, it's really improved my wellbeing but also my love of work because I don't feel exhausted by the end of the week anymore.

Maureen Egbe: Okay. So, I mean, would you ever consider going back to five days?

Laura Ffrench: No!

Maureen Egbe: I thought I'd just ask.

Laura Ffrench: Definitely not. Definitely not. No, it's too good. It's too good.

Maureen Egbe: Rebecca, Sal, how do you feel about that? Is that the same?

Sal Agoro: Same feeling. I can't imagine going back to four five days a week now is, is, you know, just having that extra day to, to spend on yourself to do what you like to do or whatever you want to do. Even if it means just doing errands and running around. At least you know that you can book all of that. It's, it's, it's just refreshing. Yeah.

Maureen Egbe: That's excellent. Okay. So ladies, I know that you do have a question that you want to ask our audience.

So, Rebecca, I'm going to hand that to you because obviously we have got to do things in a timely manner. So, Henry, are you going to be able to do the breakout rooms for us?

Henry Stewart: I'm ready to do the breakouts for you. Absolutely.

Maureen Egbe: Okay.

Rebecca Sotomi: So, your question is what's your greatest fear preventing you from celebrating mistakes?

And if you already celebrate mistakes, what is your best or your favourite story of when you celebrated a mistake?

Maureen Egbe: Do you want feedback or do you have a question for Laura, Rebecca or Sal?

Oh, we have hands up! Mike, Mike Smith, do you have a question?

Mike Smith: We had a really brilliant discussion and it was around, you know on the mistakes bit.

It we, you know, everyone talks about, we're open about mistakes, we learn from them. And by everyone in our group, but we say they didn't feel very English to celebrate them and we thought it was the language was almost a cultural barrier. And we thought, actually, it might work better if you talk about embracing mistakes or maybe even hugging them because that's about kindness, but so that was just a thought that the language can get the way what you're trying to achieve.

Maureen Egbe: Yes, yes. No, you're right. I think when we've discussed this at workshops and people are celebrating mistakes, you know, it's quite, a bit of a shock to them.

Laura, Rebecca, Sal, any comments?

Sal Agoro: I think I would add that, yes, the terminology might be strange to some, you know, organisations, but what matters the most is just thinking about it as a learning experience. So explore what you know. What happened? Find what the results afterwards could be. And what did you do to make, you know, to turn things around? Just take from the experience and move on from it.

Maureen Egbe: Lovely. Thank you, Mike, for the question. Thank you, Sal.

Nick, you have your hand up.

Nick Jerome: I do. Thank you. We were talking about, you know, how often, you know, making mistakes is kind of culturally ingrained in school and we've all, I'm sure, suffered red ink. I'm sure it's not just me. But I do a lot of work facilitating in companies and, and I also like to look at it from a different angle, which is about celebrating successes and for people talking about what they've done really well, because we don't do that very much publicly and then get positive feedback around that. And I've, I've, I've, you know, run quite a lot of sessions with people getting them to talk about what they've done well. And I think if we allow that, because that's quite vulnerable, actually, talking about what you've done well, if we allow that, it gives perhaps more permission even to celebrate successes, if that makes sense.

Maureen Egbe: Oh, it totally does. I mean, imagine celebrating a mistake and then the success from it.

Henry Stewart: Okay. Let's close on this.

So thank you very much to Laura, Rebecca, Sal, and to Maureen. Thank you very much.

Maureen Egbe: Thank you guys.

Sal Agoro: Thank you.

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Laura, an Account Manager for the Leadership and Personal Development team, shares her experiences of how mistakes are managed and celebrated at Happy. Mistakes are given a positive outcome, boosting self-confidence and encouraging innovation and trying new things. Laura is also a member of Happy’s psychological safety Action Group, and describes how the group is working to give staff a safe place to raise topics they may otherwise find difficult to discuss.

IT learning facilitator Sal describes how identifying her key strengths has allowed her to achieve maximum enjoyment from her role, as well as manage the aspects she does not enjoy so much. She also reminisces about the lack of acknowledgement of effort and contribution at her previous workplace, and how this contrasts with her experience of the ‘appreciation culture’ at Happy.

Rebecca, who has recently joined as Account Manager for the IT Skills team, talks about the culture shock of joining Happy, and how liberating the trust and level of job ownership has been for her. She also explains what Happy means by ‘we don’t do appraisals’, and her beneficial experience of setting her own targets and monitoring her own job satisfaction.

Happy operates a four-day working week and Laura, Sal and Rebecca talk about how Happy implemented this across the organisation in June 2022. They give some examples of the strategies which have ensured productivity have increased, without adding additional pressure on the staff. They also explain how the additional day off has benefitted them in different ways.

The talk ends with a discussion with the conference attendees about their concerns and experiences of ‘celebrating mistakes’. They explore whether it is the terminology, or the cultural issues that cause people to balk at this idea.

What you will learn in this video

  • What happens when you make a mistake at Happy – and how this creates a culture of transparency, innovation and trust
  • What it means to ‘work to your strengths’, and how this increases joy at work
  • How people manage their own workload and take ownership of their roles at Happy
  • How Happy scrapped appraisals and replaced them with regular snapshots
  • What Happy’s Radical Disruptions are, and what these have helped members of the team to achieve
  • How Happy creates a culture of regular praise and recognition for its people, and why this makes a difference
  • About the four-day week in practice at Happy, and how it was implemented across the organisation in June 2022

Related resources

  • The Happy Manifesto by Henry Stewart — In this free eBook, learn the 10 core principles that Happy was founded on, and how to create a happy and productive workplace.
  • Pre-Approval: What is it and Why Should You Do It? — What makes people unhappy is being micr-managed and going through layers of approval. Great managers get out of the way and enable their staff to implement their own solutions – and pre-approval is a great way to do this.
  • Do You Celebrate Mistakes? — Encourage innovation in your organisation by celebrating mistakes. Find out more in this two-minute talk with Henry Stewart from the 2019 Happy Workplaces Conference.
  • Two of the Most Important Words in Your Vocabulary — When was the last time you said thank you to a colleague? Here are some simple and creative ways to show gratitude to your colleagues.
  • Happy to Make 4 Day Week Permanent — The four-day week has been a remarkable success. Here are the results of the staff survey that informed Happy’s decision to make it permanent.


Learn the 10 core principles to create a happy and productive workplace in Henry Stewart's book, The Happy Manifesto.

Download for free


About Sal

I originally joined Happy as a Trainee IT Trainer. Though I had coordinated and delivered training in a previous job, Happy’s delivery style has a completely different and positive vibe. Unlike a “Show and Tell” style, it’s learner-focused, involving, interactive and very engaging. The recruitment and selection process were not like previous interviews I attended, rather it focussed on demonstrating how I would do the job. I am super impressed with Happy’s culture, principles, and values. I’ve acquired not just training skills that allow me to continue providing high quality, joyful learning journeys, but I have also acquired other skills, such as leadership and coaching skills, having difficult conversations as well as critical thinking skills to address complex situations effectively. These have helped me to face not just work, but personal life challenges with confidence. I’ve now been at Happy for over 7 years and counting – it is truly a great place to work!

About Laura

I started at Happy about 3.5 years ago after years of working in events for membership organisations, and experiencing multiple diminishing managers who negatively impacted my mental health. I discovered Happy had a café job, so, although it felt like quite a step down, the culture and values seemed very appealing, and I took the risk. I have absolutely no regrets, I am now an Account Manager and looking to progress my role further as a champion and leader at Happy, having finally found an organisation and management style that I feel very proud to work for. I never expected to find so much joy from work, but I do feel like one of the lucky few.

About Rebecca

I joined Happy just over a year ago following a 12 year career in retail management. Happy was recommended to her by a friend who sent me the information on the vacancy for an Account Manager. She said ‘this is the perfect job for you, you’d be a perfect fit!’. I applied and here I am. Joining Happy is the best decision I have made in my career. I made the decision to leave retail because I was undervalued, overworked and burnt out. My physical and mental health was suffering. Since joining Happy, I can now say that the opposite is true. I have found joy at work in a supportive environment where I am trusted and challenged to do more; to be more.


Next Conference: 2025 Happy Workplaces Conference

Our Happy Workplaces Conference is our biggest event of the year, and we'd love for you to join us on Wednesday 25th June!

Our 2024 event was our first ever hybrid event, and so we hope to run next year's in the same way. We will host up to 50 people face-to-face at Happy's HQ in Aldgate, London, and we can host up to 200 people online via Zoom. However you choose to join, there will be interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Stay tuned for full details of our speakers for next year's event. As always, our speakers share practical, hands-on ideas that you can implement to create happy and engaged workplaces.

Find out more