As is true in our personal lives as well, being happy at work rarely comes down to a single factor. As a result, there’s no one “secret” to job satisfaction, which for too many of us can feel frustratingly elusive. And as companies strive to keep their employees happy and engaged, it’s worth remembering that everyone’s a little different.
Still, people who love their jobs do tend to have a few things in common, and any employer that’s looking to attract and retain talent in a competitive market would be wise to consider these five.
People are social creatures. In and outside the office, meaningful relationships have a powerful impact on our happiness. They cultivate a sense of belonging and identity, relieve stress, make us laugh and have fun, and help us feel safe and supported.
Research has shown that workplace friendships are crucial for our engagement and productivity. And even though some experts claim we’re now less likely to socialize with our colleagues than previous generations did, friendship and camaraderie remain as critical as ever in business settings.
Companies can encourage workplace relationships through thoughtful workspace design, team-building exercises and outings, and even the tools they use to communicate. Whatever the approach, the goal should always be to inspire trust among team members and help them feel they’re all pulling in the same direction together.
Employees are more likely to feel confident and comfortable in their roles when they know what their responsibilities are. Uncertainty on that score can cause avoidable stress and make it difficult for employees to focus on their tasks. In fact, a 2014 About.com survey found that the top source of negativity in the workplace is “a lack of direction from management.”
It’s no secret that employees are happier when they feel their skills are being put to good use, but for that to happen, they first need to understand the objectives they’re driving towards. For companies, that comes down to communication–not just defining and clearly articulating goals, but making sure employees grasp how their own jobs support those goals.
Studies are finding that employees now want to feel the work they do makes an impact. Harvard Business School researcher Rosabeth Moss Kanter distills the strongest drivers of that feeling to “mastery, membership, and meaning.” If a sense of belonging and clear expectations instill feelings of membership and mastery, respectively, then the third point on the triangle for businesses to address is meaning. According to Kanter, meaning is important, because “people want to work for companies where they feel that they’re making a meaningful difference in the world.”
Companies can instill a sense of impact even when employees’ roles vary widely across the organization. What’s more, a company doesn’t need to have a philanthropic mission to be meaningful. Employees just need to feel they’re doing something each day to help make a difference in the world–including for consumers.
People who love their jobs feel proud of where they spend the majority of their time every week. And shouldn’t we all? People want validation from the outer world about where they work and what their employer stands for. Whether that pride translates into wearing a company sweatshirt on the weekend, or telling friends about an awesome reward they recently earned at work, companies should encourage employees to identify with them.
That starts with communicating the organization’s vision, then carrying it out in a range of small ways everyone can share around the office. A mission statement shouldn’t just live on a company’s website. Employees need to be reminded in more frequent, experiential ways why they do what they do.
Whatever digital tools we use to socialize and interact, most of us still crave in-person support and recognition. In fact, it’s easy to forget the impact a simple thank-you can have on someone’s day, not to mention their future performance.
A Bersin and Associates study found that organizations that meaningfully recognize employees’ accomplishments score 14% better on employee engagement, productivity, and customer service than those that don’t. More impressive still, those companies also have 31% lower voluntary turnover rates.
Companies first need to decide which should be recognized and why, then train managers and employees alike to thank one another for jobs well done. That needs to become part of an appreciative company culture. Incentives and rewards, especially when they’re in public view, can have a powerful effect. One recent survey showed that 82% of organizations that offered social recognition programs enjoyed higher revenues, and 70% saw improved retention rates.
Meaningful recognition on a consistent basis also has a practical function, operating as a form of positive feedback that lets employees know what they’re doing well–and subsequently helps them grow.
Today’s employee needs more than a steady job, good pay, and benefits to love their jobs. They have to see work as a place they enjoy going, where they can work on things that they feel are important, and then feel valued for doing that work.
Taylor Smith is a serial entrepreneur. He created Blueboard to get people out of their desk chairs and into the real world, where they can discover new hobbies and passions.