Professor Cynthia Fisher: Rewarding work influences employee happiness

Cynthia Fisher

There are many ways in which the workplace influences employee happiness. These include leadership, friendships and fair treatment; however, employee happiness is much more heavily influenced by the work itself.

First, and most immediately, employees feel happier when they think they are doing well, and worse when they experience setbacks. Research reported by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in their book The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work, published in July 2011, shows that the single best predictor of happiness at the end of a work day is having made progress on a meaningful task.

Second, employees feel happier when they believe they are doing good, as found by Grant and Sonnentag in their 2010 report Doing good buffers against feeling bad: Prosocial impact compensates for negative task and self-evaluations. This research suggests that individuals are happier and better able to cope with other workplace stressors if they believe that their work makes a difference to the lives of other people.

Third, employees are happier when their jobs play to their strengths. The State of the global workplace report, published by Gallup in December 2017, shows that employees who use their unique abilities each day are more likely to be highly engaged and productive, choosing to stay at their organisation rather than quitting. Employers should take a strengths-based approach to talent acquisition, development and deployment to reap these benefits.

In sum, managers and organisations can enhance employee happiness and subsequent motivation by providing meaningful work, delivering the support needed to make regular progress on daily tasks, helping individuals realise when they have performed well, respecting and nurturing each employee’s strengths and talents, and allowing flexibility in job design so that individuals can gravitate to roles in which they use their strengths more frequently.

Professor Cynthia Fisher is professor of management at the Bond Business School, Bond University

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