In the ongoing effort to engage and retain workplace talent, one distinct trend rings true: Employees who are happy in their jobs are more likely to stay there.
But what does it take to improve your employees' level of happiness? Here are seven suggestions:
1. Provide Greater Flexibility.
The pandemic changed the way many employees think about going to work. Those who were forced to work from home or other remote locations proved that they don't always have to be in the office to get work done. Companies that are more flexible about allowing employees who want to work from home the opportunity to do so—at least some of the time—will have less trouble retaining workers.
There's even a trend of giving workers more free time to help cultivate a happier workplace. In instances where workers are fully remote, this could mean encouraging them to turn off their computers at the end of the workday or to not look at e-mail again until the next morning. For others, it could mean being creative about hybrid or in-office schedules and breaks, depending on the employee's preferences and family obligations.
"Offering a flexibility is critical to creating a happy workforce," said Brett Allcorn, CEO and founder of Albany, N.Y.-based Pineapple Co., a health supplement provider with 100 employees and $50 million in global sales last year. As an example, Allcorn shared that he has an employee in the operations department who "asked if it was OK if she could go the gym to work out every afternoon. I immediately agreed since she had already proven herself at the company and I trusted that she would still get her work done."
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]
2. Clearly Explain the Company's Values, Purpose and Culture.
Pursuing work that is meaningful and satisfying is a key way to cultivate happiness at work among employees, said Ahron Friedberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and co-author of Towards Happiness—A Psychoanalytic Approach to Finding Your Way (Routledge, 2022). There must be a good fit between workers and their work, he said, which comes from a combination of the positive personalities that most employees bring to their jobs and the fulfilling nature of working for an organization that shares their values and vision.
3. Minimize Micromanaging.
Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Trusting your employees to do the right thing helps to foster a happy workplace, said Jason Cavness, who spent 30 years in the Army in human resources before launching his own company, CavnessHR in Seattle. The happiest workplaces are those where senior leadership trusts employees to get their work done without micromanaging, he said. "If an employee wants to take some time to go to a ballgame with his child, that should be OK," since employees should be trusted to get their work done in the best way they see fit, Cavness said.
4. Offer Opportunities for Advancement.
Happy workplaces are workplaces where employees "feel a sense of purpose" and believe they have an opportunity to grow their skills and career, said Will Yang, head of growth at Chicago-based Instrumentl, an institutional fundraising platform that helps nonprofits in their pursuit of grants. "Employees who feel like they are stuck in a dead-end position are more likely to be unhappy at work," he said.
5. Offer Competitive Compensation.
Employees need to feel that they're being compensated fairly and in a way that reflects their position and work efforts, according to pay and benefits research. Hourly employees especially need to earn enough to pay their bills and have discretionary spending, as well as to create an emergency fund for peace of mind. Workers who think they are earning less than what they should—or that their skills and credentials qualify them to earn more somewhere else—will focus on money when defining their happiness at work. In this case, receiving a raise may be a lot more important for their happiness than the other six happiness factors listed in this article.
6. Encourage Workplace Friendships.
When seeking happiness at work, "relationships with colleagues and co-workers are super important," Friedberg said. He shared examples of employees who could earn more money at other jobs, but who choose to stay at a current job because "they like their peers, they like their boss and there is an opportunity to learn more."
In her experience, the most common reason why employees are unhappy is because they don't have rewarding workplace relationships, said Jeannie Moravits Smith, a leadership coach and HR consultant in San Diego. "People are sticking around in organizations because they feel a sense of joy, they feel they belong," she said.
When employees are not happy in their jobs, Moravits Smith will ask why. "The lack of connection with their direct manager is No. 1" as the reason workers feel unhappy, she explained. "When there is a mutual relationship of trust and concern, the sky's the limit in terms of productivity, commitment and even fostering a happier workplace."
7. Offer Psychological Safety.
On occasion, employees need to share when there is something in their lives that is especially tough for them to handle, said Jenn Lim, bestselling author of Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact (Grand Central Publishing, 2021) and CEO of Delivering Happiness, a consulting firm in Emeryville, Calif., dedicated to helping companies achieve a happier workplace.
"Happiness starts from within and is tied to that sense of higher purpose," Lim explained. An open door and resources that allow employees to discuss personal issues helps them feel that their workplace is there for them as they work through issues that are stopping them from being happy, Lim said.
"Happiness starts when people feel they're heard, they're seen and they matter," added Bridgitt Haarsgaard, CEO and founder of The GAARD Group, a New York City-based business consultancy firm.
Jan Yager, Ph.D., is a sociologist in Stamford, Conn., whose 50-plus award-winning books, translated into 35 languages, include 365 Daily Affirmations for Happiness and Productive Relationships (Hannacroix Creek Books, 2012). For more information, visit her website at https://www.drjanyager.com.