What makes you happy at work?

22 Mar 2019 | 6 min read

In the corporate world, the answer to “what makes you happy” is complex. Finding (and holding onto) happiness is a tough brief for even the most tuned-in individuals, so achieving this cross-organisationally is a hard and ongoing fight. Not least because happiness at work means different things to different people; whether it’s good opportunities for progression, work life balance, salary enhancement or a thriving social scene. Happiness is elusive: what’s ecstasy for one may be hell for another.

Whilst difficult to achieve, it’s no secret that happiness holds the keys for success and drives us forward. In a study undertaken by Gallup, it was found that between 55 to 80% of us see work as a burden to be endured not enjoyed. While a deflated work-force may not always be top of the agenda at board meetings, neuroscientists have indicated that happiness can ignite greater performance, collegial buy in and can even perk up that bottom line. According to Forbes:

“Happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness has an even greater impact, raising sales by 37%. But the benefits don't end there. Happy employees are also good news for organizations: The stock prices of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for" rose 14% per year from 1998 to 2005, while companies not on the list only reported a 6% increase.” 

Although procuring happiness may not always be a conscious factor when making career decisions—particularly when there are other more prescient concerns—ultimately, happiness is the key ingredient that drives us from one organisation to another. Whether resignation is prompted for reasons of progression, salary expectation or work/life balance: what we often don’t say when we hand in our notice is that we believe we will be happier elsewhere.

And happiness should be of real concern to employers in 2019. In recent years, the rate at which works leave their jobs has increased, and is at its highest level, at 2.1%, since 2001. Staff churn is the best indicator of work-force morale, and while it’s sometimes easier to write off an exodus as a collision of circumstance and poor timing, managers should keep a vigilant watch over work-force esteem to avoid a domino effect once one individual sticks their head above the parapet to announce that they are leaving.

While happiness isn’t as simple as securing a percentage increase in salary (or maybe it is?) happiness is the greatest tool to successful business and could be the missing ingredient that’s holding your business back. In this article we discuss why happiness in the workplace is often absent, and how to combat it.

What makes people happy?

Unfortunately, there are few sure-fire criteria to securing happiness in the work place. However, one thing is for certain: the professional is personal. At the crux of the notion of ‘satisfaction’ is a sense of value and of being valued. When expounded into a professional context, it is a feeling that: people know your name, know what you do and care that you do it. While this sounds easy, too often employees don’t feel valued at all. If fulfilment really does lie at the heart of happiness, cultivating a culture founded in respect, trust and personal value will put you on the path to success.

While inspirational speakers will routinely have you believe that “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life,” I believe this to be a profound untruth. Work, and hard work are not indicators of a dissatisfying work-life, sometimes it is in moments of industry that we feel the most valued. However, there is a caveat to this: simply mounting staff with piles of work won’t create the desired effect. Instead, managers need to get better at recognising the professional bandwidth of staff, respecting limits and staffing workflows appropriately to prevent people feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. Fundamentally, achieving happiness in your workplace is all about creating a culture of trust; trusting that managers understand the importance of your work and won’t take advantage of your goodwill. As Gallop found, more engaged managers make for more engaged executives. Put simply: those who feel valued, add value.

While many magic circle law firms are bolstered by competitive hierarchies, this infrastructure isn’t necessarily doing your organisation any favours. According to Harvard Business Review, "close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%." Moreover, "people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work." Building teams that foster friendships enable trust, cooperation and engagement. Facilitating collaboration can build friendships, which in turn can boost happiness, unlike competitive hierarchies which thrive on pushing your team to the limits of cooperation. 

Only recently have law firms woken up to the inherent strain placed on their fee-earners. While graduate salaries are at an all time high for law firms, it is having little effect on retention as lawyers still exit the profession in their droves. In a study undertaken by PWC it was found that, in Millennials particularly, lawyers “place more importance on being part of cohesive teams – and less on pay – so we need to encourage them to connect, collaborate, and build their networks.” As a result, law firms should spend more time looking to bolster connection between their lawyers to affect a profound change in attitude and overall happiness.

In an article released by Berkley, author Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, she expounded the merits of “deep work” akin to deep sleep, Simon-Thomas likened the practice to meditation. Suggesting that businesses should adopt a lose-track-of-time-work-flow she explains:

[Companies could] ‘adopt a less draconian, hectic schedule and make space for the immersive, lose-track-of-time experience of flow at work. To do this, some companies are shifting away from the typical hyperbusy, multitasking, always-available, device-notification-laden, meeting-clogged schedule—and at the same time encouraging off-work downtime. Some are even barring work-related emails after-hours to help people relax and recover, and to leave them refreshed for uninterrupted periods of “deep work” at work.’

Removing the modern barriers to work could allow professionals greater time to re-engage with the work they came to do, which should ultimately result in a reduction in the stresses that cause unhappiness at work.

Private sector firms cannot ignore potential productivity gains in the current economic climate, particularly now that we a living in a more uncertain world than ever before. Better than asking your staff to grin and bear it, fostering a working culture that turns on respect and value will help improve retention, and kinder workplaces will create genuine bonds of support and strength with happiness soon to follow.


Filed Under: Practice of Law

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