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Is your job making you happy?

Laura Johnson

According to the latest statistics – chief executives are the second happiest workers. Laura Johnson explores what really motivates people at work

Cabinet Office research into job satisfaction has revealed vicars are happier in their work than the rest of us. Serving God rather than a board of suited shareholders is clearly kinder on the soul. But assuming a career change into the clergy is not in your life plan, you’ll be relieved to hear chief executive is next on the list of cheerful professions. Believe the statistics and pursuing a career in senior leadership could be your route to a perennially perky state of being.

But the most interesting thing about this survey is not that clergymen are happiest and pub landlords are the most miserable at work, it's that this survey even got commissioned. The fact that our happiness is deemed so important to the Government that they are spending £2 million a year collecting statistics on it is arguably the most surprising aspect of this research. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Happiness Index may be widely mocked, but it’s helped to successfully embed ‘employee well-being’ and ‘engagement’ into our corporate vocabulary and professional consciousness. A content workforce has become an important symbol of successful leadership, putting managers under pressure to create a smile-inducing office utopia for their teams. 

Happy employees are more productive, more dedicated, less likely to pull a sickie, feel more inclined to be innovative and are infinitely more loyal. The advantages of a gleeful workforce are well documented, yet few of us would punch the air and declare a resounding ”yes” when asked, “are you happy in your job?” 

I’ve been pondering my own work history and the varying degrees of happiness I’ve experienced in my career. While there have been glimmers of cheer in most of the positions I’ve held, when asked, “are you happy in your job” my response would always start with “I’ll be happy when…” The truth is I’ve always been chasing something at work that will elevate me to the magical state of happiness. I’ll be happy when I get promoted. I’ll be happy when I get a pay rise. I’ll be happy when my boss leaves. I’ll be happy when this project is over. Sound familiar? 

The problem is, there’s always a new when to replace one achieved, making happiness at work something we’re constantly pursuing and rarely sitting back and enjoying. What does this mean for the poor manager charged with making us smile? Disgruntled workers and disappointing results in engagement surveys. 

Research by Gallup last year showed almost 90 per cent of employees worldwide aren’t engaged in their work. Do your teams gleefully skip into work on Monday mornings? How often do you get to Wednesday before hearing “roll on Friday” muttered around the office with a crestfallen expression of defeat? Happiness and work simply don't make a natural pairing. And therefore one of the toughest tasks of a manager is to break the automatic association of work with toil and drudgery. 

To do this, leaders need to think more like a coach and less like a boss. Delving into the inner drive of your team members is the first step towards helping them embrace a more positive state of mind. You need to understand their personal motivation – are they inspired by achieving goals or do they tend to pursue happiness by avoiding something they perceive as painful? And then there is the prickly issue of their core values. Do you know what is really dear to them? This can be anything from personal autonomy and integrity to recognition and a sense of belonging. 

Creating the opportunity for your people to work in line with their principles and drivers promotes happiness but uncovering them is a talent not all leaders have, or more significantly, are willing to develop.  This is reinforced by the findings of Delotte’s UK Human Capital Trends 2014 report. The responses to their research revealed developing effective leadership topped the priorities for UK organisations, suggesting in order for our businesses to thrive our leaders need to boost their skill sets. The readiness to address leadership capability gaps however, was found to be low. It's not surprising really. No one really appreciates being asked to change their ways and as you rise through an organisational hierarchy you get more power to dodge requests to do things you really don't want to. And this may just be the reason why high-ranking chief executives are the second happiest people in the workforce. 

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