Whistle while you work

Researchers explain what makes employees happy 

Kampala, Uganda | AGENCIES | What is the key to being happy? More specifically, what is the key to being happy at work? More money, more time off, family benefits? Researchers suggest that they may have found the answers.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard the hit song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The lyrics encourage listeners to “…clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”

Which begs the question, what is the key to being happy? More specifically, what is the key to being happy at work? More money, more time off, family benefits?

That’s what researchers at The University of Alabama want to know and they may have found some answers.

Dr. Jonathon Halbesleben, associate professor of human resource management and organisational behavior at the Culverhouse College of Commerce, has spent his career researching what makes people happy and more productive in their jobs.

“When people feel like they have meaningful work and it’s adding to what the company is trying to accomplish — particularly if they buy into the company goals — that can be the most powerful force to keeping people happy,” says Halbelsleben.

Halbesleben’s research shows that pay and benefits only get employees so far and these benefits don’t necessarily contribute to workplace happiness.

“What you need to do is have that (pay) at a baseline level that people can be satisfied with it, and then these social factors like how meaningful their work is, how well they get along with their coworkers — these things play a much larger role,” explains Halbesleben. “The people that ask a lot of questions about pay and these basic things, they tend not to be real happy in their jobs. The people that stay in their jobs and are really happy are people who often, from the beginning, are asking about opportunities for growth.

Companies known for making their employees happy like Google and LinkedIn often pay less than expected, but they may have found the key to creating a happy workplace.

“Those are really good examples because many of those companies actually pay below average,” says Halbesleben. “I think a lot of people don’t even know that people often take a pay cut to work at Google. And the reason is, they do a really good job at identifying talent that can contribute in meaningful ways, and then they give them the space to contribute in those meaningful ways.”

Halbesleben adds that companies like Google give their employees freedom and room to grow. His research indicates that companies need to find people they trust to do the job and then let them do the job.

“At Google, there is a set percentage of time within the workweek that an employee can do whatever they want with that time, and it’s not whatever you want as long as it makes Google more profitable, it just gives them the freedom to develop these new, crazy ideas that they don’t have to worry about it intruding on the other work that they should be doing,” explains Halbesleben. “So rather than coming into work each day and you’ve got this to-do list and you’re just checking it off, it’s a chance to sort of shape the job in a way that you really, truly enjoy. I think a lot of these companies do a really good job of that and as a result people are really happy there.”

So why aren’t more companies following Google’s lead?

“I think a big part of it sometimes is hard for companies to give up sort of the control. Standardization has just been ingrained in everything that has been produced in America for so long,” says Halbesleben.

There is also new research in something called job crafting. The idea behind job crafting is that the employee creates the job description they’re interested in, one that suits their skills, and that makes them happy.

“On the surface that sounds really scary because you’re like, look at all these people doing their own thing, Halbesleben says. “Take for example professors at a university — the courses have to get taught. You don’t all decide that you’re going to craft your jobs, but not teach. The work gets done, but employees might naturally reconfigure how the work gets done and who does what work in a way that better suits their desires, their talents, and their aspirations for the future. And as an employee, working with your coworkers to craft your jobs in a way that puts you in that place that makes you happy, that’s going to be really important.”

Another factor to job happiness that is important, but often overlooked is the time employees are not on the job. Research consistently shows it’s a huge contributor to job satisfaction.

“So actually switching off from work for a while, not checking your email at night, these types of things, go a long way to the time at work being happier and more productive,” says Halbesleben. “There’s a whole line of research about recovery that looks at that issue of what people do in their off time. And it consistently finds that having time away from work — truly away from work — gives people a chance to recharge their batteries and come back to work in a much better place, be more productive and less stressed.”


Source: University of Alabama, Culverhouse College of Commerce

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