Human First – Happiness Habits The New Age Skill for Leaders and People Managers

Burnout culture, where ‘stressed’ is the normal state of being, is killing employee wellbeing and productivity. Employees want a better experience (EX), and if they don’t get it, they are willing to leave – case in point, the Great Resignation. Companies are spending millions on cracking the code for better EX, yet something is missing. The missing link is Happiness. 


The need to focus on happiness is critical both for the employee and the employer. Today’s worker is more unhappy than happy, more dissatisfied, disengaged, and disconnected than ever before. One requires a fresh pair of eyes to solve this prevalent state. 

Evolution of the Workplace…

Work and workplaces have evolved multi-folds over the years and across industries. We’ve come a long way from:


  • Traditional power hierarchies to flat structures
  • Rigid on-premises working hours to flexible outcome-based working hours with digital interactions
  • Centralized information storage and usage to decentralized need-based data sharing
  • Patriarchal lead from the front to inspiring lead from behind models
  • Climbing the corporate power ladder to creating a purpose-driven career progression framework

The journey has been fast, ever-evolving and presents huge untapped potential. Human potential is undoubtedly the untapped/lesser-tapped power in an organizational setting.

Manufacturing establishments in particular have had a profound impact on the evolution of work and the workplace. By definition, management is “controlling things or people.” The assembly line work demanded workmen to perform repetitive, small tasks efficiently with no room for thought or innovation. Bureaucratic and hierarchical management structures relied on strict processes and policies to effectively manage large-scale operations. The design by intention did not truly unlock human potential. Organizations and work models have since evolved, but the hangover of defining tasks and recruiting individuals who can fit into that predefined role, culture, and values, persists. 

Many people-centric workforces still use terms like efficiency, productivity, quality, etc., but are these metrics capable of capturing the essence of human potential?

While Happiness is multidimensional, organizations focus on employee engagement as a substitute for Happiness. As work, workers and workplaces evolve, there is a growing need to actively focus on Happiness.  What role do leaders and managers play in this, if any?

Solving the workplace happiness puzzle…

Bridging the gaps will solve the workplace happiness puzzle. But what are the major happiness gaps? The answer lies in the 3D’s – Dissatisfaction, Disengagement and Disconnection.

Dissatisfaction: Stems from differences in levels of happiness and fulfilment regarding career, job, growth, compensation, management, policies, processes, and decision-making.

Disengaged: Stems from a feeling of not belonging, lacking purpose, cultural differences or difficulty in connecting with others.
Disconnection: Stems from lack of or insufficient empathy, mistrust, low levels of recognition and appreciation, limited freedom and flexibility, not being heard or valued, office politics, toxic culture, lack of psychological safety, and unconscious biases.
To tackle these gaps, it's necessary to shift the focus to a "human-first" perspective, emphasizing emotions and happiness instead of processes and policies. A gradual change in approach will lead to an organizational culture that values stronger relationships and places a greater emphasis on human and happiness metrics.


Adopting a Human First Happiness Habits approach in workforce management can be a critical differentiator for organizations. Companies prioritizing employee wellbeing will have a tangible competitive advantage, manifesting in improved business outcomes, increased employee retention and attraction, and potentially increased customer loyalty.


Putting people first and embracing Human-First Leadership can be a game changer for your organization. 

Decoding the power of human-first leadership…
"For me, human-first leadership is all about recognizing the humanness in others and oneself. It’s about valuing each member of the team as a ‘whole person’ who comes with unique abilities, emotions, rights, and needs. In doing so, we can harness the positive aspects of humanity – empathy, vulnerability, curiosity, and camaraderie – towards building a better work environment."
Let me tell you a story…


During a hectic project, one of the 70 scientists working on it asked his boss if he could leave at 5.30 p.m. that evening as he had promised to take his kids to an exhibition. The boss permitted him. However, the scientist got busy with work only to realize that it was 8.30 p.m. When he looked around, his boss wasn’t there. Guilty of having disappointed his kids, he went back home only to find that his kids weren’t there. When he asked his wife where they were, she replied, “You don’t know? Your manager came here at 5.15 p.m. and took them to the exhibition.”

When his boss noticed him working hard at 5 p.m., he thought to himself that this person would not leave work, but if he had promised his children, they should definitely enjoy the exhibition. So, the boss took the lead and took the children out!

The boss was none other than Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, known for his humanness at work. 


The traditional perception of a leader as bold and omniscient needs to evolve to one valuing humility, empathy, and open-mindedness as key strengths.


What are some human first happiness habits that leaders need to embody?


Practices and behaviors that leverage positive human emotions and feelings to create happiness at workplaces. The Key themes that can help do this are:


  1. Engage the whole person by being in tune with not just their professional needs, but their personal side as well – their wellbeing, mental health, and social selves.

  2. Create pathways to Enhance the performance, experience, and quality of life for their people.

  3. Empower people to be autonomous and act like owners.

  4. Exhibit Empathy and Emotional Intelligence, recognizing that there is more to business than just logic, facts, and figures.

  5. And most importantly, they do all this through leading by Example and Educating others on the importance of human leadership – being a role model.

Human-First leaders enable people to be themselves, to work towards reaching their potential and being the best version of themselves. And if leaders can create consistent behaviors to drive these themes on a day-to-day basis, they would well be on their way to practicing Human-First Happiness Habits. 

Satya Nadella used his human leadership approach to transform Microsoft. It was characterized by a clear vision, open and clear communication, courage, humility, empathy, and the capacity to generate energy among his teams.

Leadership plays a crucial role in the success of an organization. Changing our behaviors doesn’t cost much. It isn’t easy and requires us to be motivated to sustain the new habits. However, the payoff is significant and recognizing this need right now and making changes will make a huge difference. 


Happiness Habits Evolution of the Workplace