How Much Happiness Is Too Much Happiness For Employees?: Happiness Research Report

There is a consensus among employees that their feelings at work affect their feelings at home, with not feeling happy at work being the second reason for considering leaving their job



 Happiness is often referred to as the feeling of joy combined with the satisfaction of leading a meaningful life. Also known as subjective well-being, happiness is related to positive emotions across different aspects oflife, including work. The relatively new concept of workplace happiness stems from direct experiences of employees with their employer and their organization. Consequently,this happiness at work results in favorable feelings towards the work environment, colleagues, supervisors, and organizations at large. Itis also a result of employee commitment to the employer and satisfaction with their job profile and leadership. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for human resource management, these need to be handled with adequate care to avoid any long-term repercussions for the happiness of employees. Moreover, there is a consensus among employees that their feelings at work affect their feelings at home, with not feeling happy at work being the second reason for considering leaving their job. Organizations thrive when employees are happy and this should persuade them to proactively work towards maximizing happiness at work. To harness this potential, it is essential to understand the nuances of workplace happiness.

How happy is India's workforce?  


The need to seek happiness at work is becoming increasingly important. Yet, the majority of the employees are experiencing low levels of happiness at work. So, there is a strong urge to prioritize happiness but it is not met with a satisfactory level of the same. This unquenched thirst for a higher level of workplace happiness, hence, permeates into several other aspects of employees’ work life. Workplace happiness is tied to multiple other factors which not just control how employees think and feel, but also change the way they approach their decisions, in turn, significantly impacting the individual stress and mental well-being, employees’ turnover intention, as well as organizations’ growth, productivity, and progress as a ripple effect.

What predicts workplace happiness?


Multiple factors are associated with explaining workplace happiness, which can be broadly classified as psychological factors and workplace-specific ones. Given the context of the time during which the study was conducted, it becomes essential to recognize that the pandemic has pushed people into reshuffling their priorities. The protection of the psychological needs for self became central. As a result of this, the emotional and instinctive needs of people majorly including stress management, work-life balance, belongingness, and well-being got amplified, and it also urged them to assign more importance to the work they do, in turn, leading to a more meaningful life. This furthered their rational and reflective needs, making them take more accountability for theirlife and work and focus more deeply on aspects of autonomy, innovation, and seeking jobs that align with their sense of purpose. It is important to recognize that addressing these at both personal and professional levels is paramountto holistic happiness atthe workplace.  

Greater autonomy and belongingness at work make employees happier?

Job autonomy is the extent to which employees can control decisions and use discretion within their job. Higher autonomy is associated with better subjective well-being and job satisfaction. Perceived autonomy also enhances subjective happiness and may motivate employees to craft their jobs through greater control.

Belongingness, on the other hand, refers to a feeling of connectedness and a desire to maintain lasting interpersonal attachments. Strong bonds with colleagues and higher felt connections to the organization lead to greater psychological well-being and lower burnout. Recent research has also shown that belonging is the most important driver of workplace happiness outranking pay. Furthermore, while the other drivers of belonging may have changed before and during the COVID19 pandemic, social connection was found to remain constant. 

In our research as well, we found that a high sense of belongingness and a greater degree of autonomy at work is highly correlated with workplace happiness. While this can help in analyzing what could’ve driven happiness for most organizations in hindsight, this finding is extremely optimistic in paving a way for the future: a culture that focuses more on belongingness rather than discouraging camaraderie and encouraging more initiatives from employees rather than micromanagement can be promising. 

High stress and low work-life balance take a toll on workplace happiness  

Changing work environments was a major consequence of COVID-19 across the world. The pandemic brought with it some modifications to not just our routines, but also our relationships with ourselves, others, and our work. A majority of the workforce was forced to revise priorities, juggle home and work lives like never before, and challenge existing choices. In the midst of all this, what emerged as a strong and expected finding was that higher stress is associated with higher levels of work-personal life interference and higher intent to leave one’s job. Therefore, lower workplace happiness can even prompt employees to consider leaving their jobs, making happiness a salient concern in modern workplaces. It, hence, becomes crucial for organizations to respond to modified employee needs, such as more autonomy over one’s work, better work-life balance, and a continued sense of belongingness despite remote work.

How does workplace happiness differ across crosssections in India?  


While men are happier at work than women, the majority of the reasons for their happiness are the same and are related to better general well-being, work-life balance, innovation, autonomy, belongingness, and lower interference between work and personal lives. An interesting finding that corroborates the already existing data behind is that stress and mental health significantly impact workplace happiness for women. While there isn’t a huge gap between the general well-being of men and women, it indicates a need to also pay attention to external factors such as pay and job positions that might be impacting the workplace happiness levels for women. In our sample, of all the people in the senior management and of all the people earning over 5 lacs, only 37% were women in both cases. Besides this, the gender roles in society that sometimes tend to put extra pressure on women to multitask and cater to the needs of both their home and work lives explain this well. An imbalance is likely to take a toll on their perceived stress and mental health, which also explains why several women are forced to leave their jobs, in turn. This finding can also guide future work in targeting ‘no-one-size fits-all’ initiatives to promote well-being at work.

Full-time employees are happier than part-time employees  

Part-time employees are significantly less happy than those who are employed full-time. The relationship between the number of hours one works/chooses to work and happiness is complicated, owing to motivational factors that may compel the individuals who want to work full-time to settle for part-time engagements. As part-time jobs were most vulnerable to losses during the pandemic, these results may be explained by concerns about job security. Moreover, despite being overqualified, some employees had to settle for underpaid part-time jobs and this may lead to lower satisfaction and happiness. Added to that is the lack of a sense of belongingness and inclusion which is drastically higher for employees who work full-time– they do not just get to spend more time with their teams while at work, but also get a chance to share common breaks which further their bonding with their colleagues. It is important to note that part-time employment does not equate with flexible working hours, which may contribute to higher workplace happiness.

Majority of employees are seeking flexibility to maximise their workplace happiness  

Having received a flavor of various modes of working, employees are increasingly moving towards exploring the potential that non-traditional ways of working can bring. These non-traditional ways of working refer to not just remote working, but also a hybrid model of working, in contrast to the ‘work from office’ model that had been the conventional way of working since long before the pandemic hit us. People’s preferences are based on their choice with respect to their happiness, suggesting that people prioritise flexibility when asked about their work-related happiness. This is in line with our previous findings that indicate autonomy is imperative for workplace happiness, and these flexible models of working have only increased the scope for autonomy at work. It also points to an important fact that while belongingness at work is considered to be of immense importance by employees, physical presence is not a necessity for it, and measures to nurture connectedness in organisations can be regulated even via these models. This is also consistent with findings that solely working from the office may take away from the sense of flexibility that people have enjoyed over the last two years. Particularly in a post-COVID world, a flexible work environment such as a hybrid work model (a blend of working from home and the office) may be more suitable for promoting a more adaptable work environment, facilitating higher productivity and better work-life balance as well.

Retail & E-commerce has the highest number of unhappy employees while Healthcare has the highest number of happy employees

The glaringly low percentage of happy employees in the retail and e-commerce sector can be attributed to the high pressures and expectations from the industry. The need for employees to deliver perfectly and speedily comes from the intense competition among the players in the industry and is permeating the stress levels of the employees. With 55% of the employees feeling highly stressed, the data indicate an undue amount of pressure that is taking a toll on this sector. As a result, it is also loosening human ties with 36% of the employees feeling that they don’t share a very strong sense of purpose and meaning with their co-workers about their work. 50% of the employees in the retail and e-commerce sector also expect their happiness levels to rise if they are given a chance to work in more flexible ways such as working remotely and adopting a hybrid mode of working. 

At the other end of workplace happiness is the healthcare and pharmaceuticals industry, both of which saw an uptick in growth during pandemic times, associated with a lower likelihood of layoffs and sector shrinkage, and high pay. There is also a sense of validation for the purpose and meaning in life for a lot of healthcare employees, along with a high sense of belongingness that they share with their coworkers. On average, those in retail and e-commerce experience greater work interference in their personal lives as compared to employees in the healthcare sector. Although we sampled data from employees in 18 different sectors, including advertising and telecom, it is interesting to note how retail and e-commerce and healthcare bookended the range of happy employees.

What are the contributing factors to attrition?  


Interestingly, higher turnover intent is explained by higher general well-being, but lower workplace happiness. It is likely that individuals who are satisfied with the personal aspects of their lives, or who are generally happier, but who are discontent with their jobs, seek to leave work environments that are making them unhappy. This can also be explained by the fact that when people have personal environments that are more secure and stress-free, they feel reassured to lean back on them, especially during times of crisis such as job transitions. They, hence, feel a sense of confidence in revolting against the professional part of their life if it is not making them happy. This points toward looking at workplace happiness through a more holistic lens and it would be incorrect to conclude that those who choose to leave their jobs are generally unhappy because they seem to be particularly unhappy at work. While work-life balance, toxic culture, and lack of flexibility are some of the common reasons for attrition, there may not always be one big reason for someone to leave. Employees could have a series of pinches that slowly build up to unhappiness, and if not addressed can lead to them leaving their jobs. So, these findings highlight the importance of fostering an environment to promote a healthy culture among employees, which can also help cope with stressors and enhance happiness at work.

Men and women have different reasons for intending to leave their jobs

The identified differences between men’s and women’s reasons to consider quitting their jobs turned out to be quite an eye-opener, indicating that while age and having fewer children influence men’s intent towards leaving their jobs, they did not influence those of women. So, while the data points towards the importance of stress and mental health for women, it is likely that their personal life has little role to play in those aspects. It circles back to the low work-life balance, instead of being solely personal life-related, emerging from the onus of multitasking. Also, while greater general well-being seemed to give a sense of security to both men and women, lower workplace happiness did not play as major a role for women as high stress and low work-life balance. So, it is possible that work interfering with personal life or vice versa is more distressing for women, contributing to higher stress, and therefore, leading up to the point of saturation for them.  

A guide to creating a happier work culture  

As the threat of new variants of COVID-19 recedes with increased access to vaccines, organizations are assessing inevitable changes in work culture and contemplating future work environment options. Following are some ways that organizations can build a happier workforce:

-Introduce more flexible work models  

  • Our results for people preferring hybrid work models being the happiest is consistent with research during the pandemic revealing high employee preference for flexible work arrangements. For example, in India, more than half of surveyed employees favor a hybrid model and 9/10 believe it will increase their work-life balance. 
  • As happier employees often translate into better employees, the higher workplace happiness associated with flexible work environments presents organizations an opportunity to meet employee expectations and increase productivity, engagement, and loyalty.
  • Providing more flexibility in the job profiles and role structures can provide employees with greater autonomy, which is highly correlated with workplace happiness. This may potentially give employees the desired level of learning and growth opportunities, as well as a chance to manage their work-life balance better. 
  • There is also an increase in the conversations around gig working, Flexi timings, and ‘work from anywhere'. It will be useful for organizations to try and implement some of these structures and assess their effects on the work culture as well as employees’ happiness at work. 
  • In the wake of COVID-19, several sectors were forced to pivot to working from home and modify remote working policies. Greater workplace happiness experienced due to the flexible hybrid work model demonstrates that more balanced work options may help buffer against some ofthe ill effects of stress and work-life interference. 
  • The shift from traditional in-office set-ups to hybrid models will occur through trial and error over a longer period of time. Nonetheless, it is essential to recognize that thriving in the post-pandemic era of work depends on redeveloping organizational culture.  

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