Does Your Work Environment Make You Happy?

On a scale of one to 10, how happy are your employees? If you scored them on the high end of the spectrum, would they agree with you? And if you have a boss, exactly how happy are you on a daily basis?

Happiness at work—loosely defined as a feeling of contentment, purpose and satisfaction—is an important component in business, yet only 13% of workers (according to a recent Gallup poll of 230,000 participants) feel engaged and happy with their jobs. Alarmingly, 63% aren’t exactly unhappy; instead they have basically “checked out,” putting minimal energy into their work. And the same poll says 24% actually hate their jobs.

These numbers are staggering, meaning whether you live in Gainesville, Alachua, Newberry or anywhere else close by, there’s a good chance that nearly 90% of those people you interact with each day are unhappy—to some degree—going to work.

It also seems to be a bit of a sticky subject for employers. In writing this article I contacted various companies around the area for a quote, and ended up with exactly two comments; seems it’s hard to find an answer when asked “How do you ensure you have happy, motivated employees?” Everyone knows happy employees are productive and unhappy employees—those who are frustrated and stressed–are candidates for poor productivity, absenteeism and low morale. Which is why Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has made it a personal mission to ensure his employees are happy. Author of Delivering Happiness, Hsieh says businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.

Zappos takes its fundamental values seriously, offering to pay potential employees (during the extensive interview process) not to go to work for Zappos, to determine if employees are about the money or about the values. “At Zappos,” says Hsieh, “our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff–like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers–will happen naturally on its own.”

Unhappiness at work leads to higher levels of stress, which also means more days off.  Global Benefits Attitudes polled 22, 347 employees and found those highly stressed took 4.6 sick days per year as compared to 2.6 days for employees reporting low levels of stress. And the unhappy or stressed employees showed up 50% more when unwell and unproductive, compared to those who actually liked going to work.

Regardless of the company or organization, the great news is employee culture is entirely changeable, it depends on the company. Jonathan Haight in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, gives us insight into positive psychology’s happiness formula: H (happiness) = S (biological set point) + C (conditions in your life) + V (volunteer activities). To simplify, Haight said that we all have a set point of how happy we tend to be, but that can be changed, and it’s changed by our external conditions (do you work in a stimulating environment or one that is fearful and continuously stressful) as well as our volunteer or intentional activities/the choices we make. The volunteer component is also representative of our work because Haight lists it in two parts, what gives us instant gratification (chocolate sundae) which is great but soon forgotten, and pleasure or long-term gratification, where we feel good about ourselves and proud of our efforts. This translates to being happy with work if you feel you’ve control over what you’ve done and are proud of your effort, or frustrated and stressed because you were told what to do and didn’t get to use your talents as you would have liked.

Sherry Houston, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House in Gainesville, uses appreciation and celebration to rev up her employees and keep everyone engaged, in order to provide excellent service to their families. “We celebrate something every day; birthdays, anniversaries milestone events in the lives of our families. We look for opportunities to laugh and have fun as a team and lift each person individually.  When you look at each day as a gift–your entire perspective on life changes. Having fun, laughing and seeing the positive brings joy to everyone.”

Experts agree there are several key areas that are integral to employee happiness, which in turn leads to dynamic work environments and often reflects in the bottom line. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer found the happiest and most productive employees felt a sense of progress in what they were doing and that their work mattered. And author Laura Vanderkam emphasized the importance of keeping people safe. “Fear,” she says, “is debilitating on trust, teamwork, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Creating an environment where people can say what they feel and need without worry of repercussions or of ridicule or embarrassment, is enormous.”

To add to that Hsieh says that happiness at work can be an oxymoron to some people because it’s important to love what you do and feel appreciated for doing it. “I once worked for a tech company,” he adds, “that offered free catered lunches and a break room with ping pong tables and even bean bags for napping. Amazing environment, but I didn’t love working there. I had a conflict with my direct supervisor; I felt undervalued and overworked; and I didn’t really believe in the products that we sold. “

Local owner of Best Water Solutions Courtney Zukoski says “While we do make a point to provide employee perks, we prioritize ensuring that our team members believe in our company mission and see how their role and responsibilities support that mission.“

Two other key ingredients for workplace happiness are autonomy and belonging, according to Vanderam.  Autonomy and control over one’s life matters more to happiness than money, she says, which also includes some control over one’s time and the importance of flexibility And belonging can simply mean having someone at work that is really a friend. This kind of camaraderie can be fostered through a variety of endeavors from company lunches to employee-driven activities. Will we be happier if we connect more effectively with others? Researchers say absolutely, and at the very least we will be laying an infrastructure that enables us to work smarter with less stress and create an environment that gives our lives more meaning each day.

There may not be a standard one-size-fits-all answer for what makes a great work environment, but research certainly indicates creating such an environment—whether employer or employee—is highly beneficial for everyone involved. Years ago I spoke with the CEO of a major bank in Chicago, calling him at the advice of a mutual friend. She thought the bank could use my specific expertise on employee motivation, and when he answered his phone and I mentioned employee motivation he snorted and said “They get a paycheck every two weeks, that’s all the motivation they need” and hung up.  Not everyone gets it, but the savvy employers in town know the benefits of a truly great work environment, and that’s where you’ll find the really happy employees…and customers.

By Jennifer Webb

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