What is happiness?
In many ways happiness is very subjective and judged differently by each person. My observation is that people are most happy when they feel in control of their life. Much of one’s life occurs at work thus happiness at work is an important factor to consider. Many factors can contribute to happiness at work. As a manager it is important to be aware of these factors. Most important is to make sure that each person is aligning challenging work and high skills to perform their duties. Is a person skilled but not using these skills in their work? Is a person challenged at work, but lacks the tools to be successful? The last two examples lead to boredom and anxiety at work. Neither of these two states is healthy for the organization. When people feel apathy at work, their creativity is low and their wiliness to contribute new ideas goes down. This can be death for an organization which needs a constant flow of new ideas and contributions to thrive. When people feel challenged to the extent that they don’t know what to do or lack the necessary skills and or tools this also is a warning sign to pay attention to. These workers will be prone to mistakes and errors at work, their relationships will be strained with co-workers and overall they will also pull back afraid to make mistakes. Managers should enable their people to always find the right balance for challenging work and having all necessary tools and skills. When this occurs, activity is high, motivation is higher and productivity soars.
Why is it important to be happy at work?
People look for work as a major source of self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and as people age a place to make a difference in their lives. While money is a primary reason for working it is not the only reason. When people are happy at work, the organization as a system works better. Projects get done on time, there is better communications with customers and people pay more attention to details. This is a result of people taking pride in what they do which is a result of being happy.
Happiness is rarely discussed at work as if this was some type of taboo. The BEST manager always measures the level of happiness in the organization and looks for warning signs. For example, when people tend to be late for work, have unhealthy relationships with their peers and offer little contribution or new ideas, this can be a symptom of unhappiness at work. The BEST manager actually asks employees on a regular basis, are you happy in your work? If the answer is no, the BEST manager asks people what they do want in their work that would increase their level of satisfaction. Especially as people age, coherence is an important factor in the degree of unhappiness a person experiences at work. If the reason a person does a job is NOT clear, this can lead to unhappiness. If work doesn’t provide significance or some level of fulfillment, again it can lead to unhappiness. Is this the responsibility of the BEST manager? No, this is each person’s responsibility to search for and find these attributes at work. The BEST manager however can be a great facilitator of this search.
How management contributes to employee happiness
While these suggestions may sound simple, they are not done enough at work. The BEST manager seeks open communications with each employee and always measures the level of satisfaction with their work. The BEST manager knows the connection between happiness and work productivity is clear and helps to enable people to reach this state. Having empathy towards people and looking for the good side of people can help the BEST manager to be effective. The BEST manager gives clear goals and directions and provides autonomy for getting work done. The BEST manager knows allowing people to work the way they know best leads to better quality work. The most important questions the BEST manager can ask is: Am I enabling happiness at work? Am I constantly seeking to align a person’s abilities and interests together in a way which fits with the entire team? Do I view the individual as a commodity or a person with similar dreams, hopes and plans just like others?
The BEST manager coaches and always teaches. The BEST manager role models consistent personal integrity and aligns work to organizational mission, values and expected behaviors. The BEST manager knows that happiness counts towards the bottom line.
The bottom line of happiness at work
People want to be at work when they are happy. They don’t spend their time looking elsewhere for work. They are engaged with the business always seeking new ways, new ideas and contributions. People who are happy with their work have a positive impact on their peers. Customers enjoy working with happy employees and as a result stays longer as a customer. I would argue the most important role of the BEST manager is to ensure the possibility of happiness at work for each person they manage. This is the fastest route to a positive bottom line.
How to enable happiness at work
Don’t assume because people are paid well, have large offices and holidays they will be happy. Much research has been done in this area and suggests that at some level once a person acquires a decent boss, office, salary level, and job, they will then seek greater meaning and happiness in their work. Over time if this deeper meaning around work is not found they will be off to greener pastures. When a person leaves the organization, their position is typically hired back within 6-12 months at twice the cost or more. The BEST manager knows that investing in people and their happiness at work is the most important thing to do. Matched with clear business objectives, the organization will thrive.
Other benefits of happiness at work
People get along better with each other at work. This is important since each person drags their history of past and presents personal baggage to work hoping at some level to get help. When a person perceives their work culture as a threat to personal development all incentives to make a difference to the organization goes away and the person takes on survival mode behavior. This is not healthy for the organization or the person.
Does the organization have a responsibility for employee happiness?
For sure, yes. I am not expecting all organizations to model the country of Bhutan which decided that the most important gross national product was happiness but it would be nice!
I think it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure happiness at work even to a stronger degree than profit. When people are happy the organization benefits in three major ways. The organization will tend to be around longer, attract similar high performing people and keep customers coming back.
A happy organization leads to profit. A profitable organization doesn’t necessarily lead to happy employees.
The impact to society when those at work are happy
There is less conflict, hate, and stress among people. There is also less competition and more collaboration. People see themselves more as a part of a larger community and less as a victim or survivor. People start to work better together in society forming more partnerships, creating more support models in the community and working to solve problems together.
Happiness while subjective is also something that at some level all people seek. The BEST manager knows this and makes this a priority to pay attention to at work. As a result the organization benefits, the person benefits and society benefits.
Craig Nathanson is the founder of THE BEST MANAGER™, workshops and products aimed at bringing out the best in those who manage and lead others
Craig is a 25 year management veteran, Executive coach, college professor, author and workshop leader. Craig Nathanson is also The Vocational Coach helping people and organizations thrive in their work and life.