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The 9 Factors of Workplace Happiness

stressjob.jpgAccording to a study conducted by The Conference Board in 2005, Americans are increasingly unhappy with their jobs:

–Only 14% claim to be “very satisfied.”

–50% say they’re dissatisfied.

–25% say they’re “just showing up for the paycheck.”

In the interest of investigating why so many of us dislike our jobs, I offer you these 9 factors of workplace happiness. While neither universal nor all encompassing, this list is helpful as a job screen, and it’s also a worthwhile rubric for evaluating any professional endeavor:

1. The Boss’ Attitude: Research consistently ranks a bad boss as a primary cause of job dissatisfaction. If a prospective boss is rude, abrasive, callus, disoriented, or otherwise lacking in people skills during his interview with you, beware. If you’ve already been hired at the time that you uncover the personality conflict, consider your mitigation options.

2. Salary & Benefits: Research by Richard Easterlin suggests that how much money you make has no bearing on how much you enjoy your job; it’s true. However, earning a livable middle-class wage (as opposed to living in poverty) will, in fact, boost your overall happiness. Long story short? Earn enough to pay your bills.

3. Work-style Compatibility: Perfectionists are rarely happy in jobs that value speed over quality. Conversely, action junkies rarely enjoy bureaucracy. Don’t shy away from a challenge, but do consider your style preference when evaluating the suitability of a particular job.

4. Schedule & Flexibility: People who have enough free time to pursue meaningful interests and to nurture personal relationships report greater happiness than those who do not. Make sure your job allows enough free time and personal-life flexibility.

5. Performance Evaluations: One of the few consistent predictors of job-dissatisfaction is an arbitrary, capricious, or unfair boss. Often, the only way to know whether a particular manager’s evaluation process is fair is to ask employees working in his unit, which brings me to the next factor…

6. Current Employee Satisfaction: Does your extended personal network contain anyone on the inside who might be willing to tell you how much she enjoys working in this particular manager’s unit? Research has shown that we can predict future happiness more accurately by talking to others who are experiencing the thing we are contemplating. In other words, ask the people who know.

7. Co-Worker Friendliness: Few things in life are worse than working with intolerable jerks. Watch for warning signs during an interview, and consider mitigation options (such as escalation or conflict resolution) at any point thereafter.

8. Potential for Advancement: Meaningful long-term goals are important. Make sure your job has some.

9. Intrinsic Motivation: People who work simply for extrinsic factors (money, prestige, honor, power) report lower satisfaction than those who work for intrinsic factors (meaning, purpose). Do you care about the work you do?

It may not be reasonable to expect 100% satisfaction in each of these 9 areas, but it makes sense to address problem areas wherever feasible.

A bad job makes it hard to be happy. If you’re currently working in a negative environment, do try to find something better; you’ll be happier for it.


7 Responses to “The 9 Factors of Workplace Happiness”

  • Aimee says:

    This list is so true. We just got a new boss that everyone in the office is struggling with. We just created a top secret happiness support group to try to help each other feel happier at work. Its mainly for laughs but it is also serious and has helped to lighten the mood a bit at work. Its hard to see small companies turn into Corporate America.

  • Tom says:

    Great article, John. I wish I had thought of a few of these things before accepting my last position.

  • Great list and some have higher weighting than others do.

    Your boss – so true. This makes a huge difference. If your boss is not good, almost anything else can’t make up for it. Also how much does you boss know you? If the boss knows you as an individual that helps.

    Salary/benefits – has to be fair, doesn’t it? Having a sky-high salary doesn’t make the workplace happier (although it is nice) but having a poor salary can make it unhappy. You feel you are being taken for a ride.

    Compatibility – again so true. All comes down to the culture of the company. Are you fast-paced, driven then work for a fast-pace driven company and vice versa.

    Flexibility – a big one in my opinion and again down to the boss. There has to be give and take, though. You can’t just take, take, and take. Sometimes you will have to show flexibility as well – come in really early or stay late, etc

    Performance – again fairness comes to mind. Also, concentrate on the individuals’ strengths rather than their weaknesses. How often are you told ‘you need to get better at this or that’ rather that ‘you are an expert at this, I think we should exploit that, it would be good if you do this…’

    Employee satisfaction – understanding what it is, is only the first part. Acting on it, is even more important. If you are going to ask your staff for feedback on their satisfaction, get the issues out and then agree on improving it – if you don’t satisfaction can get even worse.

    Co-workers – agreed. You want to work in a highly motivated team, don’t you?

    Job Advancement – individuals need to know firstly, there is some and secondly what they have to do to advance. Although what they have to do can’t be set in stone and once they have ticked the relevant boxes doesn’t mean they advance. Sometimes it can just be about job opportunities and not necessarily about advancement.

    Intrinsic Motivation – agreed

    A few others to add:

    using your personal strengths – I have seen so many individuals who are doing an outstanding job, get moved to a completely different role and then ‘fail’ because they are no longer using their natural talents.

    Risks/mistakes – allowing staff to take risks and ‘fail’ – should be allowed

    Communication – maybe one for another posting, but lack of communications within the office can cause unhappiness. Getting it right is difficult.

    Informal feedback – you want to be told when you have completed a great job (and why) and also told when you have made a mistake as well.


  • JohnPlace says:

    Aimee: Sorry to hear about your boss. A bad boss is no fun whatsoever. Your “happiness group” sounds like a fun idea.

    Tom/Andrew: Thanks for the comments.

  • Linda says:

    I knew my current place of employement wasn’t my dream job, but until I saw the factors laid out in a list I didn’t realize just how bad it was.
    I never wanted to be a complacent employee.

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