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The Science Behind What Really Drives Employee Happiness (It May Surprise You)

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Ever wonder what is the ideal employee experience that leads to great work performance and positive work cultures? What about what drives these positive work experiences and happy workers?”

I found the answers, thanks to a notable research that came my way.

The IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Globoforce’s WorkHuman® Research Institute joined forces to find the answers to similar questions with a global study involving more than 23,000 employees in 45 countries across different industries.

Researchers first looked at the literature to find the perceptions that employees have about their experiences at work. This massive finding led researchers to construct the Employee Experience Index for measuring what they found to be the 5 core facets of positive employee experience:

  • Belonging – feeling part of a team, group or organization.
  • Purpose – understanding why one’s work matters.
  • Achievement – a sense of accomplishment in the work that is done.
  • Happiness – the pleasant feeling arising in and around work.
  • Vigor – the presence of energy, enthusiasm and excitement at work.

Some Key Findings

Employees who experience a sense of belonging, purpose, achievement, happiness and vigor are more likely to perform at higher levels, contribute “above and beyond” expectations, and are also less likely to quit.

But here’s what really drove it home for me: Employees with more positive experiences at work reported significantly higher levels of discretionary effort. In fact, the study indicates, “discretionary effort is almost twice more likely to be reported when employee experience is positive (95 percent compared to 55 percent).”

If you’re new to the concept of discretionary effort, it’s something every company needs to release within their workforce for competitive advantage. Let me further drive the point home.

When leaders commit to creating an environment where the employee experience is at an optimum level, the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals hits another stratosphere. And the reason this is so important, of course, is that when employees are emotionally committed, they give discretionary effort.

In other words, people will go above and beyond typical job responsibilities, they will go the extra mile, and you can see discretionary effort in any organization, at any level, whether you’re the janitor or a VP. It’s a real thing, and it’s something you can see and measure.

The 6 Drivers of the Positive Employee Experience

The million dollar question at the heart of this profound study is what every organization with a heartbeat wants to know: What can we do to improve employee experience?

Well, not surprisingly, it all starts with leaders and managers setting the stage. They need to provide clear direction and support that will drive human workplace practices that create the employee experience.

Here’s what the study found must be in place on a consistent and high level:

Organizational Trust

Employees increasingly expect to trust their organizations to be responsible and act with integrity. When those expectations are met, 83 percent of respondents describe a positive employee experience, 46 percentage points higher than when those expectations are unmet.

Coworker Relationships

The study found that “supportive coworker relationships are also an important driver of a positive work experience. When those relationships are present in the workplace, employees report a much more positive employee experience than when that support is absent (77 percent compared to 35 percent).”

Meaningful Work

This means ensuring that employees’ skills and talents are being fully utilized and there is greater alignment to shared, core values. When employees agree their work is consistent with the organization’s core values, 80 percent report a more positive employee
experience (compared to 29 percent who do not agree). When employees agree
their job makes good use of their skills and abilities, 81 percent report a more positive employee experience (compared to 41 percent who did not agree)

Recognition, Feedback and Growth

When feedback and recognition of performance, as well as opportunities for
professional development and growth are met, the positive employee experience soars. The study reveals, “Eighty-three percent of employees who receive recognition of their performance, and 80 percent of those receiving feedback, reported a positive
employee experience, compared to 38 and 41 percent who did not.”

Empowerment and Voice

When employees feel their ideas and suggestions matter, they are more than twice as likely to report a positive employee experience than those who don’t (83 percent vs. 34 percent). A similar pattern emerged among employees who have the freedom to decide how to do their work (79 percent vs. 42 percent).

Work-life Balance

More positive employee experiences are also associated with employees’ flexibility to manage their work and other aspects of their lives. When employees agree their
work schedule is flexible enough for them to meet family/personal responsibilities, 79 percent report a more positive employee experience (vs. 48 percent who disagree).

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