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What Really Makes Us Love Our Jobs


If your boss has seemed more than usually solicitous of your happiness on the job over the past few months, you might have Gallup to thank (or blame, depending on your point of view). The organization released research late last year that showed that only 29 percent of US employees were engaged at work. As a result, some organizations panicked, worrying that disengaged workers wouldn’t produce, and began to focus on making employees happy. There’s just one problem: according to Gallup’s CEO, focusing on making workers happy doesn’t improve productivity or make them enjoy their jobs more.

happy at work 

(Photo Credit: Glen_Wright/Flickr)

“The idea of trying to make people happy at work is terrible,” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton tells Mark C. Crowley at Fast Company.

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“What companies will inevitably find is that the only way to make a person happy is to give them a job that matches well to their strengths, a boss who cares about their development, and a mission that gives them feelings of purpose,” he says.

In other words, if we’re unhappy at work, more free snacks and themed office parties aren’t going to help.

The Lesson for Managers: Spend Time on What Counts

If you’re running the show — or at least part of it — put your effort into the things that matter. Clifton says that this includes giving workers a sense of purpose, work that matches their strengths, a boss that listens to their concerns and needs, and a mission that gives them purpose.

“The belief that something gets better when you come and do your job, that’s as happy as you can be,” he says.

This is not to say that there’s no point in offering opportunities for workers to connect with their colleagues or blow off steam. It’s just that true engagement and productivity are more likely to result from aligning skills with business needs and improving communication between managers and their reports.

The Lesson for Workers: Don’t Be Fooled by Flashy Perks

A free cereal bar, unlimited vacation time, video games during the day — all these perks sound cool, but they can be a trap if you don’t have the time, energy, and mindset to enjoy them.

Ask any veteran of the initial dotcom bust in the late ’90s, and they’ll tell you that the ability to play foosball whenever you want during the workday pales in comparison to a job that allows you to build a meaningful career.

Look for companies, managers, and cultures that allow you to develop your skills, work on interesting projects, and feel like your work is meaningful, and you’ll be happy and productive. That means doing your research before interviewing at a company, asking the right questions during your initial meetings with the hiring manager, and keeping your focus squarely on real career development once you’re on the job.

Tell Us What You Think

What makes you happy at work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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SukiSherryColBrooke Recent comment authors
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So true. If an employee becomes disengaged with their assigned tasks, they will not only become less efficient, they will find tasks that re-engage them. If an employer is observant they will notice that the employee will often first take lead or volunteer for other tasks at work to try and stay engaged. The manager can then hone these interests into assigned roles so the employee remains a valuable part of the company. If not, the employee will start dreaming… Read more »


After 45 years as a hairstylist I still cringe at the thought of one of my bosses from the past. She would never compliment a job done well. As a matter of fact she never complimented anyone, including nary a word to the clent about their beautifully finished hairdo. She made you feel like you could never do enough to make her happy. When I left that salon I swore I wouldn’t be that way at my salon. Here all… Read more »


Those happiest where I am are the ones where company-promised incentives are provided/awarded in a timely fashion. Bonuses or awards provided 3 monhs after recognition lose their luster. Low-ranking employees truly appreciate monetary bonuses, awards, personal recognition. Higher ranking employees seem to appreciate credit given where credit is deserved. Monetary incentive for exemplary effort and a thank you are important to these folks as well. Nothing like seeing high-ranking execs getting the $ while the lower-ranking folks see this and… Read more »


I absolutely agree that “happiness” at work is not about free muffins and use of the executive gym. In my experience, most people want to feel as through they’ve accomplished something worthwhile by doing work that matches their skills/interests AND which is valued by their managers. A manager who hopes to negate the effects of tedious, or uninteresting tasks by instituting a weekly pot luck may well be a “very nice person’ but they could be doing both their team… Read more »

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