The secrets to happiness at work: results from a global study


A recent multi-national study surveyed over 23,000 employees to find out what makes them happier and more engaged at work…

The study, conducted by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute in partnership with Globoforce’s WorkHuman® Research Institute, gathered data from 45 countries and captured the experiences of employees at different levels and in different industries.

The makeup of positive employee experiences

Results showed that five main factors contribute to happiness and greater engagement at work, or what they call “positive employee experience”:

  1. Belonging: being accepted by others, having friends at work and being seen as part of the team
  2. Happiness: experiencing pleasant feelings at work, arising from the work itself or surroundings
  3. Purpose: understanding the reason why one’s work matters and how it contributes to the goals of the team/organisation
  4. Vigour: feeling energetic and excited at work, either alone or within a team
  5. Achievement: feeling a sense of accomplishment once goals are achieved or a project is completed, either internally or via feedback

How to increase happiness at work

With an understanding of what makes up positive employee experiences, the researchers also set out to discover how organisations can improve the happiness of their employees. One of the key findings was that leaders and managers need to champion the “cause” and drive these changes from the top level down, in order to support the practices that ultimately lead to a more engaged workplace. Other elements that the study found to be important were:

Work-life balance
Time and time again, employees ask for flexibility in their workplace. Whereas it used to be a luxury, it has now become more of a requirement. Employees often leave jobs until they find a workplace where they can enjoy the benefits of a flexible schedule to accommodate their children/personal responsibilities. In this study, 79% of employees with flexibility indicated that they were more happy at work as a result.

Transparency and trust
This element is definitely one that needs to be driven by top-level management. When employees feel that their organisations are ethical and act with openness and integrity, they are more likely to place their faith and trust in the company. Out of the 23,000 individuals surveyed, 83% experienced a more positive work environment when they felt there was trust in their managers/organisation.

Continual growth
This finding is nothing new, but is still not championed by many organisations because of a lack of time, energy or budget. Opportunities for development are still consistently met with positivity and greater engagement levels from employees. Those who are loyal to their organisations and grow within their company put back that extra knowledge and energy into their performance.

Meaning and purpose
One of the cornerstones of motivational theories is a need for meaning in one’s work day and work tasks. This study found no different – 80% of employees felt more engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organisation, while 81% were happier at work when they agreed that their jobs effectively make use of their skills/abilities.

Having a voice
Feeling empowered to speak up and have an impact directly influences an employee’s loyalty to and trust in their company. Findings showed that those employees who felt able to voice opinions about how things are done and have ideas listened to, experienced a greater sense of belonging and purpose within their organisation.

The role of discretionary effort

Those employees who reported more positive experiences at work were less likely to want to quit, and also reported performing “above and beyond” what was required of them. In fact, 95% of respondents indicated that they put in significantly more discretionary effort when their experience at work is positive.

Discretionary effort is best described as an employee doing more than the requirement within a typical day/week/month. If your organisation often feels like your staff are doing the minimum day after day, then discretionary effort may be the big factor that is missing.

Ultimately, the quest for employee happiness may require new strategies and an overhaul of certain organisational practices, not to mention an increased budget devoted to development. However, research shows a clear relationship between the factors described above, and greater employee engagement. And with this engagement comes loyalty, commitment, less turnover and ultimately greater effort on day-to-day basis.

Measuring motivators at work

It’s easy to determine the motivators and career drives of your employees, in order to implement engagement programmes that are aligned to their specific needs. The HFMtalentindex Career Drives assessment is an online, 20 minute survey that gives direction to management interventions and the choices employees make regarding their development.