Lately, I’ve been taking some heat from some peers for dumbing down the wonderful world of employee engagementology. Apparently, I’ve touched a nerve.
In a recent article I essentially said that “Job Happiness” is what matters most. I made the claim that since the dawn of time, humans have basically just wanted to be happy. They move away from things that make them unhappy, and move toward things that make them happy. I said that unhappiness is a secondary emotion which results from more base experiences like fear, injustice, discomfort, chaos, and abuse. On the flip slide, happiness is a secondary emotion emerging from more base experiences like security, trust, warmth, growth, intimacy, and order. In essence, my view is that there are a lot of controllable factors that lead to feelings of unhappiness or happiness.
Something is Not Working
I would argue that before all the talk about engagement levels, culture transformation, and discretionary effort we focused simply on making jobs more satisfying as an organizational performance strategy. Over time, we decided to introduce more theoretical constructs and analytical frameworks. However, it’s clear that managers and leaders continue to struggle with core people issues. Somehow even with the mountains of behavioral research, consulting firms, training programs, leadership books, and key note speeches, we still have a huge majority of employees reporting that they are not thrilled about their job situation. Gallup says it is as high as 87%. This issue translates into billions of dollars worth of lost productivity and lost opportunity.
Job Happiness Defined
I’m certainly not the first to use the term “Job Happiness.” It’s admittedly a return to a simpler approach to employee issues. Let me define it by first stating what it is NOT. Job happiness is not an attempt to address complex human psychology. Personal contentment is a result of many, many factors that are way outside the control of an employer or leader. For purposes of this discussion, here is the DeWolf definition of Job Happiness:
Job happiness is the contentment one experiences when contemplating one’s current job situation. It’s the emotional response to a job situation that has what most people value in an employment scenario. Job happiness is improved by removing controllable drivers of unhappiness and installing drivers of happiness.
Just Do Something
“God, grant me… COURAGE to change the things I can…” I’m pretty sure not many people have pulled the Reinhold Niebuhr card when talking about leadership. But the famous Serenity Prayer provides insight into how to lead people effectively. As a manager of people, a primary duty is to ensure that your people have what they need to thrive. As bosses, we can’t control the myriad personal life issues, external pressures, or personality flaws of our people, but we can do something about many job related causes of stress, worry, and discomfort. Given the list of things expected of us, we truly do need COURAGE to make these things a priority. We need a commitment to identify the drivers of unhappiness and do what we can to address them. The visible effort itself on behalf of employees will buoy hope and build trust.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Charles Henry
Jeffrey J. DeWolf is the founder and managing principal of Overland Park based Wolf Prairie LLC (www.wolfprairie.com), an organizational strategy and leadership development consultancy. He is the architect of the Workplace Six™ assessment of organizational health and engagement, and has a passion for helping organizational leaders assess and address issues standing in the way of their wild success. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-219-5353.