AOM Press Releases

AOM Scholars On… Steps Organizations can take to Create Happier and More Fulfilled Employees

06 Mar 2024
Employee Happiness: AOM hosts the 12th Subject Matter Expert Panel to provide insights and solutions on the steps organizations and leaders can take to encourage employee happiness, combatting current trends of record low worker happiness levels.

Watch the panel recording from 19 March 2024


Hakan Ozcelik, professor of management in the College of Business at California State University, Sacramento, moderated a discussion among panelists Bonnie Hayden Cheng of Hong Kong University, Christian Busch of the University of Southern California, and Simone Phipps of Middle Georgia State University on “unhappiness” and other emotions at work that are gaining awareness and potentially increasing as a trend, as part of AOM’s scholar-led webinar series, “AOM Scholars On…,” on March 19, 2024. 

Panelists engaged in a stimulating discussion, sharing their insights and expertise on why employees are more angry, stressed, and unhappy at work than ever. In an effort to provide solutions for organizations, they shared research-based insights on how leaders and organizations can cultivate cultures that are kind and meaningful for employee growth. 

Research-based Insights: 

  • AOM scholar Bonnie Hayden Cheng has found that cultures grounded in core values that are not abstract, but are actively practiced, create an opportunity to intentionally implement kindness. Shifting from a leadership model of fear, stress and control starts with involving employees and leaders in an open discussion of what they consider to be kind behaviors and putting those behaviors into action. 
  • AOM scholar Christian Busch indicated three takeaways on the search for authenticity at work: employees are looking to their workplaces as “anchors” in their lives, the loneliness epidemic is alarming as a global trend, and leaders have an obligation to reconnect employees and bring back meaningfulness within our work.   
  • AOM scholar Hakan Ozcelik pointed to crisis research which indicates that crises accelerate change for about 20 years. Today, we see this in new work-life patterns, remote and hybrid work and increasing uses of artificial intelligence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of companies and leaders showed how far they could go to help their employees, which raised the expectations for some companies while others failed to respond to changing needs. This has triggered employees to be angrier, more stressed and disengaged because they have seen evidence that their companies could do better. 
  • AOM scholar Simone Phipps shared that organizations should strive for sustainability through the two goals of decent work, in which employees are safe, secure, and treated with dignity and respect, and health and wellbeing. Leaders must nurture a culture of engagement and cooperation in which employees feel truly seen. This results in long-term implications that will vastly help the organization such an employee commitment, resilience, better performance, etc.  

Visit AOM's Subject Matter Expert page for additional information and media requests.

Panel Moderator

Ozcelik, Hakan_1000x1000
Hakan Ozcelik, California State University, Sacramento

Soundbite on higher expectations leading to employee unhappiness:
“I think a lot of companies and leaders showed how far they can go to help their employees, and that raised the expectations… And I think that is where you feel more unhappy. Otherwise, you would just accept it as a reality. But knowing that alternatives are possible... leads to a workforce that is now angrier, more stressed.” 

Hakan Ozcelik is a Professor of Management at The California State University, Sacramento State, College of Business. Hakan studies emotions in organizational life, focusing on topics such as workplace loneliness, discrete emotions, surface acting, leadership, emotional climate, decision-making, cross-cultural communication, well-being, organizational neuroscience, and utilizing filmmaking to analyze work emotions.

Hakan is an internationally renowned scholar, who has been invited to present at prestigious universities including the Sorbonne University and ECSP University, Paris, France; University of Rome Sapienza, Rome, Italy; the University of Victoria, Canada; Bogazici University and Sabanci University, Turkey; and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. In addition, he has been invited to speak at events organized by non-profit organizations such as Health Enhancement Research Organization and the Boston College Center for Work and Family. 

Findings of Hakan’s research have been featured in several media outlets, including New York Times, The Guardian, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Ladders, Comstock’s Magazine, and CNN. He has also been invited for TV interviews at the KCRA to comment about telecommuting and loneliness, and more recently in a news story about science of happiness. In addition, he has provided insights about emotions and new gender norms in organizations in a live conversation at the Fox TV Newsroom. He has participated in national podcasts, as well, such as World Blu, Redesigning Wellness, Wharton Business Daily, Teaching in Higher Ed, and Distancing Socially, to bring suggestions about how to enhance relational well-being in organizations, based on his research expertise. 

Hakan considers himself a lifetime scholar with a regenerative curiosity to explore the interplay between human nature and organizations.


Soundbite on kindness culture:
“When kindness is a core company value and when leaders role model kindness, and when kindness is rewarded, then kindness becomes contagious, and kindness becomes the cultural norm.”:

Bonnie Hayden Cheng is an Associate Professor of Management and Strategy, and MBA Program Director at the HKU Business School, University of Hong Kong. Bonnie is also the Chief Resilience Officer at Human at Work, a strategy lab helping leaders transform their companies by unlocking and unleashing their full potential. She is a Scientific Advisor to One Mind at Work, a global coalition of key executives from some of the world’s most influential companies dedicated to workplace mental health. 

Her research is dedicated to corporate wellness. She helps leaders level up their leadership, creating cultures and teams that drive positive change and thrive in the workplace. This includes working with employees to achieve and maintain well-being in the workplace, such as leading through anxiety, harnessing the benefits of workplace anxiety, building resilience, and recovering from work stress. 

She has published in top management journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Journal of Personality, and Social Psychology. Her research has been featured in leading media sources including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, and Harvard Business Review. She has worked closely with companies and governments such as AIA, DHL Global Forwarding, Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong SAR Government, Konica Minolta, State Street, and UBS.

Bonnie received her PhD degree in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.


Soundbite on reconnection as a key leadership skill:
“As a leader, the ability to create the glue again and to create the glue especially when people are in remote settings are obviously a key leadership skill.”

Christian Busch is a business professor at the USC Marshall School of Business and also teaches at the London School of Economics. He is the bestselling author of The Serendipity Mindset, “a wise, exciting, and life-changing book” (Arianna Huffington) that “provides excellent practical guidance for all” (Paul Polman, former CEO, Unilever).

Christian's research has been published in journals such as the Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Business Venturing, and the Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, and has been featured by outlets such as MIT Sloan Management Review, Harvard Business Review, BBC, and Forbes. Previously, he taught at New York University. He cofounded Leaders on Purpose and Sandbox Network, was co-director of LSE's Innovation Lab, is a member of the World Economic Forum's Expert Forum, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and on the Thinkers50 Radar list of the management thinkers "most likely to shape the future." He received his PhD from the LSE. 


Soundbite on employers cultivating a culture for its employees to grow:
“Employers need to be able to nurture that kind of culture that shows they are people-oriented, that they are willing to adapt to the needs of their employees and they want to have that cooperative side of relationship with employees. And if they do that, then they are going to focus more on addressing the decent work and health and wellness of employees.”

Simone T. A. Phipps is an Associate Professor of Management in the School of Business at Middle Georgia State University, and an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School's Centre for Social Innovation. She is also a member of the Thinkers50 Radar Class of 2021, and co-winner of the Thinkers50 2021 Breakthrough Idea Award.

Simone's research interests include Management History, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Social Innovation, Social Sustainability, and relationships between the organization and society. Her research usually involves the exploration of gender, racial, and ethnic minorities, with the aim of highlighting their struggles and contributions, as well as finding possible solutions to improve the minority experience in business and society. She has published in a number of scholarly outlets including the Journal of Business Ethics, Academy of Management Learning & Education, Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and the Journal of Management History. She and her co-author have been recognized by the Academy of Management for publishing “ground-breaking African-American Management History research,” and have also written a book entitled African American Management History: Insights on Gaining a Cooperative Advantage