What Makes People Happy at Work?
Millions have been spent to find the answer to that question. Countless studies have been done to unlock the Rosetta Stone of employee satisfaction. Retention is analyzed, measured and debated.
You might be thinking, “Hey! Pay me a hundred grand and I’ll make myself happy doing almost anything!” The quick answer is always money, but countless studies show that after the basic salary needs are met, other factors take over as primary satisfiers.
So, after reading the books and studies, and being a student of the modern organization for decades, I’ve come up with a short—albeit simple—list of the things I believe people want.
- A short commute.
New studies are revealing that commuters who spend more than two hours a day in transit value that extra time at approximately 50K a year (over the minimum salary of $75,000). In other words, once someone makes at least 75K, they’d rather give up the extra cash if it means they don’t have to commute that far every day.
No wonder it is becoming commonplace to work from home a day or more a week, even for management positions. Not only is the cost an issue, the waste of up to ten hours a week away from home is a huge dissatisfier.
- Being in control of your own work.
When women began to leave the workforce in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, to start their own companies, conventional wisdom said it was because they hit the glass ceiling. When the recession hit, even more men and women turned to entrepreneurial ventures, giving up on conventional job hunting. Many young graduates don’t even look for a job, preferring to jump into their own businesses before they even leave school.
They all have one thing in common: they want to be in control of their own career destiny.
And those who are most satisfied in a conventional job are those who tell me, “My boss leaves me alone to do my job. He doesn’t breathe down my neck.” They are in control of their own work.
- They are listened to.
All of us want to have our opinion count. It means we matter and are valued. A leader who is smart enough to ask his or her staff what they think—and then really consider what they say—will have satisfied employees.
- They are cared about.
Their leaders want to know how their weekend went. They know the names of their children. They will allow them to leave work for some unavoidable personal matters. They spend a few minutes chatting about their lives. Employees don’t feel that they are not a cog in the wheel of productivity.
- They are given freedom.
Freedom can come in many forms. In one workplace, they don’t count sick days—they just expect people will get their jobs done. If their work is done they can leave early. In another workplace, they aren’t tethered to their desks, or checked on to make sure they are on task—they are measured by their output. In another workplace, there are no time cards. Working from home is another form of freedom. It can be as simple as allowing people to take breaks when they need them, versus at a specific time.
- Having mission-driven work.
If people believe they are working for a greater good, satisfaction is a byproduct. It’s one of the reasons non-profit organizations attract quality employees, even though they pay less than the big corporations. It’s also why we are seeing some high powered executives chuck it all and dedicate themselves to the cause they believe in.
- Being challenged and able to grow.
For many people, learning new things and developing in their jobs is at the top of their satisfaction list. That means getting regular honest feedback, being given new tasks, and exposing them to new experiences is what drives their satisfaction engine.
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