Why happiness at work matters

We all want to make the workplace work.

With people being such an important asset for any organization, every employer must continually reaffirm the commitment to healthy and safe workplaces. But we can do more. Our goal should be a fundamental one: let's create happiness in the workplace.

Why does something as simple as workforce happiness merit our attention?

Room for improvement

Here's one answer: most workers don't feel engaged with the work they do. Gallup has been surveying employed Americans for many years, and discovered that the percentage of employees who report being engaged with their work has remained steady over time, but never tops more than about 4 in 10 workers. Last year, during the peak pandemic period, the figure bounced around more than usual, but didn't see a sustained change. While the relative steadiness of these figures could be encouraging, the reality is that the majority of working adults don't feel engaged at work. We have a lot of work to do.

Jobs matter

Why else should we pay attention to workplace happiness? Jobs are important to people, in ways that extend beyond a paycheck. For evidence, let's start with a concept like "belonging." Research from EY, the "Belonging Barometer" study, found that most people (62%) feel their greatest sense of belonging at home, but that about 1 in 3 (34%) find this at work. Plenty of people therefore rely on their job for a feeling of being a part of a community. This presents an opportunity for organizational leaders.

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We can follow this up with some good news: to promote employee wellbeing, a "back to basics" approach can often take us a long way. In that same study, 39% of respondents report the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues check in with them regularly, both regarding work matters and on a personal level.

This tells us that we don't necessarily need complicated initiatives to create more effective, people-centered workplaces. But we do need evidence-based guideposts. As analysts have noted, the pandemic upended many employee engagement go-to's, such as work/life balance, employee recognition programs, and company culture development. That means that now more than ever, we need to adapt and change the way we approach employee engagement. We need to understand who our employees are and what they need. Our mission should be to meet people where they're at, committing to provide workable, on-the-go avenues for personal growth.

High-volume hiring faces new challenges

When we restrict these discussions to salaried workers, we needlessly cut off a major component of the workforce. The results could be seen in the years of historically high turnover that plagued industries before COVID-19. Emerging in 2021 is something even worse: an inability to get workers to take jobs in the first place.

fast food sign saying workers wanted apply within_cropped

As local economies reopen this spring and beyond, talk has arisen of labor shortages. A recent industry piece discussed restaurants "desperate" to hire workers, for example. Among the solutions: referral bonuses, drive-up interviews, and boosts to hourly pay. The National Federation of Independent Business found in March 2021 that 42% of business owners surveyed reported open jobs they couldn't fill, a figure far higher than the 22% historical average, and higher than February's previous peak.

There are numerous factors contributing to the differential between available jobs and willing workers. One possibility is a new player in the TA space, but merits discussion: workers see the world differently now. The long months of the pandemic, including the shutdowns of many high-volume hiring industries, may have served to shift perspectives. As the concept of "public health" became a widespread focus of discussion, more people are placing greater emphasis on their own health. That may include dwelling more on workplace conditions, avoiding the potential for burnout, and prioritizing self-care.

Knowing how to make a difference

Given this growing possibility, it's important that we understand as much as we can about what creates happiness among a workforce, and what steps employers can therefore take to boost the happiness of every employee. The old playbooks simply won't be sufficient in the post-pandemic employment landscape.

An opportunity is here. By understanding how people feel about their work lives and then taking evidence-based action in response, the way forward can be better than ever.


Creating workplace happiness is a core part of our mission. We'd love to help your people find happiness at work.