Why happiness at work is more effective than being satisfied at work

Job satisfaction is a phrase from the past

How do you take good care of your employees without losing sight of the results and profitability of the business? To answer this question researchers have been investigating the connection between satisfaction and productivity for ages. Often it is hard to find a correlation. Sometimes you find one but the connection is really weak. Traditionally many organizations keep focusing on job satisfaction. The classical stance is that the organization (or the unions) should take care of your job satisfaction. This fits very well with the old world. Everybody has his or her own fixed position within the organization. The world is moving slowly and is mainly static and organized bottom down. Why happiness at work is more effective than being satisfied at work - onno hamburger

Source image via flickr.com: lululemonathletica

Happiness at work for the modern world

The dynamics of the current situation require a very different perspective. Change is the only constant. So this means continuing adaptation from both employees and the organization. This also fits a different way of looking at work. Employees will become more responsible and need to lead themselves much more. So a new range of competences is needed. People need to know and direct themselves much more. Skills that are not always learned at college or university. This change also creates different needs with employees. They want to know themselves much better. Be aware of their strengths and passions. So they can direct themselves much better. That is one of the reasons why organizations focus more on employee happiness. Why should they do that? Research shows that happy employees differ a lot from their unhappy colleagues.

  • Happy employees are more:
  • Creative and innovative
  • Better at working together
  • Productive
  • Better at selling
  • Cognitively flexible
  • Highly motivated
  • Healthier (they take less sick leave)

The difference between happiness at work and job satisfaction

When you look at the differences between happy and unhappy employees it is very important to shift your attention as an organization from job satisfaction to happiness at work. An important question is of course what is the difference between those two? Let’s take a look at some differences:

  • Happiness at work is all about taking initiative. With job satisfaction the organization or the boss is often held responsible. With happiness at work the employees own responsibility is the starting point. The organization can facilitate this by supporting pro activity and self leadership.
  • Happiness at work is more about personality and the personal. General changes within the organizational structure or culture are important but this is always seen from the perspective of the individual employee. E.g. some employees really thrive on lots of freedom while others prefer much more direction and steering.
  • Research shows that happiness at work has a clear positive correlation with productivity. This is not (or less) present with job satisfaction. Happiness at work is also a concept where there is a consistent progressive correlation with productivity (the happier you are at work the more productive you are).

What happiness at work isn’t

Some people associate happiness at work with positive thinking, always smiling and everything should be fun. This is absolutely not the case. To put it more strongly. Research by Fredrickson shows that forced positivity (think about the ever smiling stewards on airlines) can lead to a strong increase in stress and unhappiness at work. Happiness at work is (mostly) an internal job. Its about how you feel and how you evaluate your own happiness (at work). Hard work, helping others, using your talents to the max and trying something difficult are all activities they might increase your happiness at work but certainly not always bring about a smile or generate laughter.

How to start working with happiness at work in your organisation?

One of the first things to do is to start talking about happiness at work with your colleagues, managers or employees. Does the idea of “happiness at work” relates to their way of thinking and does it fit with their interests and needs? When this first step has been taken you are ready to dive a little deeper. How happy are they at work? A quick happiness at work scan can facilitate this. Sometimes it is advisable to start 1 to 1 conversations to introduce the subject to staff. Talking about happiness at work is different from talking than talking about performance, commitment or sick leave. People should feel free and safe to talk about happiness at work. And you can’t force people get involved with their happiness at work. But if the other is willing to take a look at this subject the impact on the individual, the team and organisation can be immense (is my experience). People taking up their own leadership concerning happiness at work and an organisation facilitating this can become a positive spiral which generates a lot of positive energy. Enjoy the journey!


This article was originally published in Dutch on GelukkigWerken.nl on 1 feb 2009

1 reply
  1. Hanna Perlberger
    Hanna Perlberger says:

    Great article! As a former divorce attorney and now marriage & relationship coach (who better?) this totally applies to relationships that are static vs. dynamic. A “satisfied” marriage can be codified into fixed roles and partners grow without communicating who they are evolving into being and suddenly there is a divorce with a baffled spouse thinking everything was OK. We need marriages that are happy and not just satisfied. I love the cross applications.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *