Merge's Blog

Creating happier workplaces – what the data definitively tells us

bigstock-147197099I was reminded last week of the importance of creating positive happier workplaces with the release of the 2017 World Happiness report, published to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day of Happiness.  Given that most people spend a large percentage of their lives working, it’s not surprising that there is an entire chapter in this report devoted to the relationship between work and happiness.  The complete report is 178 pages long and can be found at the link above, but in today’s post I thought I’d share some of the highlights about happier workplaces from the “Happiness at Work” chapter.

The data that this report is based on comes from reliable sources and large sample sizes; the authors draw largely upon the Gallup World Poll, which has been surveying people in over 150 countries around the world since 2006.  The fundamental question being asked is what and how do people’s working lives drive their well-being, or what does it take to create happier workplaces.  Generally speaking, national levels of subjective well-being vary greatly across the world and the differing economies, as well as different kinds of work – in offices, on production lines, or in the fields – likely contribute to these cross-country differentials.  Nevertheless, here are some of the key findings:


  • Throughout the world, employed people evaluate the quality of their lives much higher than those who are unemployed.  In other words, people who have a job are happier than those who don’t (duh!)
  • An individual’s happiness adapts very little over time to being unemployed and past spells of unemployment can have a lasting impact even after regaining employment.  In other words, if you don’t have a job, you don’t get used to it!
  • Rising unemployment negatively affects everyone, even those still employed. This is true both at the individual as well as at the macroeconomic level, with national unemployment levels being negatively correlated with average national well-being across the world.
  • Worldwide data reveals a significant difference in how manual and non-manual labour are related to happiness. Interestingly, blue-collar work is systematically correlated with less happiness.
  • While well-paying jobs are conducive to happiness, there are several other factors that are strongly predictive of varied measures of happiness (another duh!).
Work-life balance, variety, autonomy
  • Work-life balance is the strongest workplace driver of an individual’s happiness.  This is true across the board, in terms of people’s life and job satisfaction, general happiness, and 170 different moment-to-moment emotional experiences.  People who are too tired to enjoy the non-work elements of their lives, and those who have jobs that interfere with their ability to spend time with their partner and family report lower systematically lower levels of subjective well-being.
  • Those with jobs that entail high levels of variety and the need to learn new things are more satisfied with their lives and their jobs and experience more positive emotions day-to-day.
  • Individual autonomy in the workplace is a significant driver of happiness; both having control over how the workday is organized as well as the pace at which the employee works.
Social capital, job security, opportunities, managers
  • Social capital in the workplace is even more important. The level of support that a worker receives from his or her co-workers is very strongly predictive of all four measures of happiness, as is being able to have a say in policy decisions made by the employer.
  • Job security (as a spillover effect of unemployment) is a robust driver of individual well-being.  Those who feel their livelihood is at risk systematically report less happiness than those who have high levels of perceived job security.
  • Those who feel they have a job that has good opportunities for advancement and promotion – even controlling for their current level of remuneration and the current content of their job – feel more satisfied with their jobs and lives and also tend to experience greater happiness.
  • Bosses and supervisors can play a substantial role in determining subjective wellbeing or happiness. In particular, the competence of bosses has been shown to be a strong predictor of job satisfaction.

As I read through the report, what struck me most what that there weren’t very many surprises – employment, work-life balance, autonomy, variety, job security, social capital – all lead to happier employees and happier workplaces.  DUH!

I think that as leaders in organizations all of us KNOW what it is that would create happier, more positive and more productive employees.   The fundamental questions is: are we DOING it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Are you creating happier workplaces?  How or why not?  Why is this so easy to talk about yet seemingly so hard to do?  Please share your perspectives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.