The positive returns of a happy workforce

May 19, 2013

By Christine Riordan Business Education

Is happiness something that can be achieved or is it far more elusive? Most people cannot separate the idea of being happy from how satisfied they are at work. Given the difficult economic conditions of the past few years, combined with expectations that employees must do more with much less, many find their jobs less than fulfilling.

In 2012, the Conference Board reported historic lows in job satisfaction among employees in the US and in the same year the Sloan Center on Aging & Work found only moderate satisfaction among employees in the UK.

With such shifts in satisfaction, research on happiness in the workplace is booming. In a March 2013 report, the Conference Board suggested that the study of happiness should include areas such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, and attachment to the organisation.

Here are a few things we know so far. The definition of happiness is expanding. When asked what makes them happy at work, employees list a variety of factors. As one might expect, sufficient pay and enough benefits to live comfortably feature. Once those basic needs are met, other factors play an integral role in employees’ happiness at work. Psychologists have identified three different pathways to this elusive state of mind:

Making a difference and contributing to a higher purpose. Employees want to be able to make a difference in the company or community and pursue work that has meaning. They want to be a part of something that has a vision and a larger purpose.

Using one’s talents. Many employees cite being able to use their skills and abilities and achieving results in their job as key factors related to their happiness at work. These employees say that they enjoy making unique contributions and adding value to the organisation. As importantly, employees want their supervisors and co -workers to recognise and acknowledge their contributions. In short, they want to use their talents to benefit the organisation.

Working in a positive environment. Employees want a positive work relationship with their boss, the absence of negative or toxic work elements, the necessary tools and resources to be productive and to be part of a positive team. Employees want to work in an environment where they can do their best work.