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People Just Want to Be Happy

By Jeffrey J. DeWolf 

Business owners and leaders share a single driving purpose: Perform well, sustain or grow, and be profitable. They also share a common challenge: People issues. An organization’s people are either the secret ingredients to a great recipe, or the toxin that poisons the dish.

We tend to over complicate stuff. Human nature is human nature. At the core of human nature is a desire to be happy. Humans are wired to embrace things that are pleasant and to resist things that are not. While happiness itself is wildly complex, one thing is certain: Having a bad job is bad.

Time is Precious

[clickToTweet tweet=”Many spend more time at work than anywhere else. Much of personal happiness is tied to our job.” quote=”Many of us spend more time at work than anywhere else. So, much of our personal happiness is tied to our job.” theme=”style1″]

For most people, 2,000-3,000 hours per year of available life is too valuable to spend in unhappy job drudgery. Employers need to make sure employees are experiencing what I call “job happiness.”

Unhappiness is a Secondary Emotion

For a moment, let’s set aside all the personal (non-work related) issues that contribute to a person’s unhappiness. Dissatisfaction with one’s job is nearly always caused by something else. Unless a person has selected a role he or she hates or is not equipped to do, job unhappiness is a result of good things that are missing and bad things that are present.

Employees at all levels, in organizations of all sizes, functioning in all industries, want the same things. They want clear accountability, open communication, growth opportunities, equitable treatment, strong relationships, and the ability to trust their leaders. Without these core elements of workplace life, employees experience primary emotions that directly affect their overall happiness. Unhappiness is a secondary response resulting from more primal emotions.

Simply put, a work experience that regularly produces fear, uncertainty, mistrust, isolation or feelings of injustice leads to employee unhappiness. The more severe and long-lasting the dysfunction, the deeper the unhappiness.

Job Happiness is the Oil in the Gears of Performance

There’s really not a lot new under the sun. Most “new” ideas and theories are simply reformatted truths with new labels and colors. Call it engagement, satisfaction, commitment, discretionary effort, loyalty, or whatever, it still comes down to whether people are happy about their job situation.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Step one is to find out if your employees are happy. Do they regularly enjoy their workday?” quote=”Step one is to find out if your employees are happy. Do they regularly enjoy their workday?” theme=”style1″]

While no job or organization is perfect, are the normal frustrations of work life balanced by healthy cultural components? Have you asked them?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Step two is to find out what is working and what is not. What’s driving them crazy?” quote=”Step two is to find out what is working and what is not. What’s driving them crazy?” theme=”style1″]

What are the typical causes of frustration in daily work life? It’s important to note that the top issues are common across most organizations. Bad bosses, rotten coworkers, anemic rewards, horrific office spaces, out-of-whack work/life balance, and lousy communication are universal issues making many jobs a discouragement worldwide.

Keep it Simple

Can we all just agree that a basic human nature principle has morphed into a nightmarish bundle of theoretical gobbledygook. (Yes it’s a word. I looked it up.) It’s no wonder that CFOs and CEOs change the subject quickly when the issue of employee engagement and culture is brought up. Rather than commit to keeping employees happy, they roll their eyes and balk at the latest request to fund “soft” initiatives.

Just Do It

Maybe it’s time for leaders at all levels to set aside the complex piles of emotionally intelligent employee engagement constructs and simply look their people in the eye and ask them… “are you happy?” If not, “what can I do to help?”

Jeff DeWolf

Jeffrey J. DeWolf is the founder and managing principal of Overland Park-based Wolf Prairie LLC, an organizational strategy and leadership development consultancy focused on employee job happiness improvement. He is the architect of the JobHapp365™ program for monitoring, measuring, and maximizing job happiness. He is also an Everything DiSC Authorized Partner, and an Official Partner for HappyOrNot, Inc. focused on using HappyOrNot® Smiley Terminals for employee satisfaction tracking. Jeff has a passion for helping leaders assess and address issues standing in the way of their wild success. He can be reached at or 913-219-5353.

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