Good Read: Happiness Traps – How We Sabotage Ourselves at Work

Written By: Angela Fieler, MPA, CMQ/OE

In her book, “Raising the Bar on Service Excellence,” author and Baird Group founder Kristin Baird writes of the importance of having a sense of purpose in achieving service excellence.  She discusses not only the need for a leader to find and nourish her own sense of purpose but also a leader’s ability to help others find their sense of purpose as well.  The link to service excellence lies in helping people connect to a larger purpose, which will in turn fuel employee engagement and sustain an organization’s service journey.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review brings these concepts to light from a leadership perspective.  In “Happiness Traps: How We Sabotage Ourselves at Work” (Harvard Business Review, September – October, 2017), author Annie McKee wonders why so many leaders are unhappy at work and what can be done about it.  She cites are startling statistic: “close to two-thirds of employees in the United States are bored, detached, or jaded and ready to sabotage plans, projects, and other people.”  What? When I think about the external pressures that many healthcare organizations are under, perhaps this statistic isn’t that surprising.  What is surprising is the author’s position that, based on her extensive experience as a coach, all too often, it is not the external forces at work here but rather, what we are doing to ourselves.

McKee identifies three “happiness traps” – ambition (the desire to win at all costs); doing what is expected rather than what we want; and overworking – that seem to be desired traits until they are taken to the extreme.  She provides some great thought-provoking examples that help readers reflect on their own behavior and how it might be affecting their connection to purpose.  The real brilliance in the article comes at the point where McKee draws in key elements of Emotional Intelligence.  Understanding who you are, and working to control your more potentially harmful tendencies, especially in the context of your work environment, are the first steps in reconnecting with your purpose. 

Perhaps because it is her bread and butter, McKee emphasizes the importance of coaching in making this journey of self-discovery.  I think she does a great job of making her case and agree that being engaged, fulfilled, and valued at work has a “host of benefits.”  If you come to work more often than not dreading what lies before you or questioning why you work where you do, you may have lost your sense of purpose.  Check out Annie McKee’s article for some helpful tips and consider the Baird Group PX Advisor program, which includes coaching to help you connect to purpose and help others to do the same.  

To learn more about the Baird Model for Service Excellence, employee engagement or leadership development workshops, or to sign up for her FREE newsletter, write to

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