The meaning of workplace happiness has shifted. The pandemic saw our world prioritize mental health and happiness in and out of the office. Employees no longer want to be living for the weekends, they want to be living for every day, and most of each day includes their work. It’s now every employer's responsibility to facilitate employee happiness, regardless of industry.
Today, people expect their job to bring about more happiness and satisfaction than ever before. Plus, it’s in a business’s best interest to deliver on those happiness demands. Employee happiness at work equals more profitable people for any company. For this article, we spoke to a range of employees from different backgrounds and industries to get a qualitative assessment of what makes employees happy today. Let’s explore.
Why does employee happiness at work even matter?
Happy workplaces are like any other happy relationship: they take an equal partnership, both on the side of the employee and the organization. They take a commitment to listen and meet others’ needs. In 2023, businesses can’t afford to increase their vulnerability to the cost of quiet quitting. But, aside from financials, why does workplace happiness matter?
- Reduced turnover. Employees are less likely to leave if they’re happier in their current position.
- Greater productivity. Teams are more productive when they’re happier; 12% more productive in fact.
- Better company culture and reputation. Happy employees create more positive company cultures and better employer branding.
- More staff and customer referrals. Employees that enjoy their workplace are more likely to refer future staff to the team and customers to the product or service.
- Less sick days and illness. Happy employees show a 41% reduction in absenteeism.
- Larger profit margins. Happy employees produce better work, remain more productive, take less sick leave, and inspire more hires and customers. In all, it means higher profit margins for companies with joyful workforces.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see companies hiring a Chief Happiness Officer. With some of the leading, people-focused companies following the trend, perhaps now’s the time to consider doing the same?
- Coca-Cola: Benefits and Well-Being Manager
- Google: Chief Happiness Officer
- Unilever: Chief Health & Well-Being Officer
- TikTok: Global Well-Being Program Manager
- Deloitte: Chief Well-Being Officer
- Airbnb: Global Head of Employee Experience
How to bring joy to your workforce: one smile at a time
Let’s take a look at some of the key factors contributing towards the success of a happy workplace. Here’s a reality check: it’s more than just a paycheck. We asked employees what happiness at work is for them. Here’s what they had to say.
Prioritize flexibility and autonomy
With popular trials of the 4-day work week already spanning Europe, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, the USA, and Canada, things are changing. Even though many industries are not physically able to provide a 4-day working week—especially those in hospitality and front-line services—it still underscores the point that employees are searching for better work-life balance and greater freedom.
Flexibility doesn’t stop at location-specific benefits or even time-specific benefits. Not all industries can implement this because of the nature of their work. Flexibility also means autonomy and eradicating micro-management, as many of the people we spoke to mentioned. Mazzie L, DevOps Engineer at Allianz Technology, shared her thoughts:
“Flexibility and no micromanaging come hand-in-hand. It gives me time to plan my work according to the project and what is necessary for the day.” - Mazzie L.
Sebastian Ibarra, People Operations Manager at Kodify Media Group, echoed Mazzie’s thoughts:
“Happiness at work is autonomy. Knowing you are trusted to do the project, task or role you were hired for with freedom to execute in your own way and in collaboration with your team where needed." - Sebastian Ibarra
Allow employees to bring their full selves to work
The pandemic blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. People are more open to sharing mental health struggles, financial struggles, and asking for personal time or mental health days when they need it. Workplaces will need to cater to employees bringing every ounce of themselves to the table if they want to create happy workplaces. Dror Wayne, founder of Tite shares his opinion on how employers can build solid, comfortable relationships with their employees.
“The happiest workplaces I’ve been in are the ones where an employer takes a genuine interest in their team’s life and wellbeing. That’s when you build a team that really goes above and beyond for the business and are happy to do so.” - Dror Wayne
Workers will naturally be attracted to companies that show they value the human beings who work for them. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how many companies forget this simple fact and become surprised when they start losing their workforce to competitors who make it a priority.
Find ways to help people work smarter, not harder
This one’s a lot easier said than done, but finding ways for your employee to work smarter and not harder can be extremely beneficial for their happiness. This means finding tools that increase your business’s efficiency or vetting old processes to see how they can be optimized given new people and structures you have elsewhere in your company. This also comes from upskilling your workforce to enable them to find ways they can work smarter on their own, with new skill sets under wing.
It's not about working less, but about creating efficiencies in your processes and eliminating busy work. No one wants to feel like they have too many mundane tasks on their plate, so sit down with your employees and really listen to where they're encountering roadblocks or difficulty during their day. Solving for these issues can help you provide better customer service, quicker turnarounds on projects, increase capacity for work, and create a more profitable workforce all around.
Fuel financial freedom
Let’s face it: most people work because they need to make money. But it turns out that workers are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to feel incentivized and motivated to do great work while living a financially stable life. Workers want to feel the impact of their hard work quicker than ever before, and companies need to adapt to this need. What does this look like when it comes to finances?
It means faster payments, so employees can access their hard-earned cash more quickly. This can be achieved through short-term financial benefits like earned wage access, instant tips and mileage reimbursement. It means getting off-cycle payments, and pushing things like bonuses and commission earnings in your workforces’ pocket as soon as they’ve earned it. This helps reflect your thanks in the moment, rather than at the end of the month, and serves as a huge incentive for your workforce.
Facilitate connection with leadership
Many of the employees that we spoke to for this article wanted to see stronger, more transparent connections with leadership to feel happy in the workplace. This comes as weekly check-ins with managers that are not orienting around how people are performing but how they’re feeling.
Sarah Collmus, Project Leader at LM Wind Power, shared her thoughts on the importance of connecting with leadership.
“You want to feel valued and seen by leaders. You want to be viewed as a human being beyond the work that you do. You could be spending 50% of your entire life in the workplace. It’s so key to have a company that treats you how you deserve to be treated!”
We also wanted to see how this translated into frontline industries like hospitality. So, we spoke to Stephanie Beaumont, owner of PAX 49: a popular cocktail bar in the heart of Barcelona, on the importance of a strong connection between employees and upper management.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to transparent communication and communication beyond surface-level check-ins. I know they can be time-consuming, especially when you have a large team, but if you’re not running them (on professional and personal levels), your large team won’t be large for long; people will leave if they don’t feel heard. So, sit up, lean in, and listen up!” - Stephanie Beaumont
How to tell if your employees are unhappy
With all of these great ways to ensure your employees are happy at the workplace, what are some surefire red flags to look out for, signaling that your employees are not happy? Let’s take a look:
- Lower engagement. This can be fewer messages on group comms channels, less attendance to company events, and being less talkative than normal in the physical workspace.
- Low levels of productivity. This means an employee is not doing their work as quickly as they once did. This is a big one to look out for, and people can only be benchmarked against themselves; everyone works at a different pace.
- Doing the bare minimum. If employees are unhappy, they’ll do the very minimum of what you ask of them. It’s also a sign that quiet quitting is on the horizon.
- Lack of innovation. This is a huge sign of unhappy employees. If employees aren’t raising their ideas and thinking outside the box, it often means they’re not feeling inspired or passionate about their work.
Keep these workplace happiness red flags in check. Managers will need to know how to look out for them, how to address them, and help your business combat them.
Ready to thread joy through your workplace?
Workplace happiness is not easy to achieve. It will take time, strategy, and input across the board. However, it is achievable, and it is well worth the effort. At the end of the day, you’re building a more productive and profitable business when you’re building one with happy employees. However, as a business owner or business leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re lifting the lives of those that choose to spend so much of theirs invested in your business.
Invest in your people. Invest in their wellbeing. Invest in being human. It will go a long way; in and out of the workplace.