SPIRE for Leaders: How to Bring Happiness to Your Organization

In my last blog post, I wrote about Tal Ben-Shahar’s SPIRE model of happiness and how to apply it to improve your life. In this blog post, I will talk about SPIRE for Leaders and how it benefits the non-profit workplace culture.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege and pleasure to lead a SPIRE workshop at the 2022 OPERA America Conference. My audience was the alumni of OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive Program. These non-profit arts leaders have been through an incredibly challenging period starting with the COVID Pandemic shut down in March 2020. Leading an opera company is challenging in “normal” times since these companies strive to put on great shows, connect with their communities, and provide educational programs with limited time and resources.  The last 2+ years have stretched these leaders to new levels, managing a lot of changes and making decisions with imperfect and changing knowledge. And despite these challenges, these leaders have persisted and pushed ahead and are incredibly resilient.

My goal was to share with these leaders Tal’s SPIRE framework for happiness so that they could learn the model and take it back to their organizations.  Our focus was on how to apply the SPIRE wellness model to fast-paced non-profit organizations that have neither the time or money to invest in expensive wellness programs.   In this post, we will see how SPIRE for leaders wellness practices can promote greater happiness at work with concrete, no or low-cost, and time-efficient action steps.

SPIRE Model of Happiness

As a reminder, SPIRE is a multi-dimensional model based on five elements:

S: spiritual well-being
P: physical well-being
I: intellectual well-being
R: relational well-being
E: emotional well-being

Applying these principles in the workplace has many benefits to employees, leaders and their organizations.

  1. Benefits of Wellness at Work

Why is happiness in the workplace important?

recent study at the University of Warwick found that happiness in the workplace led to a 12 percent spike in productivity.  By contrast, unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive. It appears from the research that happier workers use their time more effectively and work at a faster pace while maintaining the quality of their work. In other words, happy employees get quality work done in less time.

A leading happiness researcher, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirksy, notes that happiness in the workplace translates into leaders and employees who are motivated, productive, and engaged. They show up to work with better attendance, they have better relationships, and they tend to get promoted and make more money. And their organizations benefit because they have a more engaged workforce, greater employee retention, and greater profitability. In fact, employees whose organizations promote well-being enjoy many advantages:

  • Better relationships
  • Better teamwork and collaboration
  • Higher levels of creativity
  • More motivation and engagement
  • Greater resilience

And organizations that promote employee wellness have greater employee engagement and retention and are more profitable!

  1. SPIRE Organizations and SPIRE leaders

If leaders want to promote wellness at work, they need to espouse the principles and be role models for their employees. Moreover, Tal has observed that when leaders flourish at work, it also improves their performance as leaders. All of these factors go hand-in-hand with great leadership in the 21st Century.

Here is what resonated with our non-profit leaders.

1) SPIRE for Leaders: Spiritual Well-being

Let’s recall the two principles of spiritual well-being:

  • Having a sense of purpose to which we commit; and
  • Being mindful and experiencing life in the present moment

The Importance of Purpose and Mission

Our leaders all have a strong sense of mission around their work producing opera, engaging with communities through opera, and educating people about the importance of this great art form. This is one of the benefits of working in the non-profit world for a cause that you believe in.

It is also important for staff members to feel a sense of purpose and mission around their work According to a Gallup survey on employee engagement, the best predictor of employee productivity and engagement is this statement:

“The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel that my job is important.”

Our leaders observed that they were fortunate to have staff members who felt a sense of purpose and mission around their roles.

Finally, not only do employees and leaders need to have a shared vision. They need to see that the leader is committed to that vision. This too is a common feature of the non-profit world of the arts.

The Benefits of Mindfulness at Work

As is the case with mindfulness for individuals, promoting mindfulness at work has the following benefits:

  • Better teamwork
  • Better engagement
  • Reduced stress
  • Stimulates innovation
  • Better decision-making
  • Better overall performance

Spiritual Well-being at Work Tips:

Our leaders brainstormed on ways to promote spiritual well-being at work:

  • Have periodic conversations about the mission and purpose of the organization to foster a sense of shared vision;
  • Reduce distractions by creating blocks of time to work and shutting off email, texts, and phone calls;
  • Encourage staff members to create “islands of sanity” a few times a day to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths or do a 3-minute mini-meditation session;
  • Gather people in the conference room once a week for a 10-minute guided meditation on YouTube; and
  • Share moments of beauty and inspiration with each other.

2) SPIRE for Leaders: Physical Well-being

 The “P” of SPIRE stands for physical well-being, with these two principles:

  • The mind/body connection; and
  • The 4-part wonder drug of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and touch

Physical Well-being at Work Tips:

There are multiple strategies for promoting physical well-being at work. For starters,  leaders need to explain the reasons for implementing these strategies so that their staff members understand their importance.

Reframe Stress

Given how stressful the past two years have been, our leaders resonated with the idea of reframing stress as excitement around a challenge. To bring this back to the workplace, watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk on why stress is good for you at a monthly staff meeting and hold a discussion on how to do this.

Rest & Recovery 

Stress in and of itself is not a problem; The problem with stress is the lack of recovery after feeling stressed. To promote rest and recovery, leaders can:

  • encourage staff members to build islands of sanity not only to promote mindfulness but also to recover from stressful events;
  • Have no-meeting days; and
  • Provide flexible work hours and work from home so that employees have more control over their schedules

Good nutrition

To deal with the afternoon slump, have fruit and nuts available for snacks instead of chips and chocolate.


According to Tal, “Sitting is the new smoking.” Therefore, it is important to move throughout the day.

Our leaders came up with some great ideas for promoting exercise at work:

  • Encourage employees to get up from their desks and move around a few times a day;
  • Have a dance party in the conference room;
  • Gather people together for a 5-minute stretch/yoga session once a week; and
  • Find a free yoga class on YouTube and invite people to do it together every month.

3) SPIRE for Leaders: Intellectual Well-being

Intellectual well-being means:

  • being curious, being open to new experiences; and
  • engaging in deep learning

In our fast-paced knowledge economy, it makes sense to foster a culture where leaders and their employees feel challenged and encouraged to learn. Moreover, as we have learned in the past two years, we need new strategies to keep up with all the changes. For leaders and their staff members, learning and growing are important to one’s career path and to a sense of calling. Moreover, deep learning can inspire employees to stay on the job.

Intellectual Well-being at Work Tips:

  • Watch TED talks and YouTube videos of field experts at a monthly staff meeting. Then, hold a discussion about the topic to capture the learning
  • Leaders can share articles of interest with the staff
  • Encourage employees to share articles with each other

4) SPIRE for Leaders: Relational Well-being

Relational well-being has two principles:

  • Cultivating meaningful relationships with others; and
  • Having a healthy relationship with oneself

Healthy Workplace Relationships

Relational well-being in the workplace is important both for employee satisfaction as well as organizational success. Recall the Gallup research that having a best friend at work leads to higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement and less turnover.

Healthy Relationships with Oneself

As previously discussed in my first SPIRE blog post, nurturing oneself not only enhances your personal well-being but also contributes to having healthy relationships with others. In fact, one leader shared that she would now hold meetings with herself to check in so that she could show up for her staff members in the best possible way.

Relational Well-being at Work Tips:

  • Share the Gallup research on the importance of having friends at work
  • Take time out of the work day to celebrate birthdays or other important life events of your employees
  • Host a no-agenda monthly happy hour or lunch where staff members can mingle and get to know each other better

5) SPIRE for Leaders: Emotional Well-being:

Emotional well-being in the workplace means that employees enjoy higher levels of positive emotions.  The research indicates that positive emotions lead to greater success in the workplace with employees who are:

  • more motivated and productive;
  • more creative;
  • better learners; and
  • healthier mentally and physically

This, in turn, also contributes to greater success for their organizations.

Now this is challenging today, especially since the past two years have given rise to serious mental health challenges. While our non-profit arts leaders are not trained mental health professionals, there are ways to enhance emotional well-being at work.

Boost Productivity through Gratitude and Appreciation:

Research now shows that feeling appreciated and expressing appreciation positively impact well-being and motivation. According to Gallup’s research, employees who are recognized for their good work are more engaged, more productive, and more loyal to their organizations. This leads to higher employee retention which in the age of the “great resignation” is a huge benefit. In fact, if you appreciate others and are appreciated, workplace relationships flourish. Moreover, doing so creates a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

Bring emotions into the workplace

Another aspect of emotional well-being is permission to be human. This means allowing employees to express both positive and painful emotions. Doing so increases the overall emotional well-being of employees and of the workplace.  This means taking the time to listen to your staff members and make it safe for them to share how they are feeling.

Emotional Well-being at Work Tips:

  • At weekly staff meetings, recognize an employee who has done a good job
  • Freely praise staff members who do something well
  • Send a company-wide email to recognize a staff member who has done a great job
  • Check-in and listen to your employees to see how they are doing
  • Make it OK to talk about feelings and uncertainty
  • Prioritize wellness

Bottom Line on SPIRE for Leaders:

As our leaders learned, there are many low-cost time-efficient ways to bring greater wellness and happiness to their organizations. The key is to start small and build on the success.  Above all, leaders need to model the new behaviors and attitudes so that employees understand the importance of these practices and see the benefits that come from working in a culture that promotes well-being.