This dissatisfaction with work is more than an unfortunate truth--it's a quiet crisis in our economy. Employee stress alone costs American companies an average of $300 billion yearly -a startling statistic, considering their employees are working more than ever. In fact, between 1979 and 2007, the average employee worked 10 percent more from year to year, adding an additional 4.5 weeks of work per year.
The sooner we address overall employee dissatisfaction, the better our economy, and our lives, will be.
What's Causing the Problem?
In our digital age, we have the ability to work anywhere: at home, at a coffee shop, on a plane. It's convenient, until working from anywhere turns into working from everywhere. In addition to the average 47 hours of work each week, 80 percent of Americans report working "after hours" for roughly seven hours per week on average--amounting to an entire extra day of work per week.
The struggle for work/life balance is over. Now, we talk of work-life integration. We spend so much time working that overall life satisfaction in life is nearly impossible without being satisfied in the workplace. Consider how much time you actually spend on the job: if you start working at 18 and retire at 65, you would clock in a total of 110,450 hours at work. That's more than 40 percent of your entire waking adult life!
Happiness in the workplace isn't just about earning a higher salary or getting a corner office. As the lines between work and life blur, the concept of employee happiness needs to be explored further to truly create an environment that instills a sense of contentment.
How Do We Fix It?
Last year, the The Energy Project partnered with the Harvard Business Review to figure out why Americans were so dissatisfied and disengaged at work, and the results were startling simple. The study found employees are more content and productive when their core needs have been met--needs that have little to do with compensation or title. They're much more basic: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
When we think back, the 9-5, five-days-a-week work cycle (long deemed "dead" in the media) made personal time a given: once you left the physical space of the office, work was over for the day. People were able to devote weekends and time after-hours to relaxing, recharging, spending time with family and friends, and pursuing their own interests.
Now, as we continue to work more and more, time spent meeting those personal needs is on the decline. To accommodate our new, more fluid work schedule, it's essential for companies to facilitate an environment that prioritizes employees' personal needs. Here are some best practices to get you started:
- Practice taking breaks. Researchers at Humboldt University in Berlin found that skipping lunch break increases stress and reduces creativity--concerning, when you consider that 65 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks or don't take a lunch break.Give your employees time during the day to step back and recharge--whether it's a lunch break, a mid-day exercise class, or even offering them space to simply sit quietly.
- Build a community. When employees have strong, compassionate relationships in the workplace, they are happier, perform better, and are more likely to show up. Host an office happy hour, where work stops early and employees have the opportunity to get to know one another; take your team out of the office for a day-long outing; or even hold in-office team building activities.
- Challenge your employees. A recent study shows, "the opportunity to use skills and abilities" has displaced "job security" as one of the top drivers of employee satisfaction. New opportunities not only to use, but also improve these skills help employees feel challenged at work, increasing their overall happiness in the workplace.
- Encourage goal setting (and follow up.) People who are working toward a goal, be it taking the lead on a new project or proposal, or something as small as tackling their to-do list consistently, likely to perform better in the long term than those who aren't striving towards a target. The key to making goal setting successful is holding the employee responsible for meeting that goal. Managers are responsible for encouraging progress, checking in, and making themselves available as a resource.
- Cultivate employees' interests. Supporting work-life integration will help employees feel more fulfilled and supported. In letting people be their entire self at work, employers can create happier, more productive employees. Here's one of many examples from my company Yesware--Yesterday was #DressUpYourPetDay. Our Director of Talent, Loren Boyce was inspired to dress up one of her pugs as our company mascot, a giant green yeti! More details on our Facebook page.
Increasing happiness at work is a productivity goldmine: happier employees are more successful, they're smarter and more creative when approaching problems, and they'll be better for your bottom line. Take Fortune Magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2014: these highly rated workplaces reported an average increase in revenue of 22.2 percent. Moreover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these same companies added new employees at rate that was five times higher than the national average.
This column, called "Occupation: Human" is about the people, the research, the companies and the ideas that strive to make work a place where people can be happy. As rare as it is, we've all had moments of victory at work--moments of pride, joy, camaraderie, difficult honesty, sacrifice. This column is about finding those moments and talking about ways to create more of them. I will interview a broad range of professionals and survey a wide range of research all with this simple aim: discover and share what's making work more human in the modern world.
Happiness is one of the most basic pursuits of humans. By prioritizing it in our work lives as we do in our personal lives, both employees and their employers can reach new levels of success. Please join me twice a month and let me know your thoughts below.