Employee Happiness on the Decline: Strategies for Positive Change

How important is employee happiness and well-being? Recent research from MIT suggests it’s not only crucially important at work, but it can actually be a deciding factor in whether employees choose to take a job, keep a job, or quit. In a separate study, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 publication found that most of the world’s employees are working with record-high stress levels, with more than half saying they are looking for other jobs. And, according to yet another study, employee happiness is on the decline, hitting new lows in 2023 and declining 10 times faster than any time in the last three years.

Understanding the significance employee happiness and well-being holds, what does it look like in the modern workplace? And how can leaders cultivate more of it? Let’s take a look.

What Does “Happiness” Actually Mean?

In its report, MIT calls the metric for happiness “subjective well-being,” or SWB, a term popularized in the 1980s by researcher, author and psychologist Ed Deiner, who argued there are multiple components that go into the measurement. The first is affective or hedonic SWB, which measures how workers feel from one moment to the next, gauging emotions, moods, and feelings. The second is life satisfaction, or how workers feel about their lives and jobs. And the third refers to something called eudaimonia, which measures personal well-being and purpose.

Strategies for Cultivating Employee Happiness

With all this in mind, we can understand “employee happiness” as a combination of how workers feel moment to moment, how workers feel about their life and job satisfaction, and how they feel about their purpose in life. Now, let’s explore some ways modern leaders can influence employee happiness.

1. Consider the Totality of Employee Happiness

To truly nurture employee happiness, it’s essential to consider all the dimensions that comprise the modern metrics for subjective well-being (daily emotions and feelings, lifestyle satisfaction, and purpose-driven well-being). This means creating a workplace that not only makes employees feel good day-to-day but also fulfills them on a deeper level.

This might look like wellness programs, expanded paid-time off, scheduling flexibility, and other benefits that go beyond salary compensation. It should also include deliberate strategies around clarifying expectations, connecting work to the company mission, and giving employees opportunities to do what they’re best at.

When employees see how their work contributes to a greater goal, they feel valued, which improves how they feel about work, supports their overall well-being, and helps drive a sense of purpose. By reinforcing this concept and actively looking for ways to fulfill all areas of employee happiness, leaders can support a more positive, productive, and loyal workforce.

2. Build a Sense of Belonging

When we consider frontline industries like trucking and logistics, it’s easy to understand how loneliness can affect workers who don’t see their colleagues every day or even every week. But they’re not the only ones lacking engagement. With technology like Zoom and Teams and expanded remote work options, even previously office-bound employees have become less connected to their peers.

Recognizing these disconnects, leaders need to focus on building connection wherever possible, creating a sense of community where workers feel supported and that they belong. Leaders should invest in strategies around career growth and development, actively aligning employee skill sets with the company mission and creating opportunities for workers to learn and grow.

3. Create a Culture of Open Dialogue and Ongoing Feedback

Engagement comes in many different forms, but not everyone interacts in the same way. The diversity within a workforce extends beyond cultural backgrounds and life experiences — which means on top of these differences, your engagement strategy also needs to capture different personality types. While some employees are naturally outspoken, eager to share their ideas in a public setting, others are less comfortable sharing their thoughts, even when asked.

Of course, even quieter employees still have valuable input. Forums like town hall meetings and events will capture some feedback from employees, but it’s also important to incorporate other means of dialogue to truly build company-wide engagement.

Tools like WorkHound facilitate this by providing a platform for employees to share thoughts about their work experience anonymously and regularly, encouraging routine honest feedback.
In addition to WorkHound, leaders can also look to anonymous suggestion boxes, external hotlines, or smaller focus groups. By offering diverse communication channels, you ensure that every employee, regardless of their communication style, has the opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas in a manner that feels comfortable to them.

As employee happiness sees new lows, it’s up to leaders to course-correct, leading with compassion and sensibility that considers all the aspects of happiness and well-being. This approach not only builds better company culture, but also enriches the organization with a broader range of perspectives, and supports improved productivity and profitability. So, if you want your company to succeed, instead of starting with P&L, maybe start by asking your workforce how they feel.

To learn more about how WorkHound can support employee happiness, schedule a free demo or strategy session today.


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