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Keeping employees happy: what research says about job satisfaction

It’s been debated, but research seems to be pointing to the fact that happy employees are more productive. Just as important is the research that shows anyone who’s not engaged in their work and dissatisfied with their job will be more likely to have negative effects on others: wasting other people’s time, negatively affecting the mood of colleagues and skipping work days.
Obviously getting paid well factors into job satisfaction, but there are many other elements that make a difference, too.

Smaller commutes

The longer the commute, the less happy the worker, generally. While some people seem content to stick it out for hours a day, a long commute eats into time with family and friends, time that could be spent cooking, relaxing, or going out. Nobody wants their entire day to be full of work that’s not healthy, anyway ”and a long commute means the “workday” takes up even longer than the time spent at work.
Although you can’t change where your employees live, keeping their commutes in mind can help you reposition them for a happy workday. For instance, perhaps you can swap employees between stores so they work closer to home. Even a change as simple as employees for different shifts can make their commute easier.
I once had a job where I was consistently scheduled for breakfast shifts, but I lived so far away that there was no public transport available that early to get me to work. The stress and expense of getting taxis to work or trying to get a lift from a family member at 4am every day made a big difference to how much I enjoyed that job (I only lasted a couple of weeks).

Job security

Feelings of job security correlate with job satisfaction. Security isn’t all employees care about, but it does make a difference for many of them. Keeping your employees happy so they stick around can indirectly affect their feelings of job security, as time will prove that they are likely to remain employed in the future.
Another good way to make your employees feel more secure is to communicate openly so they’re not left in the dark. Share the reasons behind any changes that need to be made, like cutting back on hours, and encourage them when they’re performing well. Rewarding productive employees with regular hours can help them to feel more secure and encourage them to continue working hard because they’re seeing the direct results in the shifts they’re assigned.


Recognizing the efforts made by employees can go a long way towards job satisfaction and engagement with work. A study of Australian employees found that those who don’t feel they receive enough recognition at work are four times as likely to be dissatisfied with their job overall.
Make recognition a priority and part of the culture in your workplace. If everyone knows that recognition is important, you’ll find even employees recognizing the work of one another can improve their job satisfaction and happiness at work.
If you’ve got a rewards program for employees, make sure it’s focused on effort. Rewarding those who care about their work and try hard will encourage them to continue, and others to do the same.

Create meaning

More important than any of these other factors is how much meaning your employees derive from work. Finding meaning in life is so important it actually outranks happiness. And research has shown that employees who find their work meaningful feel higher levels of motivation, engagement, empowerment, personal fulfillment and job satisfaction. They’re also less likely to be stressed, depressed or take days off.
A report from 2013 found that only 30% of Americans were actively engaged in their work. The rest were either unengaged, going to work because they had to but not finding meaning in what they did, or actively disengaged: acting out on their frustrations and lack of enjoyment at work.
There are a couple of simple, practical ways to help your employees find meaning in their work and engage with what they do. Assigning them to tasks they find more enjoyable is an easy one to start with. If an employee is bored or frustrated by what they’re doing, it can be an uphill battle to find any meaning in that work. For those tasks that nobody wants to do, try rotating them among employees so no single person is stuck with cleaning the toilets every time.
Secondly, help your employees to focus on the bigger picture of what they’re doing. Many employees find meaning in what’s enabled by their work, rather than the work itself. For instance, maybe they’re working to pay their way through school or to support their family. This can make their work more meaningful because of how it affects their life overall.
It’s impossible to force job satisfaction in your employees, but if you notice it’s quite low, this research should give you some starting points for what could be improved.

Photo credit: Capture The Uncapturable / Foter / CC BY This post was written by Belle Beth Cooper

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