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How Internal and External Factors Influence Happiness at Work

By Zoltan Vadkerti

“La Dolce Vita”, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, “Leven als God in Frankrijk”, “The American Dream”; today’s culture is built around and founded on these catchphrases. To understand how much these cathartic states, or the quest to get to them, are rooted in our society one only needs to dip into the American Declaration of Independence which clearly states that mankind is not just created equal but every individual has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. As a very consequence, we tend to work around the clock to sooner, rather than later, get hold of the perfect mansion, impeccable car, ideal relationship and foolproof weekend house.

In our ever-rising pursuit to happiness, is it possible to be content in our work? In fact, happiness, today, has become one of the most decisive factors of positive job performance in the workplace, and so it’s no wonder that companies have started investigating what internal and external factors influence workplace happiness. In this piece, we will get to know them a bit better and help the new generations of people and HR managers (i.e. workplace / office happiness managers, employee engagement officers, work-life integration managers, employee experience managers etc.) to identify them.

Firstly, leave no stone unturned and look carefully around your office. Who looks the most happy? Who doesn’t? If some of your employees look like they would rather be spending their time at home with a fever than at their office desks, you have some work to do. Your company might provide the right financial incentives, office perks, or beautiful and modern environment to its personnel, but this is most likely not going to move the needle.

Confirming this theory is one of the most often quoted studies, The Virtuous Organization: The Value of Happiness in the Workplace, from 2004. This significant piece of research confirmed that happiness is not fundamentally rooted in obtaining money or sensual pleasures. Why should this be important to an employer? Simply put, happy employees are more engaged, cooperative, innovative, and committed, and will more likely make a significant difference in the bottom line of your company.

So, what are those internal and external factors you should carefully consider before setting up company policies that promote happiness at work, or start measuring the level of satisfaction within your workplace?

There are bountiful internal factors that could influence the level of employees’ happiness at work, such as authority, leadership and management practices, job satisfaction, shared values within an organization, quality of work-life balance, and work relationships, to name a few. In fact, this area is so vast that it would require writing a series of blog articles just to cover every piece. However, to start building up a solid level of understanding, we recommend that you watch Richard Layard’s, professor of happiness economics, fascinating TED talk on this basic purpose.

And, no less exciting, is the topic of external factors influencing the level of employee happiness at work.

Take, for example, politics – a subject on which everyone seems to have an opinion. The Independent recently reported that the US stress level reached record levels in the last 10 years following the election. People are surrounded with conversations, social media, news, and debates that continually remind them about the issues that stress them the most. Indeed, the level of political climate, power transitions, or the pace of development could all become significant sources of augmented stress at the workplace. On top of this, people tend to have conversations more that neither improve their state of mind nor their happiness.

Other external influencing factors could be the state of the local economy (market boom, unemployment, building of a new highway or airport, competition) or the level of involvement of the company in the local community (employee volunteering programmes, community engagements, community development programmes) etc. Though it is necessary to underline that external factors are usually temporary in nature.

After all, while it could seem impossible to properly put your finger on the nuances of these internal and external factors and understand the level of influence they have on employees’ happiness, there are certain steps you can take to make sure that these workplace ingredients are understood, and their effect measured.

Click here to find out more about how to improve employee engagement and increase workplace happiness!

HappyOrNot Guest Blogger Zoltan Vadkerti

Zoltan Vadkerti is a work-life expert, blogger and Executive Director at the WorkLife HUB. He studied economics in both the Netherlands and Hungary before he moved to Brussels to becoming a lobbyist on EU social and employment policies. That experience, and many others, led him to an interest in the organisation of work and specifically on the quality of work and work-life integration. Follow on Twitter: @vadzol |@WorkLifeHUB and connect in Linkedin