Employee satisfaction: happiness at work v happiness through work

Published 30th January 2019 by Investors in People

What is happiness at work?

Happiness at work refers to the sense of wellbeing and satisfaction that stems from the overall experience of the workplace. Although we talk of the workplace as one homogenous environment, it actually comprises several different environments: the physical environment (natural light and plants), the social environment (are people supportive of each other?), the managerial environment (is your manager a micro-manager or do they empower you?), and the role-specific environment (are your tasks interesting and stimulating?).

To improve happiness at work, organisations must look at the employee’s experience at work and – more broadly – at the forces that define this experience. It is less about the individual’s wider life and more about their interaction with these forces and whether these interactions are positive or negative. Organisations can go a long way to increasing happiness at work by ensuring these forces do not neglect psychological and biological needs, for example by providing natural light and ensuring job tasks are as cognitively stimulating as possible.

How can organisations improve happiness at work?

  • Managerial skills: unfortunately, a bad manager without the requisite skills can turn a positive, enabling environment into a very negative experience for staff. Focusing on creating strong relationships between line managers and employees can dramatically improve how employees perceive their time at work
  • Office design: this is not about creating the ‘hottest’ office in town, but designing a psychologically-informed working environment that improves cognition and resilience. Natural light is an obvious win: a study found that employees working in daylight office environments reported a 51% drop in eyestrain and a 63% drop in headaches
  • Job crafting: this is a ‘bottoms-up’ approach to role-fit, which gives employees strategic goals and encourages them to find methods of achieving them that are better suited to their strengths. Because so much of our experience at work is driven by the demands of the role, job crafting can significantly impact happiness at work
  • Celebrate diversity: positive relationships are critical to happiness at work. Celebrating diversity can help build better relationships at work, as well as bolster processes driven by relationships, such as collaboration and creativity. Educate staff on the benefits of diversity, celebrate difference and train managers to ensure less-vocal groups are not marginalised

What is happiness through work?

Happiness through work is about the individual’s personal, professional and spiritual growth. It’s about the workplace facilitating this growth through a variety of methods, including its design, rules, beliefs and initiatives. Happiness through work is about empowering individuals to be the best they can be, both at work and in their personal lives.

Financial wellbeing is an example of an initiative that contributes to happiness through work. By enabling employees to have more control of their financial lives and reduce the cognitive burden of their worries, you empower them to be better versions of themselves. Ultimately, the workplace empowers them to be happier and healthier and bring a better self back the next day, as well as bring a better self to the non-work domains of their lives.

How can organisations improve happiness through work?

  • Flexible working: this is an incredibly powerful way to empower individuals to curate their working time and personal lives to better integrate with their natural patterns and goals. But it must be managed effectively to empower staff to be healthier and more productive, otherwise it may negatively blur the lines between work and home
  • Medical benefits: people are more likely to tackle health issues if it costs them nothing to do so. Health Cash Plans reimburse staff for dental work, physiotherapy and optical treatments and – because health is intrinsically linked to life fulfilment – help enable people to bring more focus to their work and personal lives
  • Clear purpose: by focusing on the organisation’s wider remit, organisations can contribute to spiritual fulfilment and employees feeling like their work is worthwhile, which is a key success factor for feeling generally fulfilled in life. This work can be supplemented with community-driven activities, such as volunteer days
  • Growth opportunities: professional growth comes from being placed outside your comfort zone and developing new skills to cope. Organisations that promote from within, run mentoring programmes and generally understand that individual growth leads to greater organisational capacity will encourage happiness through work

Don’t forget: there is considerable crossover…

These two concepts are not mutually-exclusive. Focusing on job crafting will improve an employee’s experience of their role (happiness at work), but also lead to higher energy levels and personal fulfilment (happiness through work).

Organisations need to make clever investments, making sure that they focus on areas that both increase happiness at work and happiness through work. Investing in multiple, linked projects in one area is a good way to spread the effects across both areas.

How can you do this? A good example is mental wellbeing. Creating a psychologically-informed work environment improves happiness at work, while stress-reduction strategies help people achieve better work-life balance, leading to improved happiness through work.

Satisfaction continues to be an important motivating factor for employees looking to get the most from their roles. Take a look at this year’s Job Exodus study from Investors in People to help you better attract and retain talent in the year ahead.

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