*Originally Published by BenefitsPro
Can happiness be bought for $85,000? Studies show people who reach this annual income level are "generally happier" because their basic needs (food, shelter, financial safety) are being met. However, that's the peek; more money doesn't necessarily equal greater happiness. Once basic human needs are met, it allows time to reflect on higher needs like belonging and self-actualization. More money doesn't cure sadness, loneliness, stagnation, and discontentment. But still, some employers think they can just throw wads of cash and jam-packed benefits packages at their employees like a piñata, hoping for a shower of engagement to rain down. But extra dollars and paid time off aren't magic wands; they're just money and perks.
Trends like “bare minimum Mondays,” the Great Resignation, and rage applying took center stage in media and boardrooms beginning in 2021. But just when we thought the “greats” were behind us, the Great Gloom is looming, with employees reporting feeling more unhappier than ever before. Gallup's 2023 State of the Global Workplace Report shows that 59% of the global workforce is participating in quiet quitting. People are filling the seats and counting the minutes without actively engaging in their work. Instead, they are feeling lost and psychologically disconnected from their work. And the truth is employee engagement has dropped to its lowest level June 2022, according to APA. Why does this matter? Disengagement costs $7.8 trillion (yes, with a T) dollars in lost productivity.
So, what's the secret to engagement? I’ll give you a hint, it's not slapping a "Happy Employee" sticker on, adding a ping-pong table, pizza Fridays, and a few zeros to a paycheck. Happiness isn't enough; organizations that are only measuring happiness are missing the full piece of engagement. This is why leaders need to look beyond happiness to redefine what engagement really means. Research shows employees and leaders relate to engagement through the quality of their work.
The Missing Piece
Most companies look at engagement as contentment. But true engagement means people are psychologically present to do their work. It's about creating workplaces where purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership all come together in a big, magical pot of engagement stew. They know why their work matters and are work-ready. Employers don't have to be left stranded in the sea of disengaged employees. Truly understanding the entire piece of engagement is the life raft, and it's built with workplaces that go beyond happiness so that people can show up authentically, feeling connected to their work and resilient enough to surf the ever-changing waves of today's workplace.
We can talk about engagement and happiness, but unless we truly understand the steps to achieve them and how to implement them intentionally, it's just that, talk. Employees need at the base the three scientific levers of happiness to fully engage with work: Control, Progress, and Connectedness.
Control: Give your people autonomy and agency to steer their own ships. Trust them to make decisions and take ownership of their roles. This can be flexibility in scheduling, choice in where work gets done (remote, hybrid, in office), creating their own job titles, or ownership over a project. After all, you’ve hired them because they have the experience and skills to get the job done, so get out of the way and let them do the work you hired them to do.
Progress: No more chasing rainbows and unrealistic targets; set achievable goals and timelines. Celebrate milestones along the way, not just when crossing the finish line. Reward progress so employees feel more productive and engaged. When people see their progress, they have a greater sense of accomplishment, leading to more sustainable happiness.
Connectedness: Meaningful relationships are at the top of what’s needed for sustainable happiness (coming in second to purpose). We need to reframe how we build real connections in the workplace that go beyond “how's the weather" conversations. Consider kicking off meetings with personal pulse checks, and end with rounds of gratitude. Give thought to launching programs to share personal goals (even if unrelated to work) and incentivize people to support each other. It may seem like a cliche when companies refer to their teams as family, but people work harder for friends than they do for co-workers and feel more connected to their roles when they can see meaning and purpose in the work they do.
When people feel in control of their work, experience a sense of progress as they move towards shared goals, and are connected to their work and those they work with, they'll know why their work matters. Instead of watching employees silently quit or scream it out loud, supporting employees and encouraging them to be authentically whole and resilient will allow everyone to experience real employee engagement, which is the crossroads of people doing their best work as their best selves.