Three traits of happy, productive employees

Not long ago, happy employees were seen as a pleasant — but not essential — byproduct of a productive, optimally functioning workplace. Today, research in positive psychology shows us employee perceptions of their well-being and satisfaction are essential to workplace productivity and employee retention.1

Studies from around the world demonstrate that higher job satisfaction significantly lowers an employee’s chances of becoming disabled during his or her career. A study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that job satisfaction can diminish development of chronic pain and disability after acute onset back pain and, alternatively, that dissatisfaction can heighten the risk of a chronic condition.2

How can an employer create an environment of satisfied employees? Through job design, according to researchers who focus on positive psychology in organizations.3 Researchers have found that employees who love their jobs often share some common factors.2

Employees are aware of their strengths, and they have designed their jobs to best use those strengths. Everyone, from front-line employees to CEOs, can craft their job to play to their strengths. For example, a teacher with strong curriculum-planning and organization skills can oversee faculty syllabus development, while a teacher who is more adept at instructional technology can volunteer to help develop eye-catching classroom presentations.

Employees understand their organization’s plans for the future, and they know their place in those plans. No organization benefits from having too many hands on the rudder. But increasing transparency regarding the company’s goals and long-term plans while offering employees a stake in those plans can have a strong impact on employee satisfaction and foster a sense of involvement.

Leadership is enthusiastic and engaged, and it informs employees with a vision of the company’s future. Active, engaged, visible leadership is not a luxury but a necessity in terms of building employee happiness and involvement. There is a critical distinction, of course, between showmanship and leadership — engagement is important, but genuine vision and leadership is a must.

Empowering employees to take part in crafting their work, leading with enthusiasm and heart, making the company’s aspirations clear — all can help develop a stronger, healthier, happier workforce and transform work from just another job to a compelling calling. This, in turn, will help improve the bottom line by reducing time lost to presenteeism and disability leaves, and it will go a long way to foster employee productivity.


1Harter JK, Schmidt FL, and Keyes CLM. Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2002. Available at http://media.gallup.com/documents/whitePaper–Well-BeingInTheWorkplace.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2014.

2Williams RA, Pruitt SD, Doctor JN, et. al. The contribution of job satisfaction to the transition from acute to chronic low back pain. Phys Med Rehabil. 1998;79(4):336-374.

3Wrzesniewski A, LoBuglio N, Berg JM, Dutton JE. Job crafting and cultivating positive meaning and identity in work. Advances in Positive Organizational Psychol. 2013;1:281-302. Accessed June 16, 2014.

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