A happy workforce can be a major asset. There’s a correlation between employees’ happiness and their productivity at work – according to one study, happiness resulted in a 12% increase in productivity. Happier people are also more likely to be resilient, energetic and innovative, even when faced with stress and upheaval.

The notion of how work makes us feel has jumped to the forefront of HR leaders’ and employees’ collective consciousness. But, what’s the formula for feeling happy at work? Indeed recently conducted a study of 1,532 workers in Canada to understand the key dimensions of work well-being that matter most right now, and what organizations must do to facilitate a happier, more engaged workplace. This article unpacks some of the essential elements of employee well-being, and how to take steps to best deliver on the “hidden gems” tied to satisfaction, happiness, and stability. 

What factors drive workplace well-being? 

According to Indeed’s research, most people identify family, relationships, and health as the main pillars that drive overall well-being or happiness. Work, on the other hand, provides the financial means they need to support those pillars. However, this presents a potential hurdle to well-being, as many spend one-third of their lives at work. It’s clear that employees’ work life also needs to become a source of satisfaction, versus a mere transactional experience. 

Although only 59% of workers report they’re currently happy at work, most people in Canada believe we can find happiness at work (95%). How we feel at work impacts our entire life. For example, 91% of workers say that work impacts their happiness at home, too. 

Achieving happiness, though, means aligning on common expectations — specifically, how employers and employees define “happiness.” To better understand the science behind happiness and well-being, we partnered with two global experts: Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, and author of “The How of Happiness,” and Dr. Jan-Emmanuel de Neve, Professor of Economics at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and director of the Wellbeing Research Centre. Dr. Lyubomirsky and Dr. De Neve helped identify twelve specific factors that lead to well-being in the workplace: 

  • Energized
  • Inclusion
  • Achievement
  • Purpose
  • Belonging
  • Support
  • Appreciation
  • Trust
  • Learning
  • Manager support
  • Paid fairly
  • Flexibility

Our research found that workers tend to think flexibility and pay are the main factors that make people happy at work. However, according to Indeed’s research, it goes much deeper than that. Instead, the social dynamics around work are more important to overall well-being than pay and flexibility. Our findings showed that the following factors were the top “hidden gems” of workplace well-being: 

Feeling energized 

Feeling energized at work is the number-one driver to workplace wellbeing. People feel energized day-to-day by the people they interact with and the work they do. They want to be inspired, motivated and challenged while staying fully absorbed.

Belonging 

A feeling of belonging is the second most important driver of happiness. People feel a greater sense of belonging when their company leaders show they care about them, when they have friends at work, and when they understand their impact on other people and teams.

Trust 

Trust is the third most-ranked driver of happiness. People feel they can trust their leaders when they’re approachable and transparent, and when positive intent is proven through actions. Trust in colleagues develops in an environment where autonomy and honest feedback are valued. 

Inclusion 

The fourth ranked driver is trust. People feel included when they can express their thoughts, feelings and beliefs fully and authentically, without fear of judgement or retaliation.

Support 

Rounding the top five drivers is support. People feel supported when they are provided with enough time and resources to do their job well and can rely on their coworkers through emotional support.

Some companies are already tappening into these “hidden gems,” understanding how they can boost employee morale and help with recruitment and retention. For example, Lane Technologies of Toronto offers phased-in return-to-work options for new parents returning from parental leave. By recognizing how deeply personal this journey is, Lane Technologies is signaling its concern for their team, and ensuring they’re supporting employees during this critical time. 

Steps to enhancing employee well-being 

Getting started on a workplace happiness or well-being initiative can feel daunting — but no one expects you to create a comprehensive solution overnight. Even small, initial efforts to improve employees’ happiness at work can have a big impact. Start here:

1. Seek knowledge about well-being 

Develop your understanding of what drives well-being, and the impact it can have on your workplace and business. Also start assessing how happy your employees are at work. For example, Indeed’s Work Happiness Score is a company rating that indicates how people feel at your company. To derive a happiness score, employees are asked to give a one- to five-star rating to the statement, “I feel happy at work most of the time.” 

In addition to employees’ overall happiness, the methodology measures the 12 other drivers of happiness at work which are calculated through the same process. 

2. Dive deeper

Once you assess how people are feeling at your company, identify your company’s top three strengths and any underperforming areas that you may want to work on. Just recognizing shortcomings can help you better work towards resolution. 

3. Create an action plan

Start by identifying a focus area to celebrate, and one to improve — your knowledge-seeking and deep dives will likely unearth improvement areas to consider. If, for example, your employees indicate they lack a sense of belonging, consider creating opportunities for people to engage one-on-one and as larger teams, so they have a sense of pride in your business and the work they do. Opportunities to collectively recognize and celebrate can be simple ways to pull extended employees into the mix. 

4. Prioritize transparency

Share your plan broadly with your workplace. Being honest and authentic about wanting to improve matters and welcome individuals, teams, and committees of internal stakeholders to share their thoughts and consult on ways forward. This employee involvement instantly creates a sense of ownership and ensures you have program advocates throughout all levels of your business. 

5. Reevaluate and pivot, as needed 

Be sure you have defined benchmarks and key performance indicators going into any new initiative. Equally importantly, be sure you’re surveying employees regularly to determine if you’re meeting those marks. Are Workplace Happiness Scores improving over time? Are there consistent areas of improvement — or areas you can’t seem to boost? Share what you’ve learned — what’s working to increase your employees’ well-being, and what isn’t.

Workplace happiness is the key to business success 

All of this said, establishing and maintaining well-being among workers cannot be achieved through symbolic gestures or one-off initiatives. Achieving these goals demands ongoing effort and recognition of a job well done. It also means ensuring employees have a sense of belonging, trust, appreciation, and purpose within the workplace, no matter where they’re physically working. 

The benefits, though, are undeniable. Companies that prioritize well-being and employee appreciation are likely to see increased productivity. On the flip side, failing to address root causes of worker dissatisfaction and unhappiness can have a long, lingering impact. More than two in five (42%) Canadian business leaders believe dampened employee morale and potential increase of burnout will negatively impact their revenues in 2021.

Overcoming these hurdles and reaping the long-term benefits means uncovering and acting on the “hidden gems” of happiness — creating a community and culture of trust and belonging, where people feel energized to do their work. This will help ensure more positive sentiments, decreased retention, enhanced employer branding and, overall, greater ongoing success.