Happiness in the workplace: Enjoyed by few but achievable for all

Smiling businessman relaxing
Whether we realize it or not, happiness is one of the ultimate goals of everything we do. Many of our daily decisions are steps toward what we believe will bring us joy. Given the importance we place on achieving happiness throughout our lives, it comes as no surprise that workplace contentment is a topic of strong public interest and discussion. Books have been written on the subject, and there are numerous studies and articles that attempt to explain what it takes to find true and lasting professional happiness.
This question is a worthwhile one, from both a personal perspective and an economic standpoint. According to The Wall Street Journal, which partnered with the iOpener Institute for People and Performance to survey its readers, happy workers perform substantially better than their unhappy counterparts, showing 36 percent more motivation and 31 percent more success in achieving their goals. Happy employees also contribute significantly to a positive work environment, assisting their co-workers 33 percent more often and discussing factors affecting performance 46 percent more, indicating their investment in their companies’ success.
Happiness is a key element of innovation within companies, wrote The Washington Post, citing the findings of a November 2011 research paper by evoREG, an academic institution funded by the European Union. EvoREG found that innovation and happiness build upon each other in the workplace: The happier a professional team is, the more innovative they tend to be, and innovation subsequently drives more employee satisfaction and societal benefit.
The importance of happiness in workplace productivity and innovation makes the findings of Gallup’s 2010-2012 “State of the American Workplace” report especially concerning. According to the report, 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs and company and are thus not fulfilling their full professional potential. Within this 70 percent of disengaged workers, 52 percent are “not engaged,” meaning that they put in time but no emotional investment or strong effort into their work. The remaining 18 percent of disengaged workers are “actively disengaged,” meaning that they work against the interests of their company, potentially driving clients away or discouraging their fellow employees.
The remaining 30 percent of workers in the Gallup survey were “engaged” workers who felt a deep connection and sense of commitment to their company and who were dedicated to their work projects and their team. According to Gallup, this small but significant percentage of American employees is the largest number of engaged workers since the research institution began its worker engagement surveys back in 2000.
The difference between an engaged and a disengaged workforce can amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, Gallup discovered. The research center found that actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. between $450 billion and $550 billion annually in lost productivity.
The crucial role that happiness has in the workplace, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of workers in America are unhappy and disengaged, leads to the conclusion that employers and employees must work together to find a solution. “The general consciousness about the importance of employee engagement seems to have increased in the past decade,” commented Gallup’s Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well-Being Jim Harter. “But there is a gap between knowing about engagement and doing something about it in most American workplaces.”
Improving employee morale
How can employers improve their employees’ motivation? The answer is complex. One key factor, however, is helping employees develop a sense of communal purpose. Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics, wrote in The Cincinnati News that the happiest and most motivated employees have a sense of camaraderie, not only with their immediate colleagues, but also with their company as a whole. As a result, employers wishing to inspire their workers should work to ensure that employees answer yes to the following questions:
  • Do we believe our work to be meaningful?
  • Are we excited about the future of our company?
  • Are we collectively committed to a job well done?
Nonmonetary recognition is also important for employee motivation, according to a 2013 survey by Make Their Day in partnership with Badgeville. The survey of 1,200 workers revealed that 71 percent of employees found the most meaningful and motivating recognition they ever received to be nonmonetary, in the form of appreciative words from managers, supervisors or a team. Other factors that motivate workers to remain dedicated to their work include opportunities for growth and a fun and welcoming work environment.
Employees are responsible for their happiness, too
Employees are also responsible for workplace happiness and productivity. In a Forbes article, Rao expressed his belief that the primary obstacle to workers’ happiness is their feeling of disempowerment, of being unable to shape their professional course. Rao asserts that this belief is false, and that the sooner we realize this fact, the sooner we can cultivate happiness and success. Some of his key recommendations to leading a happier and more self-empowered life include:
  • Relinquishing the “if/then” model: The belief that “If I only obtained a promotion/better job/higher salary, then I would be happy” places your happiness in the hands of external circumstances beyond your control, Rao says. A more satisfying approach would be to invest in and get excited about what is within your control, namely your personal commitment to your work and your professional relationships.
  • Setting goals with a broader perspective in mind: Rao recommends that people shift from “personal ambition” to “greater vision” ambition. He provides an example of both types of ambition in Forbes. “Personal ambition is ‘I want to be CEO,’” he says. “Greater vision ambition is, ‘I want to lead this company so that people want to work here … I have a grand vision and will try my best to make it work.’”
  • Reframing your daily thoughts to be more positive: Rao uses the common saying, “If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade” to illustrate his point that people should look carefully at that lemon and ask themselves, “Is it really that bad, or is the lemon itself a positive thing?”
  • Create others-centric ambitions: Structuring your goals, not around personal gain, but around positively impacting others’ lives, is one of the most important elements in creating a fulfilling and happy life, Rao says.

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