Finding happiness at work: Natasha Chatur, Yellow Eve Illustration.

Finding work happiness in a modern world

Natasha Chatur talks us through finding work happiness.

I was recently re-listening to Esther Perel’s SXSW 2019 talk on Workplace Dynamics. She reflects on a relationship revolution at work, with one of the key changes being a rise in our expectations for what we want from work. Perel reflects how “never before have we expected so much from our work”. We want work flexibility, we want our work to be attentive to us, and we want our jobs to help us find a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do. We used to go to work as a means to an end, Perel continues, now we can go to work for personal fulfilment, purpose and identity development.

Personal fulfilment, purpose and identity development. These are big needs and high expectations.

I know from my own experience, the impact of these expectations being unmet and undervalued: productivity, engagement, motivation, retention. Attitude, effectiveness.


The influence of recent events 

It might just be that change is afoot on how these needs can begin to be met as a result of recent events.

Much of 2020 has seen significant shifts in the way that employers need to run their businesses and treat their employees. From productivity support initiatives, to employee resources for mental health and wellbeing, to the attention paid to culture, creative problem solving and innovation.

We’ve witnessed improved leadership, the need for flexibility, agility and increased levels of employee influence to identify and meet needs as quickly as possible. Employers will have inadvertently run their own experiments, testing and learning what has worked, what has not worked and hopefully, learnings to take forward. This test and learn approach – despite a lot of it being forced change – will have created an environment for adjustments to stay on as permanent features of running a business. With many of the changes being employee centric, constructive and collaboratively achieved, they have the chance of also impacting the sense of meaning and happiness employees might have been craving from work in the past, by being improved and scaled.

In parallel, some people will begin to make moves to meet their own expectations. Reflection through crisis lends itself well to focusing on priorities, on desires, on what’s missing, and critically, what’s important to you. Notwithstanding the extremely difficult employment circumstances many will be facing in 2020 and 2021, will people’s sense of personal agency start to grow and generate career shifts in ways that will lead to more meaning and happiness at work?

From the conversations I’ve had recently, I have seen three trends in people’s ambitions:

  • I need balance:        how do I create balance in work and life
  • I need a push:          how do I take control of my career and shift up a gear
  • I need change:         how do I start to change my career direction

All three lead towards different outcomes, but there is commonality in the principle of wanting to make a change to be happier with work, stemming from an acknowledgement that something needs to change, and choosing to make a commitment to work out how to make change happen.

Work happiness, you say?

Work happiness is a thing. Earlier this year, worked with experts on happiness from the UN, Oxford University and the University of California to launch the Indeed Work Happiness Score. It’s designed to make it easier for job seekers to understand work environments they will be happiest in, and to give employers insights into what the key drivers of happiness are.

Consultancies like WorkL (formerly Engaging Works) have a clear proposition to help people enjoy a better work life, with a pincer approach of providing resources for employees and businesses. WorkL even have a Happy at Work test!

There are several drivers underpinning work happiness in general, and the level of importance each driver will hold for us individually, will be influenced by what is important to us personally based on our own needs, desires and personality characteristics.

The Indeed Work Happiness Score, launched in March 2020, found the following key 12 drivers of happiness at work:

  1. Belonging
  2. Energy
  3. Appreciation
  4. Purpose
  5. Achievement
  6. Compensation
  7. Support
  8. Learning
  9. Inclusion
  10. Flexibility
  11. Trust
  12. Management

The Indeed research was conducted in the US with over 5,000 responses.

What I find really helpful about the drivers, is that they break work happiness down into more tangible elements that are much easier to take action on. So looking at the list, if there’s one or two drivers standing out to you that you don’t feel are delivered against at work, can you think of ways to take some small actions to improve it?

The results showed a gap between what we would say drives our happiness at work and what the data showed e.g. focusing only on pay or job title when we really also need inclusion and belonging just as much, if not more.

There are 12 ways that can improve our happiness and therefore our contribution to work. And 12 ways that can actively make us unhappy if they are underdelivered on.

If we can have a better understanding of the drivers holistically, then what we might look for at work as employees, and what employers might offer at work, can begin to reflect these real needs rather than being tailored to drivers that, as it turns out, are not enough for us on their own.

What can I do?

Looking at the drivers, you might be able to quickly identify the ones that are important to you now. Perhaps they might be different to the ones that used to drive you – and a shift in your drivers in itself will cause some sort of glitch if work doesn’t quite satisfy your new drivers, and no adjustments are made to appeal to them either.

Whether you’re looking to feel happier in your current job, looking for what will make you happier in a new job, or thinking about what you need to focus on when shifting your career entirely, these drivers can help you think through positive priorities and actions to improve your work happiness.

It’s encouraging to see workplace happiness as a priority, not least because of how much time we spend at work, and how work impacts other parts of our lives, but critically, because happiness is one of the most powerful feelings we can experience. Whether you are calling it wellbeing, positivity, joy, love or any other strong positive emotion, the power of happiness in our mental, physical and emotional states is backed by science, psychology and countless real stories. Why not strive to find it at work?

Natasha Chatur

Natasha Chatur is a Work Happiness Coach with a corporate background. She believes passionately and from experience, that such periods of professional transition and personal transformation can be improved, accelerated and more successful when providing access to coaching as a developmental opportunity.

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