Employee Happiness & Why It’s Important

You’ve most likely heard the commonly-held belief that work-life and personal life should be distinct and separate. Why should it matter if you enjoy being at work and interacting with your coworkers as long as you can go home and relax at the end of the day? Well, since happiness has become an increasingly popular area of scientific inquiry, more and more research has been produced demonstrating just how important basic happiness can be in many areas of our lives, including at work. We’ve all seen it; disengaged, unhappy coworkers tend to slack off while those who are happy are willing to put in more effort throughout the week, proving how attention to their happiness is one of the keys to an effective and successful company.

In Annie McKee’s book How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship, McKee highlights three necessary components for an employee to be happy at work: 1) to see purpose and meaning in the work that they do, 2) to have a hopeful vision of their future, and perhaps most importantly, 3) to have resonant friendships/relationships in the workplace. During her research and interviews, McKee found that being able to connect to and confide in coworkers leads to greater job satisfaction, which in turn motivates employees to work harder and contribute more to their team’s efforts. While the author emphasized the detriments of being unhappy at work, she also highlighted how expensive perks don’t always buy long term happiness and too often boomerang to become entitlement programs that are an albatross around the neck of the HR budget. While free soft drinks and massage chairs may make people “happy” in the short term, the salient question is do these perks actually facilitate an environment where real, meaningful, relationships flourish?  

An article by a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, also points to the importance of close relationships in maintaining happiness at work. Related to our previous blog post on incentive reversal, Pfeffer comments on how reward systems based solely on money tend to pit employees against each other and make it difficult for them to form an emotional connection with both their coworkers and the company vision as well. However, environments that layer in social connection into the rewards system, such as public recognition of a job well done, result in happier employees which is beneficial for mental and physical health as well as employee retention.

As issues like workplace stress and employee disengagement are being reported at record levels, now is a critical time to analyze how we can change the work environment to be more conducive to happiness for experts now agree, this maximizes productivity. While employees deserve to have a few “extras” and must obviously be paid fairly, material incentives in the absence of a socially supportive environment will ultimately fail to produce sustained happiness. Furthermore, if social support is fundamental for employee happiness and well-being, then it makes sense for reward systems in the office to reinforce these ideas, publicly recognizing those who are contributing to a culture of hard work and appreciation in the office. We all have the ability and indeed the responsibility to examine both the big initiatives we implement, as well as the small, everyday interactions we engage in, and whether we are promulgating an environment of entitlement and cut-throat competition or basic, positive, human connection.

References:

“Being Happy At Work Matters” by Annie McKee (Harvard Business Review): https://hbr.org/2014/11/being-happy-at-work-matters

“State of the American Workplace” (Gallup Report): https://news.gallup.com/reports/178514/state-american-workplace.aspx

Less than ⅓ of employees in Gallup’s 2017 poll said they felt engaged at work

“You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?” by Markham Heid (Time): http://time.com/3748090/friends-social-health/


Kate Sheffield