Long hours are a hot topic here on Inc.com, with posts discussing the benefits (or lack thereof) of extreme hours generating huge interest.

That might suggest, of course, that workers think that the key to career happiness is a manageable time balance between work and home. What if that simply isn't correct?

According to a new Gallup poll, the key to increasing well-being for employees isn't popular work-life policies like flextime, limited hours or added vacation time. Instead, the thing that correlates most closely with happy employees is engaging work.

The study examined 4,894 full-time employees to determine what factors give the biggest lift to their sense of well-being at work. The results were clear: No amount of vacation time makes up for feeling one's job is boring and pointless.

"Though vacation time and flextime were associated with higher well-being, those who were engaged in their work but took less than one week of vacation had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged employees, even those with six or more weeks of vacation," commented Gallup research manager Sangeeta Agrawal.

Flextime and vacation had an impact on well-being--flextime in particular appears to have a positive impact on employees' happiness levels--but this simply isn't big enough to offset the gloom on a less than engaging gig.

"Fewer hours, more vacation time, and flextime cannot fully offset the negative effects of a disengaging workplace on well-being."
--Gallup chief scientist Jim Harter

"Fewer hours, more vacation time, and flextime cannot fully offset the negative effects of a disengaging workplace on well-being," said Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist.

The findings are clearly of interest to workers who are, say, evaluating competing job offers or considering which career trajectory is likely to make them most satisfied. But the lessons are perhaps even more definitive for small business owners.

Sure, work-life balance friendly policies will win you some points with your team, but nothing can make up for feeling unengaged at work. So rather than fretting first about the hours your employees work, think more about ensuring they understand the usefulness of their work, are actively engaged in it, and are empowered enough that they feel like their day-to-day duties make a real impact.

If the Gallup study isn't enough to convince you, several experts--including VC Brad Feld and management coach Dr. Serena Reep--have also endorsed the idea that flextime and other perks are pretty useless unless employees have a sense of the intrinsic worth of their work.