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Susan M. Heathfield

Are Your Employees Happy at Work?

By March 10, 2014

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Think being happy at work is a nice thing? You'd be very wrong. Happy employees are essential to the well being of your business.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling over 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs -- and work environments -- than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.

Additionally, Gallup estimates that because workers are not engaged, American businesses lose $300 billion in productivity each year.

What Employees Want

Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Steven Kramer, an independent researcher, authors of The Progress Principle (compare prices), studied 12,000 electronic diary entries from 238 professionals in seven companies. They discovered that the most important factor in happiness at work was "making progress in meaningful work."

The same authors studied managers to determine what managers thought was motivational for employees. 95% of the managers put making progress last. So there is a basic disconnect between what managers think is meaningful for employees and what employees believe creates their happiness at work.

How Managers Can Motivate

The authors conclude that managers who listen to the problems that employees experience, help solve problems, and remove barriers so that the employees feel like they are making meaningful progress, are more likely to have happy employees. And, if Gallup's studies are to be believed, having happy employees will magnify the success of your business - beyond calculation.

The writings on this website, too, make these points repeatedly. It's affirming to have these authors saying the same thing. When will managers get it?

Image Copyright Mark Hall / Getty Images

More About Motivation and Happiness

September 5, 2011 at 2:19 am
(1) Valerie Iravani says:


This post is so close to my heart. For years, I have been developing my employees as people, not just employees. I’ve created successful teams by building trust, openness, and behaving according to our agreed team values. This is the benefit that managers can and should provide to their employers.

Through frequent communication, listening, and simply being interested in your direct reports, it is so rewarding to work as a manager.

The reason so many managers feel frustrations in their job is because they fail to understand what they are responsible for and how to do it. Most employers do not provide the kind of mentoring and training that would help managers succeed. Most people avoid these kind of duties. They just can’t be bothered.

So thanks for the post, and please keep up the education!

September 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm
(2) Susan Heathfield says:

You’ve really hit what’s important about managing – building relationships, coaching, building trust, helping employees develop themselves personally and professionally… Managers who believe that their job is to tell people what to do and who don’t find joy in watching and assisting people to develop are poor managers. They are the managers that my readers complain about as bad bosses.

September 6, 2011 at 9:42 am
(3) Alain Comment says:

Great article!

I believe one can make work meaningful for employees by involving them in the decision making process.

More often than not, employees just have to accept decisions of their supervisors and the consequences of them. This is frustrating. An employee who is involved in the decision making process on the contrary, will have a whole other attitude towards decisions from the supervisor – because he was involved. Decisions are not just something to accept anymore, they are something to shape. They are something meaningful.

September 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm
(4) Susan Heathfield says:

Thank you, Alain. Involving people in decision making about their jobs is one of my big five in employee motivation: http://humanresources.about.com/od/rewardrecognition/a/needs_work.htm

Thank you for your comment.

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