Since 2013, the United Nations has set aside March 20 to celebrate International Day of Happiness.

The initiative focuses on the important role happiness plays in the lives of people around the world, and there’s no better place to start spreading happiness than in your work environment. And often it's the simplest and easiest things that can bring a smile.

Why workplace happiness matters

According to Robert Half's The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees, happy employees are the most vocal and persuasive advocates for their organisations. Beyond the spread of optimism and goodwill, workplace happiness matters because it can translate into a positive image for a company (both internally and externally) bolstering corporate reputation and recruitment efforts.

"Happiness is shorthand for a great experience," says Nic Marks, one of the world's leading happiness experts and CEO and found of Happiness Works. "It's an emotional word we use to summarise the quality of experiences in everyday work - essentially, whether we are feeling good and doing well."

What are the benefits of workplace happiness?

The health benefits of happiness are well-documented. A report by the University of California confirms the way happiness goes hand-in-hand with good health, citing a number of positive outcomes including better cardiac function, a stronger immune system and even a longer life.

A recent study by the University of Warwick confirms found that happy workers are 12% more productive.

Happiness can also reduce absentee rates, with research by Illinois Wesleyan University, noting happy employees recover faster from illness and are likely to take 15 fewer days off each year than their less positive colleagues.

The benefits of happiness don’t just flow the boss’s way. The same Illinois Wesleyan University study found people with a more positive outlook and job satisfaction tend to earn more than their less positive counterparts, suggesting happiness can lead to an enlarged pay cheque.

Clearly, happiness offers a win-win for everyone in a work environment. So, mark the International Day of Happiness on the corporate calendar with five simple ways to bring positivity back to the workplace.

1. Greet co-workers with a smile

A research paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology noted that connecting with others, even strangers, increases personal happiness. With this in mind, a great way to set the tone for International Day of Happiness is by greeting colleagues with a cheery “hello”. Go beyond the normal circle, and offer a hearty “good morning” to the front desk staff, the shy dogsbody, or the executive sharing a lift ride, to extend the feel good factor across the organisation.

2. Praise the efforts of colleagues

Positive feedback puts a spring in anyone’s step but in a time-poor working day, praise may be scrimped on, often to the detriment of employee happiness.

Taking a few minutes to offer glowing feedback doesn’t just boost happiness, it can also have a positive impact on productivity. The same US research found 40% of workers would put more energy into their work if their contribution was recognised more frequently. Here in Australia, a Gallop Poll found 76% of workers are not engaged in their job. Chances are, a simple “thank you for doing a great job” could go a long way to elevating happiness, fulfilment and enthusiasm among employees.

3. Surprise with kindness

Random acts of kindness offer a two-for-one benefit. According to the Harvard Business School, a person extending a hand of kindness feels happier, while the recipient feels an uptick in joy too.  Share the goodwill on International Day of Happiness with unexpected gestures of kindness. Pick up a surprise latte for a colleague on the way to work, help a co-worker complete a project on time, or lend a hand to fix a paper jam instead of turning a blind eye to the struggles going on in the photocopying bay.

4. Host a happiness event

Nothing can dull the happiness factor faster than a boring routine. This year, celebrate International Day of Happiness with a dedicated workplace event in honour of happiness. A special morning tea, a lunch or even a celebratory dinner doesn’t just break routine – it’s an opportunity to share the virtues of being happy across an entire department or even the whole organisation.

5. Make the world a better place

Giving has a way of making people feel good. Harvard University confirmed this with research showing that donating to charity has a direct link to personal happiness. This makes it worth celebrating International Day of Happiness by combining efforts into corporate social responsibility. Instead of simply passing around a bucket for a coin drop, aim to make it an inclusive, fun-filled event. Try selling cakes home-baked by the accounts team accompanied by tea or coffee prepared by the IT crew, to let everyone feel part of the action.

Enjoy lasting benefits from International Day of Happiness

One of the big pluses of happiness, is that like laughter, it can be contagious. Don’t be surprised if any “happy” initiatives introduced will extend beyond the 24 hours of International Day of Happiness.

As a corporate happiness ambassador, an organisation can have a direct and lasting impact on the satisfaction, meaning and joy that the entire staff gain from their work environment.