Entire industries have been created to help people find happiness. And I'm not even counting Candy Crush or when Apple comes out with a new i-anything.

If I'm honest, so many "8 step plans to..." and "5 methods for..." type happiness elixirs are too complicated, commonplace, and completely useless.

I want simple, because I don't have the time to fill my prescriptions for crying out loud. And when it comes to employee happiness, simple isn't easy. But I've discovered simplicity and sublimity for you.

The formula for ecstatic employees boils down to this simple equation:

Happiness = Reality - Expectations

First, as they say in England, mind the gap.

It turns out that disappointment and dissatisfaction often result from a gap between an ideal (what we expect, what we hope happens, what we want something to do) and reality (what we get, what actually happens, what something does).

So, as a leader, don't misrepresent reality to the point that expectations become impossibly high. For example, don't over promise on that promotion or next role. It's bound to cause resentment, and thus unhappiness.

Mind the gap.

Now, let's look at each of the variables in the equation independently.


Everything you need to craft a better reality lies within the word itself.

1. Be real.

People want you, not an over-processed, upper-management-friendly version of you. Authenticity binds human beings to one another, and when a receiver feels it, they're encouraged to bring their whole selves to the table. End result? A happiness born from self-congruency.

2. Get real.

Unhappiness ensues when employees feel they're working against ridiculous goals. So be realistic in your goal setting. Yes, stretch. But don't stretch reality. This article will help you set goals that people will actually care about.

3. Deliver on real.

People are happiest when they're working on things that matter to them--real things that make a real difference to real people. Real, meaningful experiences bring happiness. Be brutal about cutting the waste and wasted time out of work plans and replace it with stuff that makes a difference.

While you're at it, provide real challenge and growth for your employees and real empowerment (not the fake kind, where you dive back in at the first sign of trouble, or you grant it, but only on trivial responsibilities).

4. Make it real.

Own it. Make reality real, not virtual.

Wish you had a dream culture? Create it. Want a more cohesive team? Build it. Don't talk about doing it. Do it. Don't think about changing it. Change it. Don't intend to be anything. Be it.

Reality (and thus happiness) improves when the leader commits to improving it.


Everything you need for expectations to contribute to happiness lies within the word itself.

1. Expect more? Then give more.

More time, more compassion, more air cover, more resources (within reason), more rewards and recognition.

2. Help them know what to expect.

Guess what causes people to not know what to expect? When their leader acts inconsistently or doesn't invest in information sharing--two key constituents of unhappiness.

3. If they expect too little, call them on it.

Happiness rarely comes from clearing a low bar.

4. If they expect too much, cool them on it.

We've established that, as a leader, you shouldn't create a gap between reality and expectations. Nor should the employee create expectations that will leave a gap between them and happiness. Happiness rarely comes from sailing under a bar you just aren't going to reach.

So next time someone says there's no formula for happiness, beg to differ.

It's just math. An equation without equal.