Happiness at Work: How to Improve Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

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.

Middle-aged boss mentor congratulating employee shaking hand.

We’ve all seen it; disengaged, unhappy coworkers tend to slack off while happy, engaged employees are willing to put in more effort throughout the work week, proving how attention to happiness is one of the keys to growing a successful company where employee engagement thrives.

Components of Employee Happiness

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 and satisfied at work.

  1. See purpose and meaning in the work that they do
  2. Have a hopeful vision of the future
  3. 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 employee satisfaction, which in turn motivates employees to work harder and contribute 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 they facilitate an environment where real, meaningful, relationships flourish?

The Importance of Workplace Relationships for Employee Motivation and Engagement

An article by a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, also points to the importance of close relationships in maintaining happiness and positive employee morale 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.

In Conclusion

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. Experts agree this maximizes productivity, after all.

While employees deserve to have a few “extras” and must 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 positive human connection.