• by Susan Sussman - Wed, 2014-01-29 10:55

What do work and happiness have in common? I thought you’d never ask!

While some people derive great pleasure and satisfaction from their jobs, research shows that many are unhappy with the rules of the game at work. As a veteran coach and coach trainer, I’ve introduced many people to “Gameability” – the ability to play by our own rules in a manner in which everybody wins.  Because the stresses and strains of work often present the ultimate gameability challenge, let’s see how to play the game Happiness at Work.

Enthusiastic gamers can reinvent Happiness at Work by changing its rules.  If the old rules are negativity, competition and stress, the new rules might be positivity, connection and balance. We’ll see it come to life with inspiring stories of Happiness at Work, a game with new rules that lets every player rack up points and win.


Let the games begin with Mike, head honcho, a goal he’d had since childhood when he imagined himself “the boss.” But what did he have to show for it now?  Ulcers, a failing marriage, and a company with disloyal employees on the verge of mutiny.  Mike knew he needed to do something or face a meltdown.  But what could he do?

He remembered the conversation with his doctor about how stress aggravates ulcers and began thinking about how he might take the company - and maybe even his marriage - from “stressed out” to more “mellow.” That could be a rewarding, profitable game.  And the alternative was unthinkable.

Mike began remembering his readings on leadership, the trickle-down effect and how corporate values and meaning move from the top down. With outside help he learned (and then conveniently forgot) that intimidation was his management style, long boring meetings his modus operandi, and dictatorship the governing principle he used to run the business.  Maybe he should bring that executive coach back to help change the rules of the game.  So he did.

With a nod to the Beatles, they coined the new game “Mellow Yellow,” a stark contrast with “Erupting Volcano,” the game Mike realized he’d been playing before.  The new rules became

  1. Inclusion
  2. Strengths-spotting & strengths-working
  3. Making 3 positive statements for each developmental one
  4. Planning and executing efficient, effective meetings

As results trickled in, Mike began to believe this was a game he could really win.


Chloe had really had it.  She’d show her boss, Bob, a Mr. Know-It-All with the gall to criticize her job performance! She’d go straight to his boss and tell her a thing or two.  It never dawned on her that Bob’s boss was the one who helped Bob see that he was hurting himself, the department and ultimately the whole company by not having Chloe engaged with her job and pulling her own weight. That conversation with Bob’s boss was a real wake-up call.

Since she needed her job, Chloe reluctantly decided to play the Job Evaluation Game to see what the situation looked like to her. Bob had talked about Chloe’s “connection” to her work, but she never really understood what he meant. So she thought more about how she liked to work – alone. (She didn’t really like to collaborate – it took a lot of time and energy. Chloe liked working on her own, but now that she was in deep water struggling to stay afloat, she needed a life ring.) When she explored further, Chloe began to realize she wasn’t much of a team player: she rarely contributed to the efforts of others or asked for help.  She had cast Bob in the role of the enemy and had never tried to develop a mutual support network. Comfortable with the game playing metaphor, she imagined a Monopoly-type game with cards. But what should the cards say: what would “connection” look like operationally? Here’s what Chloe came up with for the first few cards:

  1. Say or do something to make Bob look good twice a week
  2. Contribute at least once (rather than sulk) in team meetings
  3. Look for something a team member did well and comment on it at least twice a week
  4. Find an opportunity at least once a week to ask for help

Fortunately, Chloe understood that she had built her reputation over time and it would take time to rebuild it. But now she felt hopeful. She also finally understood what Bob meant about a “collaborative, supportive ‘culture,’” a phrase that had eluded her before.


Right before Thanksgiving Jessica and George moved into a new apartment and then decided to host Thanksgiving: four generations (14 people) to be fed a holiday meal and entertained by a young woman with a full-time job and her husband, a full-time grad student, neither with any available vacation days for preparation.

They could have jumped right into playing “Overwhelmed” or “High Anxiety,” but chose instead to focus on the Workplace Happiness Game, grateful for a job/school that gave them the opportunity denied countless others to spend a favorite holiday with family. How did they pull it off?

By focusing on their own locus of control: they couldn’t change the number of vacation days they had, but they could tweak their own limiting beliefs about how Thanksgiving dinner works. By being positive and flexible, they looked for solutions instead of dwelling on problems. Because they both had business-as-usual through Wednesday, they brought the food in from Boston Market. This one-stop-shopping gave them a full menu of already prepared food: turkey, stuffing, mashed & sweet potatoes, a few different kinds of veggies, and dessert. All Jess and George had to do was to set the table, make a salad, and carve! The food was yummy. Nobody was stressed. And after diner the entire family was on the verge of hysteria through several hilarious rounds of “Balderdash.”

We can all change the rules and be winners. Let the games begin!