Happiness at work: a must or an unreachable ideal

By Robert Half 13/03/2017

Self-help books about happiness sell like hot cakes, and so many people sign up for courses to learn to be happy that you immediately feel stressed. Whether this painstaking focus on happiness really makes us more cheerful is doubtful, but there is no question that interest in it has spread to the workplace. So, what does happiness at work really mean and why is it so crucial? How can you ensure that employees feel good?

Happiness is a hot topic

Happiness at work is a popular subject. Employees are no longer (only) interested in a job where they can earn a good salary, they mainly want to feel good about what they do every day. It is significant that consultancy firms are appearing that promise happy or happier employees, and even Chief Happiness Officers are offering their services. Companies are ever more interested in this type of sustainable approach. The fact that the focus on performance and optimization has chiefly led to burn-outs undoubtedly has something to do with this. Moreover, a recent study by securex shows that happy employees are prepared to work longer – which is not unimportant now that retirement ages are under discussion and the ‘war for talent’ is raging.

So, what does happiness at work mean?

If you were to ask employees whether they are happy at work, , the majority would logically answer that they aren’t always. Every job involves some stress – whether it’s because of difficult customers, challenging projects, deadlines or disputes with colleagues. But even employees who are stressed or sometimes get frustrated with what is going on can still be happy at work – as long as dissatisfaction does not become dominant. Does this mean that happiness is just a temporary emotion that occurs now and then in your employees’ daily lives? Or can you, as an employer, effectively cultivate their happiness? Is happiness the feeling that employees experience when they have successfully completed a project and you give them a well-earned pat on the back? Or are there deeper, underlying causes involved?

According to happiness experts, most people confuse ‘happiness at work’ with fleeting moments of ‘satisfaction’. According to them, happiness is more like a whole cluster of positive feelings, such as hope, optimism, confidence, gratefulness and inspiration. Below we list the three most important.

  • Enthusiasm provides energy and helps employees to take and to create opportunities. Moreover, it is infectious and stimulates colleagues to make an extra effort too.
  • Interest helps employees to focus on a task and to take on challenges that may be difficult in the short term but pay dividends in the long term.
  • Satisfaction is the feeling of happiness that occurs, for example, after the successful completion of a task, which then results in employees being extra motivated.

Happy employees are productive employees

More and more studies show that successful companies have happy employees who are more committed, more loyal and more creative than their less contented colleagues. Moreover, they deliver better quality and they are more helpful. The University of Warwick carried out an extensive study that showed that happy employees are also more productive employees, who invest more time and energy in their jobs. Finally, happy employees are healthier, which means that they not only fall prey to depression and burn-out less often but also that they are just absent less frequently. Despite all these advantages, many employers still think that happiness at work is a nice extra, but not a must. Obviously you cannot control all the factors that determine whether an employee feels good or not, but you can create the right circumstances.

Make your employees feel good

What makes one person happy might leave another cold or even make him unhappy. Yet there are a few universal factors that influence happiness at work, concluded a recent study by Robert Half:

  1. Employee and employer should ‘click’. If you take on people who fit the company culture well, they will settle in faster and will start to produce faster. The reverse is also true of course. A bad match can have a negative influence on the whole team’s morale.
  2. A feeling of autonomy. Werknemers die zelf beslissingen mogen nemen, zijn gelukkiger. Niet alleen omdat dit hen meer zelfvertrouwen geeft, maar ook omdat ze zo meer betrokken zijn bij hun job.
  3. Appreciation. Employees who are allowed to take decisions themselves, are happier. Not only because this gives them more self-confidence, but also because they are more involved in their jobs.
  4. Interesting and meaningful work. Employees who feel their jobs are meaningful are 2.5 times as happy as colleagues who are less clear about the sense of their day’s work. Our study showed that this was even the most important happiness factor for people in the creative sectors. The point here is that employees can strive for a common goal. So, they will continue to work for it, even when the going gets tough.
  5. 5. The feeling that everything is done fairly. Fairness and transparency are key for anyone who has to take decisions. In concrete terms, this means a clear wage policy, for example, but also clarity about promotions and the distribution of projects. Make sure your personnel feel they are heard and that they dare to bring up any problems.
  6. 6. Relationships with colleagues. A feeling of camaraderie amongst employees not only promotes communication and cooperation within a team but also leads to more innovation and creativity. team spirit starts with the management. If you radiate positivity, your personnel and, indirectly, even your clients will be influenced by it too.

Although you have no control over a number of key factors (such as your employees’ home situations), you can play your part by creating a positive and healthy work environment You will reap the fruits in the form of employees who want work longer and better for you.

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