Real Happiness At Work

Take a look at the job title on your business card.  Is that what you dreamed about doing when you were in high school?  Did you passionately pursue that career with a sense of true purpose?  I am willing to bet that what most of you dreamed of doing when you were younger is something other than what is printed on your business card. 

Now that isn’t to say that you aren’t passionate about what you do.  If you didn’t end up in the career of your dreams, you still can find meaning and purpose in your work. However, many have somehow lost that “fire” that keeps them motivated in their careers.  They come to work, watch the clock, do only what is required of them (maybe) and go home only to wake up in the morning and do it all over again.

According to a recent study by Gallup, 70% of US employees are actively disengaged and are unhappy at work. It costs US employers $450-$550 billion each year in lost productivity due to disengaged employees.  That is because happy employees are 54% more productive than unhappy employees. Seems logical, right? 

We are bombarded now with talk about the importance employee engagement that you can’t listen to the news or read a business-related article without running across the topic. I admit even in my field, it can get annoying. In fact, just the word engagement might make you hurl.  Yet, we can’t deny what all of the data, and history, is telling us. 

So many employers choose to close their eyes and ignore the tools that are being thrown at them from all angles. Even worse, some distribute anonymous engagement surveys to their employees and when it comes back with issues pointing at leadership, they shove the report in a file and don’t look back.  Talk about a waste of resources and perfect way to crush morale!

So, other than trendy, formal, and costly company-wide rewards programs, what can employers do to engage their employees and keep them happy?  Here is what Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report 2013 had to say, in a nutshell (with some extra tidbits from yours truly):

Hire the right people.  This sounds easier said than done, but there are assessment tools available that help reveal behavioral traits you are looking for, and the ones that won’t work for certain positions.  Hiring the right person is more than just finding the right skill set.  In fact, Google’s SVP of Human Operations has stated that expertise is the least important attribute they look for when hiring.  They focus on cognitive ability, leadership, intellectual humility, and ownership.  For more on Google’s hiring strategy click here: 


Google’s Hiring

Stop hiring and promoting bad managers. This is the most important key to actively engaging employees.  Research tends to support that having a good manager is the number one contributor to job satisfaction and is often ranked higher than compensation and benefits. So, if you have employee morale concerns in your workplace, one of the first places to look is at your team of managers and supervisors.  If you make a bad hiring or promotion decision, it could cost you your most valued employees.

Develop employee strengths.  This responsibility truly rests with your management team, supported by your HR department if you have one.  Discovering employee strengths and helping them develop those strengths is critical to the success of your business. This may at times involve a job change within the organization if the job they were hired to do isn’t a good fit and doesn’t make the best use of their abilities.  Developing your employees requires that you listen to them and involve them.  Invite employees to voice, contribute, frame and solve organizational challenges. Our founding father, Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, but involved me and I learn.”

Enhance employee wellbeing.  Gallup and Healthways have developed a measurement of wellbeing that they call the five essential elements; Purpose, Social, Financial, Community, Physical.  For more click here: 


Employee Wellbeing

Relate employee contributions to company mission and purpose. Employees should always have a solid understanding of the company’s products/services, values and mission.  How else will they become your brand ambassadors? Goals and expectations should be aligned with the company’s mission and values, and should be clearly communicated to employees. A spirit of “We are all in it together” is what makes work more meaningful.  In my opinion (this was not in the Gallup study), there must also be a sense of progress in meaningful work, and only then will employers boost emotions, creativity, motivation and perceptions in a workday. After all, work should be an expression of our gifts, motivated by passion, called forth by the needs of those we serve (our customers). 

Recognize employees. This is a psychological need in all of us.  Employees should feel a sense of being valued by the management team. There are many ways to do this that don’t require investing big bucks.  I have written about them in other blogs such as All Work And No Play which you can read here so I won’t go into detail in this article: 


No Play

Overall, until employers understand the importance of engaging their employees immediately upon hire, and continuing that engagement throughout their career, they are bound to lose their key employees to another company that gets it.  And according to the Gallup survey, Millennials were the most likely of all generations to say that they will leave their company in the next 12 months.  Millennials are prone to job-hopping and employers must learn to empower them, use their talents, and invest in their learning and growth.

The responsibility does not rest solely on employers, however.  Employees, must be proactive and get involved.  If you are just a bobble head and don’t challenge decisions or voice your opinion, then don’t complain to all of your friends about how unhappy you are at work. If you are a dedicated employee and no one listens, you don’t feel valued or respected, then take your talents elsewhere.  You may not be the astronaut you dreamt of being in your teens, but you can still find purpose and meaning in what you do. Life is too short to do otherwise.  

In the spirit of this month’s blog topic I recommend reading the book Real Happiness At Work by New York Times bestselling author, Sharon Salzberg.


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