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4 simple indicators your employees are happy (for real)

With the Great Resignation underway, don’t assume you know what your employees want.

4 simple indicators your employees are happy (for real)
[Source photo: Weston MacKinnon/Unsplash]

If you’re in search of happiness at work, you may want to consider your zip code. Research from the career platform Lensa analyzed 30 of the biggest cities, ranking them on 4 different factors: annual vacation days left unused, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s “Under-Vacationed America” report; average weekly hours worked and median annual wage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; and the overall happiness score sourced from WalletHub’s “Happiest Cities” report.

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In first place is Minneapolis, with 57% of employees leaving unused vacation days on the table each year and working 37.6 hours each week. The median annual wage is $38,808 with a happiness score of 65.98 out of 100. Next is Seattle with 54% of employees leaving vacation days behind, working 39.3 hours per week. Seattle’s median annual wage is $59,835, and the city has a happiness score of 64.74. Third is Portland with 58% of employees not taking their full vacation days, working 38 hours during the average week. The median annual wage here is $41,310 with a happiness score of 60.52.

Location may provide insights to regional happiness trends, but it’s just one way of predicting employee satisfaction.

Measuring Engagement

Engagement may be a better metric, says Sarah Johnson, vice president of enterprise surveys and analytics at Perceptyx, an employee survey and analytics provider.

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“Companies need to know if their employees connect with the strategic direction of the company, if they feel as though their work is important to the organization’s success, have the tools and resources they need to be successful, and are able to connect and collaborate with their teammates and their manager,” she says. “Employee engagement is the most commonly used metric for this, and careful analysis can uncover the elements of the employee experience that have the greatest influence on engagement.”

Engagement is connected to business performance. “Companies with strong employee engagement also have higher levels of customer satisfaction, lower attrition, and better business performance,” says  Johnson. “Without engagement, the workplace can become a grim and unpleasant place. How employees feel about their relationship with their employer matters a great deal.”

Flexibility Matters, Too

Through her research, MIT Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies Erin Kelly, coauthor of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It, found that employees reported higher levels of well-being and job satisfaction when they had more flexibility in their schedules and work location, when meetings were reevaluated and scaled back, and when their managers were retrained to take employees’ work-life concerns into account.

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“Our study found that increasing employees’ say in when, where, and how they do their work, and conveying support for their personal and family life, both improved well-being and reduced turnover, reducing costs for the company, too,” she says.

The Leadership Factor

Culture is also critical, says Niki Jorgensen, director of service operations with national HR provider Insperity. “People want to ensure they are working for a company that makes them feel engaged and listens to their needs,” she says. “Over the past two years, employees have also determined a good work-life balance is key to their happiness.”

In this case, happiness may be tied to leadership, says Jorgensen. “One thing to remember is people don’t leave companies—they leave managers,” she says. “They prefer leaders who are empathetic and good communicators, and who will give them the tools to be successful. When it comes to creating a good workplace culture, be sure to walk the talk. Treat people with respect and they are more likely to be happy and productive workers.”

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Taking Action on Employee Happiness

If you want to know what makes your employees happy, Johnson says the best thing to do is ask.

“The pandemic has changed the way we all think about money and work-life balance,” she says. “Don’t assume you know what your employees want and need from the organization. Let’s have a conversation about what they need, and how the organization can support their needs. Leaders need to listen and then act on what they have heard. But listening isn’t enough. Leaders have to act to visibly demonstrate to employees that they have been heard and taken seriously.”

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