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184: A framework for building happier work cultures with Aoife O’Brien
1st December 2023 • Happier At Work® • Aoife O'Brien
00:00:00 00:14:33

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Do you want to create happier working environments and have a positive team culture?

Link to survey: 


In our latest solo episode, host Aoife O'Brien celebrates her birthday. She shares insights into happiness at work frameworks, with a specific deep dive into the Happier at Work framework, ahead of the launch of Happier at Work HQ.

If you'd like to dive deeper into the topics discussed in this episode, we have provided links to related episodes and resources within the show notes. Additionally, Aoife encourages you to share your thoughts and feedback on the changes we're planning for the Happier at Work podcast. Your input is crucial to ensure we continue to deliver valuable content that resonates with you. 

We truly appreciate your ongoing support and engagement with the Happier at Work podcast. Please feel free to reach out directly to Aoife at to share your insights or request further information.


To foster a positive work environment, we suggest incorporating some practical steps into your daily routine. Consider: 

1. Practising gratitude: Take a few minutes each day to reflect on what you're grateful for, and express gratitude to your colleagues for their contributions. 

2. Recognition: Make sure to recognize and acknowledge your colleagues' achievements. Help them understand the impact of their work on the organisation's objectives. 

3. Empathy: Show empathy not only towards your colleagues but also towards yourself. Practising self-empathy allows you to better understand and empathise with others. 

4. Reflection: Take the time to reflect on your accomplishments, challenges, and goals. Consider what you can do differently next time to anticipate obstacles and strive for even greater success. 

On the topic of reflection, Aoife is currently creating a digital planner/workbook specifically designed to guide you through the process of reflection. Stay tuned for more information on this valuable tool that will help you stay on track with your personal and professional goals. 

Finally, we extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who have taken the time to complete our survey and submit questions for the upcoming listener questions segment.  Your feedback and engagement are invaluable to us, and we appreciate your continued support of the Happier at Work podcast.

Past episodes: 


Do you have any feedback or thoughts on this discussion? If so, please connect with Aoife via the links below and let her know. Aoife would love to hear from you!


Connect with Happier at Work host Aoife O’Brien:








Aoife O'Brien [:

Hello and welcome to another solo episode of the Happier at Work podcast. You're so welcome whether you're watching on YouTube or listening on one of the podcast platforms. Now I've had this date for this episode for a long time. Obviously, I know in advance what date, which episode is going out. And this happens to be falling on my birthday. And so for a long time, I've had marked in my calendar, I'm going to talk about birthdays at work. And then I suddenly realized when it came to recording, is there really a lot to say about birthdays at work, only to say happy birthday to me. Now I'm recording this obviously a little bit in advance of when my birthday is.

Aoife O'Brien [:

I'm already looking forward to it. Thank you very much. I'm still in Tenerife. I will be celebrating my birthday here. But when I think back to the corporate days, something I miss is having people around to celebrate my birthday or having people around to say happy birthday or share a cake with. I don't have that when I'm working on my own. And so it's a little bit different than, you know, than than how things were when I was in corporate. Now there were times if I think back to having to share my birthday sometimes, although I like to celebrate my birthday for myself, I I don't like to share my birthday, especially if there's cake involved as well.

Aoife O'Brien [:

I don't like to necessarily share my birthday. So that's just, like, interesting fact about me, if you like. So instead of spending today's episode talking all about birthdays at work, maybe you have things to say. So absolutely feel free to share that back with me about your experiences of birthdays at work. Maybe you don't like to celebrate your birthday at work. I know I have worked with people who don't like to tell people when their birthday is because they don't want anyone to know. They don't want anyone to know how old they are or that they're celebrating their birthday, which I find quite strange myself because I love celebrating my birth. I want to give another shout out to everyone who has completed the survey looking for feedback about the Happier at Work podcast.

Aoife O'Brien [:

I really you taking the time to fill out that survey, it really helps me to design a better podcast for you. So thank you to those who have taken time to fill it out. Thanks as well to everyone who has submitted a question for the listener questions, which will be starting in 2024, anything related to career or culture, if you want your questions answered, do feel free to share them with me. Reach me directly through my website You'll also find all of my social media channels there for anytime you want to interact or get in touch with me. So instead of talking this entire podcast about birthdays, I thought it would be really great to revisit the different frameworks in relation to happier at work. And this first part, I suppose, is a throwback to about 3 years ago when I interviewed Emiliana Simon Thomas on the podcast. And she's from the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley in, California.

Aoife O'Brien [:

And she shared with me the perk model. So if you haven't listened to that episode, it is old. And if you're a new listener here, maybe haven't scrolled back through all of the episodes. I'll put a link in the show notes for you to go back and listen to that specific episode. But it's really interesting and insightful and all of the research that they've done there, at the the Greater Good Science Center, really, really brilliant. So the PERC model stands for purpose, engagement, resilience, and kindness. So the purpose is really about having a sense of purpose in the work that you do and having a grander sense of purpose in the world. So is the purpose that you fulfill through the work that you do related to the impact that you want to have in the world, maybe have a think about that as you're listening.

Aoife O'Brien [:

Engagement then is about how engaged you are in the work that you're doing. Does it light you up? Does it bring you into a state of flow? Resilience then is how you bounce back from setbacks. So when things don't go your way, when things don't really go according to plan, how quickly can you come back from what happens in that situation? And then k is for kindness. And I think at the time, you know, thinking this is 3 years ago, it didn't really occur to me that kindness should be something that we talk about in work. But now that I've done all of the work that I've done and all of the experiences that I've had, I can see how there are some things that are so fundamental to how we work. So things like showing people respect, treating people with kindness, showing empathy, being authentic and vulnerable at work, all of these things are so so important. But I love this idea of kindness. So what does that actually mean to you? Maybe have a think about what being kind means to you.

Aoife O'Brien [:

And I was going to say, because this is my default mode, is thinking about how other people are treating you, but don't. Don't think about how other people are treating you. Think about how you can be kind to other people no matter what situation you're in, try to be always bringing that kindness into it. Some practical and everyday steps then to build better, happier working environments then and this is stuff that I teach on the Happier at work programs. So number 1 is gratitude. So whatever that means to you, being grateful, sitting down, and writing out 1, 2, or 3 things that you're grateful for today, showing gratitude and appreciation to other people as well so that they feel sense of appreciation, they feel like their work matters as well. Recognition. So again, tied in with this idea of showing gratitude to other people, actually recognizing them for their contribution.

Aoife O'Brien [:

And I think the most effective way to recognize people for the contribution that they make at work is to tie a direct link between them as a unique person, how they're performing at work, and the outcome that the organization has achieved or is trying to achieve and making that direct link and so people understand the impact that it is that they are having on the organization's objectives. Empathy then, as I touched on earlier, in line with kindness, in line with things like showing respect. And for me, I think empathy starts at home. So show empathy for yourself. So if you are having a difficult situation, don't try and look externally. Don't try and blame, but rather look internally, but show yourself some empathy. And when you're more empathetic to yourself, you can be more empathetic to other people as well. And then another area I think is really important that I talk about a lot more than I actually do myself, but that is the idea of reflection.

Aoife O'Brien [:

So, you know, given that we're nearing the end of the year, you can have a think about the entire year. What did you want to achieve this year? Did you get close to achieving that, what were the blockers maybe that got in your way? What do you want to achieve next year? And what are potential obstacles that could be in your way for achieving what it is that you want to achieve next year. I love using the power of reflection even on a daily basis. So thinking about what you achieved today, what you didn't achieve, what you might do differently next time. Always thinking about next time. So it this is not a way to to blame yourself is more thinking what might you do differently next time to anticipate anything that might get in your way or would you reach for a higher goal, for example. So thinking about what you might do differently. On that note, on reflection in particular, I'm in the process of creating a digital, call it a digital planner, a digital workbook that that you can use to reflect through.

Aoife O'Brien [:

It it essentially something that you can capture everything but in a digital formats, so it's much easier to navigate than a regular notebook. It will have clickable links for different months and different individual days. Not sure entirely how the structure will look like, but it's something that I'm working on to keep myself on track on the things that I say that I want to achieve and how those things relate to the bigger picture of what it is that I'm trying to achieve, which will help protect me from, which I often suffer from, shiny object syndrome and getting distracted by things that are not really that important. So if you want a copy of that, feel free to reach out to me directly. As I mentioned, the website is probably the best place because it has all of my links, happier at work dot I e. I'd absolutely love to hear from you if you wanna get if you want to get your hands on a copy of that. With the imminent launch of Happier at Work HQ platform for career and culture, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Happier at Work framework, which which I have been talking about probably for 3 years now, but haven't always been able to verbalize it in the best way. So it's an evolution in terms of how I talk about it, but I love talking about it.

Aoife O'Brien [:

I love that it's all based on research. I love that it's not a one size fits all, but rather a framework to think about how you can approach work differently. So it starts by looking at values. So what are your core values as an organization, as an individual? Within the organization, is are the values being lived? Is that the lived experience of the people who work in that organization? Are they experiencing those values as you have set them out? And if not, then that's the place to start, making sure that the lived experience of employees is the same as the aspirational values that you have created. Once that is bedded in, once it's grounded, then it's time to look at bringing people in. So when you're hiring people into the organization, making sure that they have those same values that you aspire to have in the organization, which makes things so much easier from a retention perspective, from a training perspective, it's so so important to get that piece right, especially at those more senior levels where if you make a mistake in the hiring process, it's going to be very costly. They do say it costs between 30% and 200% of an individual salary to replace that person in an organization. So think about what that means For You, if you make a wrong hiring decision, if you bring someone into the organization whose values don't align with your own values.

Aoife O'Brien [:

The next part of the framework then is needs or balance. I've changed this language to focus more on balance Because beyond just satisfying the needs that we have as individuals, it's more about finding the balance between whether the need is too much or too little, essentially, or not that the need is too much or too little, but whether or not we have too much autonomy, for example, versus too little. So too much autonomy. And we are a bit directionless, and we need some more guidance. But having too little autonomy means we have no sense of choice or control over what we're doing and how we're doing it. And we feel like we're being micromanaged. So there's the universal needs piece. There's the individual needs piece.

Aoife O'Brien [:

Then there's finding the balance between making sure people are well at work, so people's well-being, but at the same time remaining productive. So there's a balance between productivity and well-being as well. The 3rd aspect then, and I first started talking about this as strengths. So making sure that we're focusing on our strengths, that we're working to our strengths. But beyond that, it's about empowerment. It's about understanding what your strengths are. It's about linking up with other people who have those strengths. It's about facilitating those conversations so that people feel free to work to their strengths and they and that they can grow in the role and that they're being sufficiently challenged in the role that they're doing as well.

Aoife O'Brien [:

All of this is underpinned by having a psychologically safe environment. You need to make sure that that environment you have is psychologically safe, that people can feel free to learn in that environment, that they can challenge the status quo, that they can speak up if things are not right, that they can share their ideas without fear of recrimination or retaliation or ridicule. And then the overarching aspect of it is leadership. So it's really important to have the right leaders in place. Do you have leaders or do you have people who don't really want to manage people, but they want the the status of being a leader? Can those leaders facilitate these conversations around the Happier at Work framework, around culture, around need Action Network and empowerment and ensure that the leaders are empowering their teams as well. So that is essentially watch the, that is essentially what the happier at work framework is. I would love to be able to show you a visual of this. For those who are watching on YouTube, I I'm not showing a visual either.

Aoife O'Brien [:

I'd love to be able to show you a visual of this. If you follow me on LinkedIn, I have shared this framework there. But also if you want to get a more visual representation of what it is that I'm talking about, again, feel free to reach out to me directly. You'll get me through the website As always, I really hope you enjoyed today's episode, and I'll be speaking to you again on a solo episode in the new year. It feels so early to be saying that, but I know that Christmas is only around the corner. And I'll talk to you soon.




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