Bob’s Ramble: What Makes for Happiness at the Workplace?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what makes work colleagues happy and have learned some interesting things. My source for most of this ramble is coming from the Emotional Intelligence series published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR). They did the work – I’ll try to synthesize the messages. Having taken a Management 101 course many years ago, I learned that compensation, while important, was not at the top of the list of what makes for happy employees. Recognition was ranked as more important than compensation to workers, however the HBR research indicates that there are four key elements that, for most, combine to create happiness at work.

  1. Understanding the vision is the first element cited. We all want to know where the ship we are on is going. What are we trying to change, what are we trying to keep the same, where do we want this organization to be in 3 years? Colleagues in the dark on organizational direction feel rudderless.
  2. The second is a sense of purpose. Each of us wants to understand how we contribute to the vision and that our advances tie into the overall organization’s progress.
  3. Not surprising that who we work with matters, as great relationships are listed next. The people we work with, inside and outside of our organizations make a major difference in how we view work, ourselves and our roles. Great relationships help keep us working longer and stronger than we otherwise would.
  4. Finally, when asked what makes a colleague happy at the end of a given day, the most common answer is making progressnot recognition. Whether its solving that problem that’s been nagging us, finishing the task that’s taken too long, or teaming and forming a new, useful relationship – daily progress makes us feel good. Bad days are typically when we have a set-back of some kind.

There are clearly many other important elements of workforce happiness (ex. recognition, personal health, learning, professional growth, laughter, teaming, compensation) but to a large extent, the four elements listed above can be positively influenced by us as managers. We can help our teams understand the vision (if it’s missing, that’s a great opportunity to create one as a team), how their efforts link to the vision and where to build positive relationships through teaming. As managers, our job is to remove barriers that may be impeding our colleague’s progress. Knowing that daily progress drives happiness provides us with a mandate to do what we can to help.