During International Week of Happiness at Work, we’re taking a closer look at what it means to be happy on the job – and offer some guidance from industry experts on how to find it.

In 1993, 35% of employees surveyed by Gallup said they were “completely satisfied” with their jobs which is the lowest level reported by the research organization. Fast forward 29 years to 2022 and that number reached 49% – with the highest level reaching 56% in 2020. Overall, the trendline shows we’re more satisfied today with our work than in years past.

The annual survey explores the full spectrum of satisfaction elements, including flexibility of schedules, chances for promotion, amount of money earned, healthcare and retirement plans, our co-workers and peers, and immediate manager satisfaction – nearly everything that makes up our work lives.

But what if we narrowed it to just one? Recently, we conducted our own survey with 161 responses, and here’s what people said makes them happy at work:

  • A supportive manager: 43%
  • Work recognition: 29%
  • Friendships and collaboration: 27%
  • Other: 2%

Though limited to only four fields by LinkedIn, the poll offers a quick snapshot of what our followers and employees value today – connection, being noticed for your work, and having leaders who have their backs.

“To be happy at work, you don’t have to hold a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your educational achievement or the most prestigious use of your ‘potential,’ and you don’t have to make a lot of money,” reflects Arthur C. Brooks, a columnist for The Atlantic, host of the “How to Build a Happy Life” podcast, and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School.

“What matters is not so much the ‘what’ of a job, but more the ‘who’ and the ‘why: Job satisfaction comes from people, values, and a sense of accomplishment,” says Brooks.

Jesse Harrison, Marketing Manager in Asia-Pacific, at Eptura agrees. “I’m happiest when I’m doing work that I believe has a meaningful purpose, aligns with my skillset, advances my personal growth, and surrounds me with inspiring, like-minded people,” he explains in the comments of our survey.

Social connection and collaboration makes people happy

Our quarterly Workplace Index of today’s trends finds social connection and collaboration with others to be a highly motivating factor for being in the office or other workplace location together. Employees rank socializing and collaborating with co-workers as the top two reasons for visiting an office, per our survey of 6,700 employees.

Having a workplace to go to can help:

  • Reinforce community purpose
  • Improve 1-on-1 in-person communication and collaboration with managers
  • Boost career growth from guidance and mentoring

Survey respondents also expressed a need for access to equipment and a better working environment as important motivating levers for visiting the workplace – whether an office, a commuting hub, co-working space, hospital, college campus, or manufacturing plant. Our data also shows that more freedom of choice on the commute with flexible work schedules could make a difference in seeing people more days in the office.

“Relationships are fundamental to physical, cognitive and emotional health,” writes Dr. Tracy Brower, a sociologist and frequently cited expert on the topic in the article “To Achieve Work-Life Happiness, Stop Trying to Be Happy” in Newsweek.

“Prioritize creating, building and sustaining relationships,” explains Brower. “To make a close friend, it takes about 200 hours of investment—seeing them regularly at work, rolling up sleeves and innovating together, having coffee or taking a walk.”

How to be happy at work: What the experts say

In a sense, it really depends on how you define happiness. Can a goal as abstract and subjective as personal happiness actually be attained? Some research suggests setting the goal can be counterproductive to achieving it.

“It’s natural for people to want to be happy,” writes Brower. “But ironically, if you make happiness the goal, you’ll actually feel more frustration and angst, based on research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.”

Happiness for its own sake has a host of challenges. It tends to be focused on what’s missing and is overly focused on the self – whereas happiness is strongly correlated with helping others. The pressure to ‘find happiness’ can also be added to the list of stressors for those who are already trying to achieve a lot and are stretched for time.

Instead, it’s all about creating the conditions for happiness, finds Brower – who says they include these four elements:

  1. Gratitude and generosity
  2. Purpose
  3. Social connection
  4. Learning

Brooks says there are two important levers for creating these conditions for being happy at work: Earned success and service to others. Earned success comes from two levers. A sense of accomplishment and professional efficacy – or the idea that you are good at your job. High levels of all these elements help reinforce happiness and job satisfaction.

“Employers who give clear guidance and feedback, reward merit, and encourage their employees to develop new skills are the most likely to give you those feelings,” says Brooks. “Look for a boss who acts that way—and if you have the opportunity, be that kind of boss.”

Service to others isn’t necessarily as altruistic as you might think—though research does suggest volunteering and helping others in need helps satisfy people’s sense of generosity and purpose. It relates to having thoughts that help an employee feel that their job is making the world a better place – and this comes from being able to find a service mindset in almost any role.

How are you helping others? You can find that it in any job by stepping back and thinking about how what you do helps your customers and peers. We all have something we do that can help others.

For Eptura, we give intention to serving others. On the anniversary of our company’s founding on October 4th, our employees will celebrate by volunteering at local food pantries and other charitable events around the globe.

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.