Do you often feel happy at work? How often do you experience a flow, do you feel inspired or do you genuinely enjoy working? These are all aspects of happiness at work, which is becoming increasingly important. But what exactly is happiness at work? How can you as an organization ensure that your employees are happy? And what can you do for your own happiness at work?
Today it is not at all strange to expect to be happy at work. But it used to be different. Think of the industrial revolution, when inhumanely long hours were worked, especially assembly line work, where there was no challenge and that also for very little pay. You can’t imagine that now. We all prefer to do work that suits us well, in which we can grow and which also yields a nice penny. However?
Working is part of it – but that doesn’t mean you should see it as an obligation. According to Dajo de Prins, author of the book ‘Happiness at work: the fables, the facts and the solutions‘ (affiliate) about 90% of Dutch and Flemish workers are satisfied with their job. Yet ‘work’ is ranked 39th out of 40 on the list of daily activities, just one spot above ‘lying in bed sick’. The corona crisis also has the necessary effects on the moods of employees. Apparently satisfaction is not enough to really enjoy work. What else do we need for happiness at work?
The four underlying dimensions
In order to define and measure happiness at work, you first need to know what precedes it. First of all, you can distinguish between two kinds of happiness. hedonistic happiness is often defined as ‘subjective well-being’. This is about your own experience: how happy does life feel to you? But some philosophers and happiness researchers think this is not enough. Perfectionists should strive for eudemonic happiness. A fully-fledged happy person leads a committed and meaningful life: he not only feels good, he also lives well. If you can combine these two forms, you will be happiest.
This is all about happiness per se. What about happiness at work? This is determined by four underlying dimensions: job satisfaction, job satisfaction, active engagement and meaningfulness. The first two are hedonic (how you feel), the last two are eudemonic (functioning optimally).
1. Job satisfaction
The term ‘job satisfaction’ actually immediately describes what it means. Your work then meets all the basic aspects that a job must have. If you want to test yourself on this, ask yourself two questions: Overall, am I satisfied with my work? And how satisfied then? If you answer the first question with and and answer the second with at least a 7, you can call yourself work satisfaction. As mentioned earlier, 90% of workers in the Netherlands and Belgium meet these criteria. So it’s already in.
2. Enjoyment at work
The second dimension of happiness at work is job satisfaction. This is very important for many employees. If you enjoy your work, you are more productive, more creative and you have enough challenge. This concerns the following question: Do you experience more positive than negative feelings on an average working day? If you respond to this with at least 67% positive feelings, so two-thirds of the day, you experience job satisfaction.
3. Active Engagement
This dimension refers to a sustainable, positive and fulfilling commitment to your job. This is mainly about how committed you are, whether you are willing to go the extra mile, and your vitality and motivation. If you are often completely absorbed in your work, i.e. experience a flow, this is a good sign. Do you rate yourself higher than a 7 on the question: Are you actively engaged in your job?, then your involvement is good.
More and more people want to do work that has added value for the world. Jobs as a firefighter, healthcare worker or psychologist are therefore naturally very useful. But most of the jobs are actually just bullshitjobs, as it is often called. You have to discover the meaning of that yourself. Does your job match your standards and values? Answer this question: Do you have the sustainable realization that you are doing something meaningful with your work? If you score higher than a 7, you have the feeling that you are doing sustainable work. Don’t be alarmed: in Belgium this is only 5% (!) of all workers.
This ultimately results in 6 different categories of workers – from people who score badly everywhere and are therefore unhappy at work, to people who score well everywhere and therefore experience ultimate happiness at work. But achieving that point is not so easy.
Improving happiness at work in organizations
Now that we know the underlying factors of happiness at work, the next challenge comes: how can you improve happiness at work in organizations? To do this, you must first of all know that the above dimensions relate as a kind of pyramid with job satisfaction as the basis. First you have to ensure job satisfaction, then you can scale up to job satisfaction, then to active engagement and finally to meaningfulness.
To start with, you need to know where you stand as an organization. To this end, the author shares a number of surveys, each of which focuses on one of the dimensions. But I do want to make a comment here. Manual measurement costs you an enormous amount of work, not to mention analyzing the data. In addition, one-time measurement is only a snapshot and it is much better to regularly check how employees are doing and whether your actions are having an effect. More on that later. Now let’s first look at the 4 steps to effectively improve happiness at work.
Step 1: Start with job satisfaction
Behind every dimension of happiness at work are underlying motivations. For example, job satisfaction includes 13 items. I will share the three most important tips with you.
Provide supportive social relationships
One safe culture in your organization is just about the most important thing there is. Can employees be themselves? Is there support, is it okay to make a mistake, are there enough positive working relationships? Reward mutual support, and fight anything that doesn’t conform to that culture. Do you notice bullying or gossip? Make short work of it right away.
Make every job interesting
Whether work is interesting largely depends on how the work is set up. For uninteresting jobs, you may be able to add more variety or challenge. If you do the same thing day in, day out, the fun wears off quickly.
Maintain a good work-life balance
Do you work to live, or do you live to work? If the work-life balance is not in order, the latter will be the case more often. In this case, employees can’t get off work well in the evenings or weekends and have less energy to devote to hobbies, family or friends. And in the long run, this could lead to burnout.
Step 2: Increase job satisfaction
If job satisfaction is in order, you can get started with job satisfaction in your organization. The aim should be that employees experience 75% positive emotions during their working day. You can influence this with 8 underlying motivations. I mention the two most important.
Support meaningful and enjoyable human relationships
We have already seen this point partly reflected in job satisfaction. But it is also very important for job satisfaction. While working from home, you probably missed the contact with your colleagues the most. Positive relationships with colleagues can therefore do a lot for your emotions during a working day.
Let employees do what they are intrinsically motivated to do
We experience the most pleasure at work when we do what we are good at. Of course, a job with only fun activities is almost impossible. But it works better to do things during your working day that you really find interesting and that no one has to encourage you to do. Then you will experience job satisfaction faster.
Step 3: Get started with active engagement
Okay, the foundation is laid. Job satisfaction is sufficient, people enjoy their work more. Then it’s time for the next step: improving engagement. There are 5 motives associated with this, of which I will again mention two.
Use people on their strengths
To make people feel more connected to their work, they need to be able to use their core qualities. Make an inventory of what your employees are good at, and make sure they actually do this during their working day. Organizations where the majority can do this are happier, more productive and have higher customer satisfaction.
Give enough freedom and responsibility
Can your employees organize their working day as well as themselves? If you only provide a goal and a deadline, they have the responsibility and freedom to organize themselves when they get to work on this. This has a positive effect on engagement. Micro-management does not make anyone happy!
Step 4: Add Meaning
People who find their work completely meaningless will never be happy at work. Then they don’t feel like spending their time on it. Meaningfulness has 4 underlying motives. These are the two most valuable tips.
Find and formulate your reason for existence
If your employees can identify with the core values of your organization, they will sooner feel that they are working towards something. Then select new people based on these values. Are you always at the front when the first piece of meat is removed from the barbecue? Then you are not in the right place with an organization that makes meat substitutes.
Give every employee meaningful work
A social goal of the organization does not immediately mean that every employee experiences meaningful work. And so every job must have some aspect of contribution to the greater purpose. Employees will then see the usefulness of their work more quickly. And if they also identify with the core values of your organization, they also want to commit to this.
Happiness at work is now an essential part of our working lives. Investing in this will have many positive effects for every employee, but also for organizations. These tips are just a few of the handles that the book offers you.
Do not forget to also measure the effects of your interventions. As mentioned before, a one-off measurement is only a snapshot. If you really want to make a difference, you also have to keep an eye on what your changes bring about by measuring regularly. In this way you ensure sustainable change and you can intervene more quickly if you see that the sentiment in your organization is falling again.
The book ‘Happiness at work: the fables, the facts and the solutions’ gives you many practical insights into what happiness at work means and what you can do to improve it. Not only useful for HR managers, but also if you want to get started with your own happiness at work. Do you have any tips yourself? Please share them in the comments below, and have a happy work day!
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