Workplace Culture

What Companies Get Wrong About Worker Happiness

By Paul McDonald

Jul. 24, 2017

From in-house yoga to free Netflix subscriptions and office game rooms, businesses are spending big bucks trying to keep their workers happy.

Despite the proliferation of offbeat perks, many employees are not genuinely happy or immersed in their work. According to a new Gallup survey, 70 percent of American workers aren’t engaged with their jobs.

As a growing body of research makes clear, fun company events or quirky fringe benefits won’t accomplish much if workers don’t feel satisfied, appreciated and proud of their work. For companies whose success depends on building a talented, motivated workforce, a more comprehensive approach to employee well-being isn’t a luxury — it’s a basic necessity.

The benefits of a happy workforce are difficult to deny. For starters, happy employees tend to work harder — and more effectively — than their unhappy peers.

According to a survey by Horizons Workforce Consulting, nearly two-thirds of happy employees regularly devote extra effort to their work. Research by Gallup has found that engaged employees are up to 21 percent more productive than those who aren’t engaged at work.

Dissatisfaction with a job, on the other hand, can take a toll on one’s health. Happy employees take 10 percent fewer sick days than unhappy colleagues, according to the consulting firm Happiness Works.

The company also estimates that happier work environments reduce employee turnover by 10 percent.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that businesses can’t afford to treat worker happiness as an afterthought.

Nevertheless, even companies willing to prioritize employee happiness have a hard time finding strategies that work. My own organization, Robert Half, discovered as much during a recent survey of 12,000 workers across the U.S. and Canada that we conducted with Happiness Works. But we also identified several effective ways that companies can boost happiness within their workforces.

That process starts by hiring workers who fit well within a company’s culture and mission. Our research found that the top driver of worker happiness, by far, is a sense of pride in one’s organization. Workers who are proud of their employer are three times more likely to be happy on the job.

When workers share in a company’s vision they find meaning in their work and enjoy a sense of accomplishment — all of which contribute significantly to overall happiness.

By the same token, businesses must be willing to turn down job candidates who aren’t good fits for their organizations even if they’re highly qualified. Whether your firm fights global poverty or builds enterprise software, a worker who isn’t committed to a company’s vision is unlikely to find joy in their work.

Fair treatment is also an essential component of employee happiness — and an area where many companies have room to improve. Our research showed that just 58 percent of men and 52 percent of women believe they are paid fairly.

Regardless of whether these feelings are justified, they certainly detract from employee well-being. Addressing this issue can be as simple as establishing clear guidelines for promotions and raises. Businesses can also provide opportunities for workers to communicate honestly with their managers when they feel disrespected or unfairly treated.

Giving workers the space to thrive outside the office is yet another way businesses can promote happiness. One-third of respondents to our survey were unsatisfied with their work-life balance. To address this issue, managers can encourage workers to leave the office on time and refrain from unnecessary after-work emails and calls.

Finally, celebrating employees’ successes goes a long way toward boosting well-being. Our research identified the feeling of being appreciated as one of the top two contributors to professional happiness.

In other words, don’t underestimate the power of a heartfelt “thank you” to raise a worker’s spirits.

Creative perks are great. But 30 minutes of on-site yoga can’t make up for 40 hours a week spent on joyless, unrewarding work.

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at global staffing firm Robert Half. Comment below or email

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