What It Takes To Be Happier At Work With Aoife O’Brien

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Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work


People feel happier at work not just by increasing their compensation or giving them tons of incentives. On a much broader scale, they thrive where they are if they genuinely feel they belong and accepted. Aoife O’Brien, Founder of Happier At Work, is here to discuss how leaders can cultivate a healthy workplace culture where everyone is taken care of, appreciated, and has an equal chance to thrive professionally. She explains how to express intentional care for your employees and guide them through their career development journey. Aoife also talks about the right way to support and mentor women professionals, giving them better leadership opportunities in the workplace. 

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What It Takes To Be Happier At Work With Aoife O’Brien

In this episode, our guest is Aoife O’Brien from Dublin, Ireland. She founded Happier at Work to accelerate women’s progress. She’s passionate about creating a culture that supports women to thrive. She helps organizations increase their bottom line while supporting female leaders to reach their full potential. Aoife has been featured by several national media platforms and public speaking events discussing Imposter syndrome, employee engagement, productivity, and even remote working.

She also hosts an award-winning podcast called Happier at Work. Aoife is a continuous learner and shares her journey of getting to this place with a bold mission. She practices and lives what she teaches with pure genuineness. Learn how to walk the talk, connect values with fit and belonging, and recognize needs and strengths that help empower others to create happier workplaces where people contribute in ways where we all can thrive. Enjoy the show.


Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work


Aoife, welcome to the show. It was so nice to see you on your podcast. I have to tell you, I enjoyed the conversation. I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective on life.

Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to be here. It’s so nice to have done this collaboration as well as I have had you on my podcast already. Anyone who hasn’t checked out that episode should head over to the Happier at Work Podcast and hear Darrin’s side of things and thoughts.

You were amazing. I enjoyed it too. Go check that out, everybody. That’s pretty cool. I’m sure we’re going to build on some of that in this episode. You have a mission. I’d love to know a little bit more about that for the audience to know that early on and then we’ll circle back to see how you get here. What are you up to? What is your mission?

It took me a while to get here to uncover what that mission is but my mission is to accelerate the advancement of women at work and the progress that women are making at work. We’re not making that progress fast enough. We even took a bit of a backward step during the pandemic, dare I say. A lot of senior women were leaving organizations. It took me a while to uncover what that is. I’m happy to talk about the journey.

I love your mission here in the work you’re doing at Happier at Work. What a connection to make that better for everybody, particularly for women. Let’s go back on your journey to understand a little bit more about how you got to this place of focus.

For many years, I worked in market research in fast-moving consumer goods or as it’s called in the US, consumer packaged goods. I describe that as stuff that you buy in the supermarket. It’s interesting insights, consumer behavior, and understanding about people. I loved it because it tapped into stuff that I care about and I’m passionate about, and stuff that I enjoy like solving problems, analyzing data, and turning data into insights and stories.

Not everyone loves data. I love a good spreadsheet. I love using data to solve problems. It hit a lot of those areas for me that I quite enjoyed that not everyone enjoys. I got to a stage in my career where I was always so ambitious at work. I was always happy at work and I enjoyed work for the most part. I had a couple of different separate incidents, let’s say, at work where it caused me to question myself, my decisions, and my work like, “Is this worth it?” I lost all sense of confidence that I had.

In one particular case, I had been talking to the senior leadership team about this promotion. They gave me various options and then gave that promotion to someone else but didn’t communicate with me whatsoever. Upon reflection, they promoted my male colleague to the position that had been promised to me. Aside from the fact that it was quite a misogynistic, toxic culture, things started to go downhill. I made his life hell. He made my life hell. Eventually, I left.

It caused me to question myself, “What could I have done differently? What should I have done differently for my career? What could I have done differently to stay? How could I have managed this situation better?” Equally, I thought from an organization perspective, “What should they have done? What could they have done differently,” especially since I left that role in less than eighteen months? How could they have kept me? They would have lost money from me. They had sponsored my visa. There were all of these things going on.

Fast forward, I left that role. I traveled all over the world and landed back in Dublin, Ireland where I’m from. It was a similar experience but not quite to the extent. It was a place where I didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t feel like I could thrive there. I wasn’t doing my best work. When I do something, I want to deliver to a high level and I wasn’t able to do that there. For me, it was the environment. It wasn’t a good fit.

With those two experiences, let’s say, I went on, left, and ended up leaving corporate. I went on to do a coaching certification, a coaching diploma, and then a Master’s in Organizational Behavior. While I was doing my Master’s, I asked my lecturer, “This is what’s happened in my career to date. I’d love to understand a little bit more about it, especially from an academic perspective. What does this all mean?” She said, “It sounds like a fit issue.” It’s this thing to do with fitting in at work and what it means to fit in at work.

I became obsessed with this idea. What does it mean to fit in? How do we get this sense of belonging at work? For every assignment I had and my dissertation, I looked at this concept. The first thing that was a surprise to me was values are so important, understanding your values and how your values relate to the organizational values for a sense of this. What is your lived experience of the behavior that you’re witnessing on a day-to-day basis? Does that line up with the behavior that you would expect of people? People like you should behave in a certain way. That was the first thing.

The next thing was about our needs at work. We all have these needs that need to be satisfied. We have universal needs that everybody has. It’s things like autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Autonomy is a sense of choice and control over what you do and how you do it. Relatedness is how you get along with people. Competence is your feeling of capability to do the role. We have unique needs that are unique to us and we need to uncover what those are. Had you asked me years ago, “What are your values or needs,” I’d be like, “I have no idea whatsoever.”

The third element was about your ability to meet the demands of the role. That’s more of a role fit. I’ve changed that language because that is the least important factor. If you think about promotions and job advertisements, the skills that you have are deemed the most important thing to look for when you’re looking to put someone into a role. I’ve changed the language from more skills to more strengths.

It’s so important for us to recognize our strengths at work and get to use our strengths most of the time. The funny thing with strengths is that we often don’t recognize our strengths. We don’t know what we’re good at because it comes so easily and naturally to us. We think every one must be good at the things that they do. This is what I uncovered from having done all of that research. I’ve thought, “Those experiences I had at work, is that specifically related to being a woman?” I’m not sure of that answer.

We often don’t recognize our own strengths. Most of the time, we do not know we are good at something because it comes so easily and naturally to us. Click To Tweet

Certainly, in that first instance, I felt it was but then I’m like, “As a woman, I have experienced these challenges that women face all the time at work. How do I help not only the women but the organizations that they work in as well? How do we create an environment or a culture that is more conducive to helping women to progress in the workplace?” It’s not about fixing the culture but finding that good fit between the individuals to help them thrive and the organization, to create that culture in which they can do their best work.

I love everything about what you shared. It’s perfect. The most important thing that I got out of that was the fact that you kept self-reflecting and trying to figure out what could be done differently. You started with yourself and then you were curious about the other folks that impacted you. How could they have done it better? It’s a sense of learning. It’s not a blame game. You’re trying to find what could have been better so the next time, that’s going to be better, or do what you’re doing, which is to teach and help people think about it across different leadership teams across the world. It’s wonderful. You’re using the introspection as a way to heal.

The interesting thing is you say it’s not a blame game but when you’re in that situation, for me, I was blaming the organization, the leaders, and myself for having made such a catastrophic career decision on my thought at the time. There was blame because you’re there and in the emotions. It’s raw. All of these things are going on so it was hard not to blame. That particular situation that I mentioned that happened in Australia, I carry with me for a long time. It impacted my confidence greatly, in the subsequent job that I had and setting up my business. I took that with me for a long time.

When we think about a leader or someone that we trust or we believe has some type of impact on us, what power do they have that could impact our lives? You’re a living example of it. It cascaded you into this place of doubt. You’re unsure and wondering about your worthiness to a level. You step back to the point where you’re like, “I’m leaving.” You left. It got toxic even more than it was.

The power of a leader or manager is to have the right care for human beings in the way we should impact. As leaders, we have responsibilities to bring out the best in each other. It’s the fact that some folks aren’t doing that or not maybe aware of it so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’re unaware of the impacts that they’re putting on you or others. What do you think about all that?


Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work


You’re right. I’ve had this conversation on my podcast as well. We can’t just blame leaders and say, “They should have known better.” Sometimes they don’t know. It is raising that awareness of the impact that you have as a leader and the responsibility that you have. In my particular situation, the thing that bothered me most was saying one thing and doing another, like the complete lack of transparency, authenticity, and responsibility. After the decision had been made, it wasn’t communicated to me at all. I found it out in the most horrible way as well.

Take that responsibility as a leader like the phrase from Spiderman. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Bear in mind that you do have a responsibility to the people that you look after. Darrin, I love that word that you used and you’ve used it on my podcast as well, which is care. It’s caring about people and what it is that you’re doing intentionally.

Also, genuinely. You come across as such a genuine, kind, amazing human being who is set to help the world and do different things. How you’re going about it, you could tell and I love that about you and what you’re doing. You said a lot of different things that I’d love to dig into a little bit. You talk about fit. What does fit look like? What does belonging look like? Does that differ between people? Does that differ between male and female?

I haven’t looked at that. I do wonder if I still have access to the data I had for my Master’s. I’d love to access that and see if there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to that sense of fit. For me, it is exactly like I said. Primarily, it’s about the values and understanding what the values are. I have questions about this myself. Do we have standard values? Should there be some generic values that are given? It’s things like treating people with respect. Show up and be authentic. Be yourself. Transparency.

For me, some of these things are a given but is that because they are my values? I don’t know. Am I projecting my values onto other people? When you’re thinking about values, you can think about as an individual, “What are my values,” first of all. I didn’t know that years ago. I knew what values were in the context of we had these company values. They were on the wall. They were meaningless because they weren’t connected to what we were doing on a day-to-day basis.

Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work
Happier At Work: Company values on the wall will be meaningless if they are not connected to what the team is doing on a day-to-day basis.


Even though we had values recognition policies in place and we were doing monthly recognition of people for living the values, it felt very disconnected. We also need to think not only about how we as individuals connect to the organization’s values but also when the organization talks about their values, is that the lived experience of people?

An example I can share is one of the organizations that I worked in previously, which has the value of simplicity. This was the most bureaucratic organization I’ve ever worked in. It was so complicated. To get anything done was a pain. It took me about nine months to get up to speed with all of the intricacies, different departments, and different subgroups within the organization because there have been a lot of acquisitions and things like that.

One of the values was simple. For me, it was anything but simple. If you’re saying we have this value of simple but you’re not demonstrating that in how business is done and the day-to-day experience of people who work there, then there is that disconnect. People start to lose trust in what it is that you’re saying about what the organization does as well. The first piece is the values. I’ll talk about the needs in a minute.

I love where you went with it as far as the connection of values, it’s our personal, and how that translates into wherever we are because it varies by culture, company, community, and wherever we are. Our values don’t entirely change. We connect to it differently.

They should stay the same.

My values have expanded, I suppose. I think about my value as being purpose-driven. I often connect those to how I am going to be and how I show up. I have a friend, a strategic partner with Fathom, who talks about our identity as matching up the words that we speak with our actions to this higher power values. You should have him on your podcast. It’s how we show up.

With the absence of values, you’re just talking and running around, it’s chaos. It’s the opposite of simple. When we’re talking about values with our actions and words, we have clarity and alignment. It’s simple, back to your value which is simple. It’s pretty funny though. The way you describe simple was nothing but that’s hilarious. I couldn’t be more aligned with you about the importance of values.

The difficulty is that some organizations have values but they’re not the lived experience of the people who work there. Some have values and they are a reflection. Some companies don’t define their values at all but the values exist anyway. It’s in the behavior and what’s tolerated in the organization. If there’s bullying that’s going unchecked, your values are as good as what gets tolerated in the workplace, is what I’m trying to say. Whether you have them defined or not, they do exist. It’s very evident to people from the behavior of everyone else and what gets tolerated.

There’s another thing that can build on that. A huge revelation to me is this idea that if you can make sure that people’s needs are being satisfied at work, they’ll feel better connected to that organization. Let’s talk about those needs. I mentioned the three universal needs. This came from the secondary research I did. I didn’t dive into this in a great level of detail in my dissertation but it came from the research that I was doing from other papers.

That is the fact that we all talk about autonomy. Let’s give people a whole load of autonomy. That’s what they want. They want autonomy. It’s so important to find the balance there. You can’t give people autonomy if you don’t give them the guidance. It’s about finding that balance between having too much or too little autonomy. If you have too little autonomy, you’re being told how to do what to do as you’re being micromanaged. If you have too little autonomy, you’re left to your devices to figure things out and figure out what direction you need to go in.

It’s a real struggle for people. You have to give adequate guidance and direction to people and then set them off to complete the work in the way that they can do best. The other thing with autonomy in particular is that you need a lot more autonomy as you progress through your career. There are times when it fluctuates. When you are in your early career, you need a lot less autonomy and a lot more hand-holding direction and guidance.

As you progress through your career, it might change from time to time if you’re reaching a new level. If you’ve been promoted, you might need that little bit more guidance and reassurance but you typically need less guidance as you progress through your career and more autonomy. The important factor is finding that balance. We have unique needs as well. A unique need might be serving a higher purpose, stability, flexibility, or variety. It might be status even. There are all of these different needs.

If we want to make sure that we satisfy people’s needs, how do we do that? Talk to people. You might say, “Aoife, what are your needs?” Aoife will say, “I have no idea what my needs are.” You might say, “Aoife, what are your big frustrations at work?” “I’m overworked. I can’t get everything done. My boss is telling me how to do what it is.” That’s something that we can work with. You might not even verbalize it but you can see Aoife is feeling a bit micromanaged. She needs more autonomy. How can we address that?

Understanding people’s frustrations at work helps us to make them feel a bit more connected if we can solve that problem. Hopefully, we can solve it with some training or whatever it might be. That’s the other aspect. For me, those are the two primary things that drive it. The third element is understanding what your strengths are.

When I worked in corporate, we did not talk about this on an ongoing basis. We didn’t talk with each other about what our strengths are, who’s good at what, or who would be two good people to work together because they have such complementary strengths. The ones I always think of are the big picture thinker and the detail person, the tactical like, “How do we get there? Is this too ambitious?” Putting those two people together is a winning combination because their strengths complement each other.

It is a winning combination to put big-picture thinkers and detail people within a team. Their strengths strongly complement each other. Click To Tweet

How do we find our strengths? What would you recommend for us to understand that it’s hard to see it for ourselves? Maybe how did you find your strengths and what are those?

I’m happy to talk about that. For me, there are loads of different ways that you can find what your strengths are. Thinking back to when you were in school, what did you excel in? Was there a particular area? Did you excel in English, Science, or Math? I was always good at Math, Science, logic, problem-solving, and that kind of thing. That’s one thing you can think of. You can ask other people, “What do you think I do better than maybe other people are less strong at? What do you think comes easily and naturally to me that other people aren’t as good at?”

You can also ask other people, “Of all of the things I do, what is the best thing that I do?” Asking other people is another option. I’ll give a slightly random example of that, which I love sharing. If you’ve ever done an escape room, I love escape rooms because it’s me in my element. I walk in. I can connect the dots between these things and solve problems. There are mysteries. I am under pressure. There’s a time element to it as well.

You’re on my team then.

I went and did one with my friend one time. She said, “How did you do that?” I said, “How did I do what?” She said, “You walked in and were like, ‘This connects with that and that solves that.” I was like, “Can everyone not do that? I don’t understand. I thought everyone was able to do that.” She’s like, “No.” Recognize those times when you can do something and someone happens to point out like, “You did that so well.” There are also so many resources online that you can take. Gallup has one. That’s a paid one. There are other things called Strengths Profile.

For me, the kinds of things that come up tend to be analytical so I’m very analytical. In Gallup, I come up as competitive. My love of learning is another strength of mine. I love learning. I read books all the time and take courses. In 2024, I’m planning to do something a bit more formal. I don’t know what that looks like yet but something that requires effort like writing articles, papers, or something like that, which challenges me a little bit more.

You could write a book about podcasting.

It is apparently what I said to Darrin in our last conversation. I would love to write a book. Maybe that is part of the challenge because that’s the writing. If I had some challenges around that as well, that would be amazing. For me, it’s the problem-solving, logic, and analytical side of things. That’s where I excel.

I have found that writing stories is not only therapeutic but it connects things we’re seeing throughout our life. Those dots that are right there allow us to reflect on that and how we are feeling, if we’re positive, happy, or judgmental, or if we wonder with skepticism, or what is possible. There’s something I would encourage you, Aoife,  or anyone for that matter. It doesn’t mean you have to have a book. Having some of that journaling or writing is so therapeutic.

I have good friends who have done that that helped them get free of what might be holding them back, allowing them to maybe forgive or have compassion. I’ve experienced that a little bit too in some of the things I’ve seen. Coming back to you and belonging, your needs, your strengths, and how this fits in the workplace, how does that happen? How does it work in the companies you’re working with? How are people trying to figure that out, fix it, or make it better?

It’s a real challenge because a lot of organizations don’t like to admit that there’s a problem, to begin with. For me, it’s a difficult conversation trying to approach someone and talk about their workplace culture. I find that some companies are not open to it but others are. The starting point for me is always an assessment. “Let’s have a look at what’s working, what’s not working, and what levers we need to pull.” Talking about values, it’s understanding, “Do you have values that are clearly defined? Is that the reality of the people who are working there? Is that the reality of the day-to-day?”

If it’s not, then it’s starting there to see, “The values are aspirational at the moment. They’re not the lived experience. How do we get those values to be the lived experience, first of all?” To get that to be the lived experience, it’s going back to what I said about tolerating. What’s being tolerated at the moment? It’s not a whistleblower type of situation but it’s a psychologically safe environment where people can call things out and say, “We agreed that this kind of behavior is not tolerated. Can we change the behavior?” It’s things like that.

The next piece is understanding and facilitating those conversations. It starts with leaders. Leaders need to be equipped to have those conversations. You ask people what their needs are. They’re not going to know but they’ll know what frustrates them at work. If they’ve seen change at work, they’re going to be open about sharing. “These are my frustrations at work and this is what I wish was different.” If you’ve created that environment and made changes in the past based on things that they’ve shared, then they’re much more likely to be open in the future.

There’s the strengths piece. It’s understanding and talking about each other’s strengths. We never spoke about that when I was at work. “What’s Aoife good at? What can we give her more to do? We can give her more spreadsheets because she loves spreadsheets. I hate spreadsheets. I don’t want to do that. How about she gives me some of the stuff that she doesn’t want to do because it’s not her area of genius and I give her more of my spreadsheets?” Have those conversations.

For me, that makes work a little bit more fun for everyone if you do it in a nice and appropriate way rather than feeling like Aoife’s getting all the spreadsheets and she’s not having fun doing other stuff. She suddenly has all of this extra work and she’s not able to offload some of the other work that she has to do as well. I’m talking about myself in the third person.

Talking about you though, I like how you were talking about your learning. You see things that you thought everybody could see I have felt that at times when it’s not so obvious. You’re there. Based on your growth over time, it feels like you believe what you bring is unique, special, and dynamic. Maybe it wasn’t there in the past. For leaders to also see that in you and believe in you, that you’re capable of doing anything, that excites you and your passion about it. I sense that. You’re also defining psychological safety. I’d love for you to expand on that if I have that wrong or modified as you wish but that’s what I’m hearing as you’re talking through all this.

There are a few things to pick up on there. It took me a while to get here. I didn’t always have this confidence and belief in my abilities or understand my unique capabilities. Another thing I’d love to build on with that is what I’m realizing running a one-person business and all the difficulties that go with that. I’m an introvert but I love collaborating with other people.

Similar to what we touched on in my podcast, this idea of bringing diverse thinking and minds together, that’s an area where I excel. I’m talking to other people. We’re sharing ideas and both of us are wowed. The possibilities are amazing but that comes from working with other people as opposed to working on my own. Something I’ve learned over time as well is it is important.

In a lot of organizations, we have a tendency to either work alone or want to work alone on whatever we’re doing. What I mean is the part of the work that we’re doing, we’re probably working in a wider team or a project with someone else. If you had that time to have a conversation, share ideas, and bounce ideas around, what you might find is that the thinking explodes a little bit, which is a fantastic feeling. That’s something that I’ve learned over time and I’m going to implement it in my business in 2024.

Most people tend to work alone. But if you have the time to have a conversation with others and share ideas with them, it is a fantastic feeling indeed. Click To Tweet

How did you get over the doubt?

I still have moments of doubt. I did some scary things like I sent out some emails that I’m not sure if that’s going to land well. I’m reaching out to people cold. I’m not asking them for something. I’m offering them an opportunity but it was still something scary for me to do. I got on and did it. I talk about this all the time when I talk about Imposter syndrome.

First of all, you need to acknowledge that you have that. If you’re not taking action, it’s because of this thing that you’re telling yourself, that you believe about yourself and admitting that. I’m not putting myself forward for this promotion. You’re telling yourself a whole load of stories. The stories could be something like, “I don’t have time. I’m going to have to work longer hours.” All of those stories could be made up. The real thing is that I don’t believe in my abilities to deliver in the role.

You have to first identify that that’s what’s going on. For me, it’s become a practice of separating myself, let’s call it the Imposter syndrome, and I give her the name Sandra. Sometimes it’s being called out by other people but sometimes I recognize it in myself. As an example, as a small business owner, I was going to apply for an award. I was like, “I don’t know if there’s any point in applying and I’m going to win.” My friends recognized that and said, “Is that Aoife speaking from a place of empowerment, or is that Sandra speaking from a place of fear?” That’s the first step.

The second step is about building up your belief in yourself. That’s an ongoing process. You can enlist other people to help you build up your belief or do some exercises to build up the belief you have in yourself. The third and crucial part is action. It’s taking courageous action. It’s not planning, waiting, psyching yourself up, and feeling confident before you act. It’s taking action anyway and finding that confidence to put yourself out there. That experience I had in Australia impacted me for a long time. I didn’t even realize how impacted I was. It’s only upon reflection.

I’m looking back and forward into 2024 thinking, “I’ve been operating with my eyes half closed for the last number of years. It’s time to lift the lid and go all in in 2024.” Take action when you feel afraid. You’re not going to get confident by sitting at home, planning, and thinking. You get confident by taking small actions that you feel not necessarily comfortable with but are a bit of a stretch for you. They feel a little bit scary but when those actions start to pay off, that’s when your confidence starts to come back. You’re like, “Maybe I can do this. Maybe this is for me.”

Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work
Happier At Work: Take action when you feel afraid. You will not get confident by sitting at home and planning by thinking.


You’re stepping in with the action pieces. I love that. It’s first being aware of a lot of things. We can’t do anything if we’re not identifying or aware of it. The action part is empowering. To your point about empowerment, instead of asking ourselves, “Is it what it is,” versus saying, “Is it what it is.” I’m thinking about the words that go in between identifying to changing and pausing a little bit, getting curious about, “What am I saying to myself to get myself that boost of confidence or belief part,” to then say, “What can I do in this situation? If it is what it is, what can I do to make it different so it isn’t it is what it is?”

We need to watch our language. What are you saying to yourself? Catch yourself saying those things. Become aware of it. When you think these things about yourself, they become your reality and the narrative like, “I’m not good enough to do that. I could never possibly do that.” It’s coming at it with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. This is something I’ve become aware of again. For me, it goes beyond a person having a fixed versus a growth mindset.

You might have a fixed mindset in a specific area and a growth mindset in another area of your life. Recognize like, “I’m not good at Math. I’ll never be good at Math. I’m not good to be a leader and I’ll never be a leader.” Maybe you’ve started playing tennis and then you’ve got better. You’ve realized that it’s a learning journey. There’ll be other areas of your life where you’re saying, “I’m never going to be good at that. I tried that and I failed so I’m not going to try again.” There are all of these things that we tell ourselves, the stories that we make up that hinder our progress as well. Be aware of that.


Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work


When you say we fail, the idea is there’s learning and failure instead of saying, “I can’t see.”

“What would I do differently next time?” We use the term failure. It’s a setback on the journey to success. You have to have those learnings. Success, I always use that term loosely because different people define it in different ways. If you’re going through life and you’ve never had a setback, what’s going to happen when you ever have a setback in the future? You’re going to feel despondent. You won’t have built up the resilience over time from having had those setbacks previously. You won’t have necessarily the learnings.

If everything has become easy, have you taken time to reflect on what has got you there to where you are? When you have a setback, do you take time to reflect on that and think, “What might I do differently the next time? What could I do better? Is there a different way to go? Are there different resources I need? Is there someone I need to ask for help?”

You’re so genuine. It’s so incredible because authenticity is pouring out with everything you’re talking about. You’re not just reading from something you’ve read or someone told you at a conference. You’re living this. I love how you shared your story around some of the challenges that you had overcome. Not passing the blame but learning from the blame that we might have had in our minds or what could they have done better. It’s fascinating to hear how genuine you are.

When we talk about the words and language we use, I love the word impossible. To me, it sums it up but if we add a space in there, it says, “I’m possible.” That opens the door to slowing down, getting conscious of what’s here, and saying, “Is that what it has to be? Can we do it differently? Let’s do it.” You’re practicing that, living it, and growing. To your point about the fixed mindset, I love Carol Dweck’s book and also her thinking.

This is it. Something that I didn’t mention at the start, which became apparent to me when I started researching this and looking into all of these kinds of different things that were going on, is there are a lot of people who are miserable and not happy at work. It’s not just me or an experience that I had. That makes my mission, I suppose, bigger than myself. It’s about having that impact and understanding.

The mission has narrowed down to women because I’m a woman and they’re the experiences that I had. Maybe it’s an easier message to explain to people rather than the generic happiness at work. People think it’s a little bit fluffy. It’s a great name and brand. What can it do for me if it’s not scientific when everything that I’ve talked to you about is very scientific?

What I’m trying to say with that is whether you’re a female leader, an employee, or a leader, there are so many people who are impacted by this and whose work is not fulfilling for them. They don’t have that sense of meaning or purpose to their work. They’re going in. They’re not that engaged at work. They’re not getting involved. They’re not innovating. They don’t feel like they’re contributing. They’re collecting their paycheck at the end of the month, every two weeks, or whatever it might be. That’s it. That’s their life. They’re going. They don’t feel like they’re contributing.

Much like yourself, Darrin, I’m here to change that and show there is another way. There is a way to feel lit up and happy by what you do from an organizational perspective. You talked on my podcast about the impact that engaging people has on the bottom line. What companies are interested in most of the time is the money. “That’s great. People are happy but what does that mean for me?”

What that means is that you’re going to make 25% more revenue, profit, or whatever it might be, and show the relationship between creating those positive environments where people can thrive so it’s good for society. People are happier. They’re taking that back with them and to their home lives as well. It’s going to touch on every aspect of your life if you’re happy at work. From the organization’s perspective, not only are they doing good by the people that they work with but they’re making more money as well.

It’s such responsibility of businesses and leaders how we could create not only more joy but there are societal differences. People go back home, have a family life, and contribute in different ways. People who are more engaged in general feel like they have time and they want to do things that will help out the community. They’ll volunteer, which might help out other people in selfless ways.

It feeds on itself. It creates more joy than it creates more giving. What a cycle. I’m part of it but I want more. I want to keep going there. We could talk for hours. I want to go back a little bit about the focus on women since we’re talking about this as part of your mission. I feel like a lot of what you’re sharing can apply to men too from my perspective.

One hundred percent, yes.

I’ve lived in elements of doubt. I might have had a perception I had it all right. I didn’t have it all right. We talked about that in your podcast so folks will have to go there to know more about that. How do we help women? How do we empower women? How do we help people more specifically to help your mission come alive and more broadly around the world?

There are so many things that we can do. I did all of this research. I called it Happiness at Work and then it’s Happier at Work. These are the elements of Happier at Work. Separately, I was talking about Imposter syndrome. I could see how the two were related but I couldn’t necessarily put them together. It’s like, “What if everything I’ve done up to in my career is leading me to this?” It’s the broader mission of women and it’s applying all of that research. That’s how I came up with marrying those two concepts and the mission being specific to women.

How do we support women? There are two different ways. It’s supporting the women themselves and creating the environment that they can thrive in. It’s having flexible working and providing mentoring opportunities. I’m doing some research at the moment into what’s missing. Mentoring is a huge thing. There are a lot of women who are not being mentored. They’re not getting proper leadership development that’s specific to women. There are unique challenges that women have that you need to address those things.

Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work
Happier At Work: A lot of women are not being mentored and not getting proper leadership development.


It’s having role models. Have those women that you can look up to and say, “I aspire to be like that. I want to be like her.” I don’t like the idea of quotas. I’m going to put that out there but it’s important to have increased numbers of women on the panels or pools from which the appointments are made. If you’re making senior appointments and you have a panel or a pool of candidates that you’re taking from, you need to increase the number of women on those.

They’re some of the things that organizations can do. Recognizing things like unconscious bias, we talked about that on my podcast. The whole thing with unconscious bias is it’s unconscious. You don’t realize that you’re doing it. I took this test called the Implicit Association Test or IAT. I’m sure if you look it up on Google, you’ll find it. You can take it across a range of different things where you could potentially have an unconscious bias. I took it. I was interested. I was like, “I want to see if I have an unconscious bias with gender,” and I do.

We did this when I was in university and I raised this with my lecturer. I said, “Does it not depend on the order that you do it?” Apparently, not. They factor in all of these different things that could contribute to the fact that you got this unconscious bias result. I have this unconscious bias against women and a lot of people do. It’s because of the society that we’re brought up in, the media that we consume, and all of these different things. Recognize that.

That’s some of the things that we can do as organizations to address those issues but then it’s supporting the women themselves. How can women help themselves? Tell people what you want. Speak up for yourself and advocate for yourself. One of the interesting conversations I had on my podcast was talking about how oftentimes women are very busy. They’re identifying and solving problems ahead of time. They then never get spoken about.

Their bosses think that they’re not that busy and they haven’t encountered many issues. At the same time, men are saying, “I came up with this issue and I solved it. Also, this other issue and I solved it.” They’re verbalizing every single thing that they’re working on so that the boss understands the struggles that they have and the amount of work that they’re undertaking as well. Women don’t necessarily like to do that. As women, we need to learn how to advocate for ourselves and talk about what our strengths are. We need to support each other.

There’s a lot of competition between women as well. A lot of organizations perpetuate that with only one open position. You need to compete for it. It’s that macho approach to winner-takes-all. Women, educate yourself on understanding Imposter syndrome. Seek out opportunities to connect and a sponsor, someone who’s going to mention your name when you’re not in the room. There are so many different things that we can do to help and promote ourselves to be able to achieve what it is that we want to do.

There’s a lot there that folks could take and put into action, back to identifying and then resonating with what feel is showing up for us in certain situations. There are some things that I heard and I’m like, “Wait a minute. I could do that too,” and advocate for myself in situations yet I could also be a better sponsor. That’s things that I’ve heard.

We talked about unconscious bias, being able to speak up for other people who are not present, and then making sure that it’s not about our voices but making sure their voices are heard. I have a variety of questions that are coming to mind. On the fly, I’d love to ask you these questions and then have a couple of words like a speed round. What’s one word to find Happier at Work?


Who on your amazing podcast has been your favorite guest and why?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child.

Out of 200, right?

There haven’t been 200 guests. There’s been over 100 guests. What if one of them is reading this when I haven’t selected them? Darrin is my favorite guest on the podcast of all time.

What’s your favorite theme that showed up?

A favorite theme among listeners seems to be well-being at work.

For women to advocate, identify, and work with a sponsor, what would be the best advice you could give someone to ask to be a sponsor?

Before you said to go and ask, I was going to say just ask. Oftentimes, we hold ourselves back from asking someone. You can have multiple sponsors and mentors. There’s nothing to stop you from doing that. It’s more than a one-word answer but know that you can do that. You don’t have to wait to be asked. You can go out and seek that for yourself.

I was looking for more than one word on that one. Is there something you would suggest someone ask as part of what the expectation might be?

For me, flattery works well. I admire how you have achieved so much in your career. I would love to have a conversation about you and how you’ve achieved that. People love talking about themselves. If it’s the right person, they’re going to want to raise other people so they’d be happy to take that time. Maybe it depends on whether it’s a sponsor or a mentor. With a sponsor, maybe you’re feeding them information one way to let them know, “This is what I’m working on. This is what I’ve achieved.”

If it’s a mentor, there could be a reverse mentoring situation where you’re giving them access to insights about what’s going on on the ground. What are people saying in the organization? What are the clients talking about? As well as supporting you with career mentoring. I don’t like to assume that someone doesn’t have the technology or social media skills but there could be some skills that the person doing the mentoring doesn’t necessarily have. Therefore, they can learn something from their mentee as well.

There could be some skills that the person doing the mentoring does not necessarily have. Therefore, they can learn something from their mentee as well. Click To Tweet

As far as the sponsorships and mentorships we have, if you’re one of those folks and you’re in those roles, I would suggest diving in into these conversations and relationships to understand we can get something out of them too. It’s not one way. We could learn from who we work with. It’s more of an allyship, I call it, in some ways. I don’t know. What’s your take on that?

The person might be closer to the ground in terms of hearing what our staff is talking about. Someone who is in a senior leadership role or an executive role who’s doing the sponsoring might be a bit far removed from that or they might be hearing the good news, their survey results, or whatever it might be. Having access to what people are talking about, what clients are asking for, and what clients are happy about is crucial at those senior levels.

You love data. Do you have one data point related to Happier at Work that has been the most interesting or intriguing or that blew you away when you first read it?

It’s what I touched on earlier and I can’t remember the exact number. It is in and around 25%. There are so many stats that are related to happiness at work where it increases productivity, turnover, and profitability. All of productivity is something like 20% but certainly, revenue and profitability are somewhere up around 25%. That surprised me.

It pays itself back.

I can’t remember who but someone did do research into the stock market and over time looked at companies that were focused on culture and happiness at work. The difference in performance in the stock market was quite remarkable as well.

Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At Work
Happier At Work: Companies focused on culture and happiness at work are those who performed quite remarkably.


We’ve had such a wonderful conversation. Here’s the thing. If there’s something else showing up for you that you’d wanted to share based on what we’ve talked about, is there anything else you wanted to add?

I don’t think so. We’ve covered quite a lot of ground. Hopefully, people get a sense of how my purpose has evolved and may continue to evolve. My mission here is it wasn’t that clear to me when I was working. What I’m continuing to do is to understand what my strengths are, try to focus on those areas of strength, and work on my strengths. I know what my values are. I’m trying to live my values and work with people who have similar values to me, understanding where my needs are not being satisfied, and how I can satisfy those needs for myself as well because I’m not working in an organization now.

I love when you said trying and you’re doing it. It’s a sense of being. It’s the evolution of who you are.

That’s a language thing, isn’t it? “I’m trying.” It’s like, “I’m downplaying myself a little bit.” I am doing this stuff. I’m not just talking.

You are doing it and making a huge impact. I’m so honored that you’ve joined us on the show, to be on your podcast, and to call us friends. Hopefully, we’ll cross paths again in the future.

Thank you so much. Go and check out Darrin’s episode on the Happier at Work Podcast.


Aoife is so authentic. Her purposeful language connects the dots that guide us in simple ways to follow her footsteps. She’s constantly learning and growing from her life’s good and bad interactions. Aoife vulnerably shares her stories to help us realize we can overcome the challenges and the words that hold us back. Follow her wisdom to address the one word that represents happiness at work to her, which is belonging, addressing how people fit and connect to values by supporting their individual needs, and recognizing ways to reinforce their strengths.

Check out her podcast, Happier at Work. Consider her for your next speaking event, where there’s a focus on empowering women and how to best address Imposter syndrome and belonging in the workplace. When people feel part of something bigger, they contribute differently and thoroughly. They show up more entirely as their authentic selves. When we do, possibilities pop into reality, enabling humans to amaze us by living their possible. Thanks for reading. Go and make it a great day.


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About Aoife O’Brien

Live Your Possible | Aoife O'Brien | Happier At WorkAoife O’Brien is the founder of Happier at Work, a business with the mission to eliminate toxic working environments for good. She is passionate about ‘fit’ and especially how creating the right environment can help organisations increase their bottom line while supporting individuals to reach their full potential at work.

She is a self-professed data nerd, with a 20+ year career in market research in the fast-moving consumer goods industry working with clients like Coca Cola, Unilever and Heinz to solve marketing problems using data analytics. She works with business leaders and employees to focus on: workplace culture; cultivating balance; and empowering leaders.

Aoife has been featured by several national media platforms and public speaking events talking about imposter syndrome, fit, employee engagement, productivity, and remote working. Her two-time award runner-up podcast, Happier at Work®, features a combination of interview-based episodes as well as solo podcasting, and has a global audience of over 100k.

She has lived and worked in Dublin, London, Perth, and Sydney and has a MSc in Work and Organisational Behaviour, a Diploma in Executive and Life Coaching and a Certificate in Career Coaching.

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