Some days, the office is filled with excitement, but on others it feels as if you're dragging though sludge. No workplace should ever feel drab and dreary. With some forethought and action, you can easily perk up the environment.

For inspiration, I consulted a happiness expert. In honor of Valentine's Day, I went to Sarah Endline, founder of sweetriot, a fast-growing chocolate company. We brainstormed on ways to create a happy workplace. To my shock, she did not suggest Oompa Loompas, but between us, we came up with these tips.

1. Get Some Real Art

Forget the pictures of people with motivational sayings or old garage-sale prints. Get art that conveys emotion and tells stories. Give people in your office the opportunity and budget to find (or make) artwork that really speaks to them. Solicit local artists to show their work on your walls. Studies show that great art improves mood. Sweetriot features real artwork on every package, as well as in its office. It also has photos of cacao trees and cacao farmers, which are an integral part of its chocolate process. An adviser of Endline's once said, Wear your culture on your walls, and so it does.

2. Hold Video Contests

Making videos is an inexpensive project that boosts team spirit and benefits the company culture. Any smartphone and Mac with iMovie will suffice. Assign teams in your office to create two-minute videos that reflect a company core value. Provide a 30-day deadline so it doesn't interfere with productivity. Require the videos to be humorous and tell a story. (If they need help, give them my book.) Give away nice prizes to the best video makers to get competitive juices flowing. The best videos will be useful for attracting and training future talent.

3. Schedule Innovation Sessions

Creative problem solving is a genuine mood booster. People feel happy when they come up with exciting ideas or resolve complex issues. Set aside specific brainstorming time, so teams can study a problem and find ways to innovate. New ideas will create buzz and energize the office. Broadcast and reward results stemming from ideas that surface in these sessions. Make idea generation fun and exciting for everyone. For example, sweetriot calls any improvement, fix, or innovation a Shazam, and everyone celebrates a new Shazam by shouting.

4. Give Out Chocolate

Aside from the actual health benefits, chocolate is truly a great mood enhancer. I am not suggesting that you leave out large bowls of Snickers bars, where people can gorge themselves silly. Use chocolate appropriately as a reward or on occasion to celebrate. For example, you can give out sweetriot tins, which have tiny little chocolate bursts that put a blast of happiness into any conversation without adding on the pounds. Endline advises: Look for chocolate that is high in its cacao percentage and made by a company that tries to do good in the world. 

5. Have Structured "Gripe Sessions"

This seems a bit contraindicative. Why take an unhappy office and unleash more unhappiness? But people may be down partly because they're holding back on expressing dissatisfaction. (As far as you know.) All that negative energy comes out in other ways and takes its toll on the general mood. Structured complaint sessions will act like a pressure-release valve. People will have a channel for legitimate issues and won't stress about not having a voice. Example: Everyone writes down and shares answers to the following questions in 40 words or less:

  • What is the difficulty you have observed in the office?
  • What do you believe is the root cause of the problem?
  • What do you believe is a constructive solution to the challenge?
  • What can you do personally to effect positive change?

Granted, your company needs to openly consider the feedback and take action when reasonable for these sessions to be effective. Of course, if you're not willing to solve legitimate issues, maybe the office unhappiness is simply a symptom of poor leadership. Fear is a poor reason not to hear employee feedback. But by applying structure to the discussion, the complaining can be controlled, and you can easily identify those who have legitimate complaints versus those who just want to kvetch. Then you can address both the whines and the whiners and improve the mood overall.

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