Workers will sacrifice promotion and even a pay raise for a nice place to work. Sure, a better salary will turn a frown upside down for most workers, but new research finds it’s only a temporary effect.
American workers appear willing to give up a lot to be happy in their jobs. Some 76 percent are somewhat willing to work in a less private office space, reduce their workplace flexibility (60 percent) and even accept a lower position or title (60 percent) for a chance at corporate contentment, according to a new survey by recruitment company Spherion. And 41 percent of workers will give up benefits such as their vacation time, accept a reduction on 401(K) contributions from an employer and other job perks. Fewer workers are willing to take a pay cut (only 36 percent would) or relinquish health benefits (31 percent).
Some 22 percent of workers say compensation is the major factor determining happiness in the workplace, Spherion concluded, followed by passion about their work (19 percent), job security (15 percent), the company’s work culture (13 percent) and the ability to work with people they like (10 percent). However, career advancement was only rated by 5 percent as the most important contributor to being happy at work among the 2,000 respondents aged 18 and over polled by Harris Interactive for Spherion. And companies like Google and Facebook know food is a way to a worker’s heart: 30 percent say the availability of food throughout the day keeps them happy.
And they’re dedicated — maybe a little too dedicated. Employees already only use 51 percent of their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off, according to a recent survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid vacation carried out by research firm Harris Interactive for the careers website Glassdoor. What’s more, 61 percent of Americans work while they’re on vacation despite repeated complaints from members of their family; one-in-four are contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one-in-five have been contacted by their boss.
The good news: Most workers (92 percent) said that they are at least “somewhat happy.” And just over half say they are “very or extremely” happy, the Spherion survey found. But only one-quarter of workers described their workplace as “happy,” while more workers noted it is “fast-paced” (29 percent) and “stressful” (28 percent). Employers can often offer small, but meaningful, opportunities to help workers be happy in their current roles that have nothing to do with money, says Sandy Mazur, Spherion division president.
MarketWatch asked some experts in happiness and workplace trends about some of the habits that make happy workers:
Walk Out That Door at Five O’Clock Sharp
Remember when Pavlov’s dog salivated at the sound of the dinner bell? The same is true for employees when it’s time to go home. Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project,” spent a year trying out studies and philosophy about what makes people happy. When it comes to work, she has one takeaway: Establish a quitting time like Pavlov’s dog (or high-school students) and stick with it.
“We used to work from nine to five and for a lot of people now that’s not the case,” Rubin says. “You could end up working all the time with no relaxation and no feeling of being off-duty. Of course, doctors on call can’t say, “Nobody interrupt me.” But after a certain time of day, Rubin doesn’t check email or do any social networking.
Help Negative and Problematic Colleagues
Charity starts in the office cubicle. Let the office grouch borrow your stapler, but then ask what you can do to help or simply do something nice like compliment them on some work or listen to them talk about their cat. People who do nice things for their colleagues don’t only help their co-workers, they also end up feeling much better about their workplace and themselves, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside.
A 2013 paper by Joseph Andrew Chanellor, doctor of philosophy at University of California, Riverside analyzed workers and found that those who offered help benefited even more than those who received help. “Givers got happier,” Lyubomirsky says. “The receivers felt better, but not as much. But everyone around them started to do more positive things for each other.”
Keep Your Desk Clear of Empty Coffee Cups
Once upon a time, messy desks represented a busy bee. But studies show that chronic procrastinators show signs of stress and guilt, and have more mood swings. Most people feel better when they observe habits like staying on top of their filing, emails and even throwing away old soda cans and paper cups, Rubin says. “That little bit of practice imposing order is surprisingly energizing and freeing,” she says. “They’re not big tasks on their own. But when they build up, they can be overwhelming.” If you can do something in one minute now, do it, she says. When Rubin cleans her desk, she says, “I come back to the morning and only then realize how irritating it was to delve through all the detritus.” The impact can be dramatic, Rubin says. “Somebody once told me, ‘Now I’ve cleaned out my fridge, I can finally switch careers.’”
Make a Gratitude List by the Water Cooler
Those “gratitude” and “happiness” lists that sometimes do the rounds on Facebook might be annoying to some people, but psychologists say they do work. Employees who regularly recounted three positive events at work over a six-week period and shared them with colleagues made people happier than those who merely listed work tasks, according to a study of Japanese workers and published in the peer-reviewed “Journal of Happiness Studies.”
The study — by Chancellor, Lyubomirsky and Kristin Layous (also from the University of California, Riverside) — also found that those who recorded their positive activities engaged in less social interaction and left work earlier. “Be grateful for what you have,” Lyubomirsky says. But that’s not enough. Exercise your gratitude like a muscle by making lists and sharing them. “You have to put an effort into that,” she adds.
Shake Your Job Up, Even if You Like It
Don’t rest on your laurels — even if you love your job. There is a honeymoon effect when people get their dream job, but when job satisfaction peaks it will steadily decrease. That’s the conclusion of a 2009 study of 132 newcomers to a job — “Changes in Newcomer Job Satisfaction Over Time: Examining the Pattern of Honeymoons and Hangovers” (pdf) — published in the “Journal of Applied Psychology,” the official publication of the American Psychological Association.
There are “risky periods” of time when employees are likely to experience declining job attitudes and may withdraw or seek another job, it found. “People get used to the new level of responsibility and money, and they just want more,” says Lyubomirsky, who is the author of “The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does.” Organize a hackathon (where computer programmers compete), check up on what rivals are doing and constantly shake up your job description.
Quentin Fottrell is a personal finance reporter for MarketWatch based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo. This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.