What’s Not Making Your Employees Happy

By: Justin Keller

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Can you think of any workplace that wouldn’t want their employees to be happy? Of course not- any rational CXO or HR leader has their employee’s happiness at the top of their list. And that’s without even considering all the business-y upside associated with happy employees, like:

  • Happy employees are  12% more productive

  • Companies with happy employees outperform the competition by  20%

  • Happy salespeople sell  37% more

  • Happy employees take  66% fewer sick days

And that’s just from the first page of Google. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find study upon rigorous study that confirms: happy employees are better employees.

If that’s the case, then why are 87% of employees worldwide so unhappy at work? There are zillions of strategies, services and even technologies adopted with the sole purpose of making employees just a little bit happier. However, they’re clearly not having much of an impact. Fact is, a lot of people are just plain unhappy and no amount of office foosball is going to help that.

So, let’s figure out what actually makes employees happy (not what employees say will make them happy) starting with the things that definitely won’t increase your company’s happiness quotient:

It’s Not All About the Benjamins.

A lot of studies that involve self-reported happiness indicate that making more money would be able to buy happiness. I can confidently say that is not the case (thanks, science!). For every survey out there that says making more money would increase happiness, there’s another one to refute it. In fact, the opposite might be true. It turns out that 1/3 of your employees would give up $5,000 of their salary just to be happier. And consider how many low paying jobs seem to be so blissful (lookin’ at you, urban bohemian and flower-shop guy!). And consider how many people making six figures are totally, utterly, blowing-their-brains-out miserable. Important disclaimer: Of course, there’s a difference between making a living wage and wanting more money just to have more.

Super Cool Offices? Nah.

In the “war for talent” tons and tons of money is spent on ping-pong tables and bean bags and snack bars to keep employees happy. If it was working, we should see employee tenure increasing, but it keeps dropping year over year– to the point where most keep their job for under two years.

Flexible Work Schedules? Meh.

Life is for sure getting busier and work hours are getting longer. Americans with full time jobs are averaging at least 47 hours per week. Almost half of them work more than 50 hours a week. To combat that “always on” work mentality (which my CEO wrote about in Entrepreneur), companies are offering flexible schedules, work from home days, etc. That might reduce some of life’s ordinary stressors, but is it truly going to increase happiness?  Not necessarily. In fact, allowing flexible hours might translate more towards “making work more tolerable” than “making work happier.”

Ok, we finally get it. So then what does make employees happy? And how much of their happiness is my responsibility as an employer or HR person?

Both are fantastic questions that we’ve tackled here.


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