What Makes Us Happy at Work?

Happiness and Work have long been at the loggerhead. The general conception is that you work to earn money and then you try to buy sparks of happiness through that money. For example, people work round the year and then go for a long vacation to explore new places. This post is to break that simplistic view which majority of employers endorse that money is the sole motive of every employee.

The fact that most reward programs are based on monetary incentives makes it clear that employers believe that employees view money as the single biggest motivating factor. If you work well for a year, you get a better salary next year. If you are not performing well, your salary is reduced. While this strategy might have worked for many, has this strategy really worked well?

While it might have worked in short term, this has clearly failed us in long run. How do you explain peoples’ tendency to switch jobs at fixed intervals? This can be explained by employee’s perceived purpose in the job one does and the learning curve. Once you join an organization, you have an intermittent purpose to learn from the departing employee and take over his portfolio. Also, you learn about the organization and the domain. As one grows in the organization, learning curve flattens. Also, the purpose of the job fades away. Eventually, you get into a mechanical job where there are limited take aways and no apparent purpose to get the job done. If money was the only factor, people would have switched jobs only when they were getting more money than the current employer.

This is also in tune with Motivator-Hygiene Theory. This theory puts all the factors that can impact an employee-employer relation into two different buckets. Motivation factors are those which keep employees satisfied/happy like pay, perks etc. Hygiene factors are those which may not necessarily make employees happy but absence of these may lead to dissatisfaction like work environment, interaction with colleagues etc. So if we ignore hygiene factors and increase the pay, chances are fair that employees would still remain dissatisfied.

If you look around, you will find jobs which are not as rewarding in terms of monetary benefit. What monetary benefit does a mountaineer derive out of his work? If it were for money, one would have given up. But it’s the adrenaline rush that keeps these lads going. Also, everyone has a different set of expectation from the job. An avid reader would be happier working at a bookstore than a sportsperson even if he is paid the same if not lesser.

Point that I want to drive home is that everyone would derive happiness from different factors at work. Money can be one of the many factors but sense of purpose and learning curves are equally important.

PS: This article is based on my experience in leading the team at TricksWork