Most days, my wife wakes up happy and energized, ready to go to work (particularly after she gets some coffee). For years now, as a social worker, she spends a lot of time stressed. She works very long hours. She routinely takes a lot of undeserved flak from clients. But, there she is, always ready to head in for more. And I often wonder why.
Forbes recently wrote a story highlighting 20 of the happiest jobs in America. Software engineers came in at #1, with key benefits being the enjoyment of both the people they work with and the companies they work for. Their average salaries, between $85,000 – $100,000, probably didn’t hurt either. (If I made that much money, I could even manage to suffer a few bad coworkers without a major decrease in workplace happiness.) Executive chef, property manager, bank teller, and warehouse manager round out the top five. Kudos to anyone who would have listed those jobs in the top five when asked about workplace happiness; they wouldn’t have come to my mind.
Good news for students seeking our online master’s of systems engineering, and our construction management certificate. They both tied for #9, and the list ended in a heated five-way battle for a top-ten spot. Students seeking out those careers have chosen well, it would seem … preparing themselves for some workplace happiness down the road.
But, despite the career choice, one thing was consistent in the article: happiness in the workplace is tied to having purpose. Software engineers get to see problems through, from start to finish. Bank tellers get to work with people every day, helping them through their finances. It was individuals who felt rewarded at work (above and beyond monetary compensation), who had a sense of purpose behind what they did, who were most happy.
I did a brief Google search on finding workplace happiness and came across many articles highlighting tips like bringing animals to work, eating ice cream, and having plants. But those seem like gimmicks on some level. Nothing more than nice little perks, instead of serious attempts at actually making work a place you’d want to be. But also, amongst those articles, were others listing some bigger notions that we should all be aware of, both as managers of people and as workers. Making people feel valued. Explaining why they’re there. Developing your team, personally and professionally. Thanking them. These seem to speak to what truly makes a lot of working environments happy places to be.
It’s because of that sense of purpose that my wife can deal with some adversity in her workplace, oftentimes with a smile, sometimes with a few tears. But the purpose behind what she does makes it worth it. Don’t get me wrong, a little ice cream never hurt anyone in the middle of the day, and I’d be the first in line. But if you, or your employees, are feeling less than happy in the workplace … it might be time to look to, and address, some of the bigger issues, even if that means a change in environment.