Keys to happiness at work?

In 2009, Australian psychologist Timothy Sharp conducted an informal survey that asked a simple question, What do you consider to be the top three keys to happiness at work? The responses he received “were remarkably consistent.”

His study led to a short piece for Greater Good magazine, in which he shares “five key steps to workplace happiness” (link here):

“One: Provide leadership and values”

“Two: Communicate clearly and effectively”

“Three: Give thanks”

“Four: Focus on strengths”

“Five: Have fun”

Is that all there is to it?

This list is a good start — and the full article supplies more of the deeper meaning for each item — but I think there’s more. Sharp casts his lot with the school of positive psychology. In fact, according to the article he is known in Australia as “Dr. Happy.” As such, I think his general orientation may gloss over the darker sides of work and how organizations handle issues that implicate fairness, inclusion, and ethics.

Organizational justice is a term used to capture employee perceptions of fair treatment. A difficult situation at work can be a test of organizational justice. Workers who believe their employer acts with fairness and integrity are more likely to be satisfied and loyal and to feel safe, and those who do not are prone to think the opposite.

Signs of growing worker discontent

In any event, employers are advised to take worker happiness and satisfaction seriously, for it appears that pent up worker frustrations are emerging. Tim Gould, in a piece for HR Morning (link here), reports that “(m)ore than eight in 10 (84%) of the employees polled said they plan to look for a new job in 2011, according to staffing consultant Right Management.” The reasons include:

  • the prolonged recession and layoffs
  • increased workloads, small or no raises
  • companies’ reticence to add staff, even as business conditions have improved, and
  • a lack of trust in company leaders.
Hat tip to the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program for the HR Morning article.


3 responses

  1. I agree with your comments.

    The unfortunate reality, though, is that there are so few companies that walk their talk. Bullies are prevalent in many work places (probably most) and their bad behavior is rewarded by (1) keeping their jobs; (2) receiving the highest bonuses; (3) the “laying off” of their targets, etc.

    The work place would be so much more productive and “happy” if fairness were expanded to actual fairness rather than a culture of managers taking the easy way out on employee relations issues.

  2. Yes, there’s a point at which organizational integrity is tested. It comes after the great sounding language in the employee handbook, when something comes up that asks the organization to face a difficult situation. All too often, organizational leaders fail the test, instead preferring to trot out the broom and the rug and begin sweeping.

  3. What stands out to me in the survey results is number three: Give thanks. This is so easy to do and so rarely done. I had read one survey which reported employees would actually take appreciation over a salary raise. Showing appreciation is free. Why not spread it around?

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