Happy at Work in America, 2019 Version

A recent survey by CNBC shows that of the sample of American workers polled, fully 85% described themselves as happy at work. What factors were considered contributors to happiness in the workplace, and what seemed to matter to people the most?

The survey measured satisfaction or happiness in five areas. Pay and opportunity for advancement were two of the more common attributes usually tested, but the other three show a more interesting shift in how we think about our work. These qualities were meaning, autonomy, and contribution.

These three nontraditional workplace qualities were the ones in which people rated their workplaces as giving the highest satisfaction, or in contributing the most to their happiness at work. Meaning was at the top.

Is our work meaningful? Are we contributing at work, and in the world? Meaningfulness is a quality that changes over time, and that workers can define for themselves. It is interesting that meaning at work is not an external value, but something internal that people manage for themselves. The reasons are often personal and important.

Pay and opportunity for advancement are frequent contributors to surveys of this kind, but in other workplace research, the quality that is most important in workplace satisfaction is work-life balance. Like meaningfulness, work-life balance is a quality that is important to all, but defined differently by each unique worker, and for reasons that are internal and personal.

Can workplaces alter their human resources structures to implement policies that will contribute to satisfaction with meaning at work, or with work-life balance? These qualities are both individual, and important to the unique worker. There is no way to structure a workplace to meet everyone’s internal goals for themselves.

What workplaces can do is put resources toward their values and their communication. A business should have a set of values that support the mission statement, much like our bones support our ability to stand upright. Every employee should know these values and understand that they are a real, living, evolving part of everyday business.

Communication is the way a workplace can remain flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the marketplace, the workforce, and the world. With a focus on values and communication, the American workforce will find their own individual meaning for their work.