When Carole Phillips was in her early 20s, she chose a career where she could measure true success on the job. She worked her way up from entry-level accountant to controller. Then she got her master’s degree in accounting, along with her CPA and other certifications, and accepted a position as finance manager. But with all her career success, is she happy at work?

She says she is, and as an over-55 senior executive working at a small company, she fits the profiles of the happiest employees, according to Robert Half research.

But she also works in a finance department, and according to our report, The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees, professionals who work in the fields of accounting, finance and financial services have lower levels of workplace happiness compared to employees in other industries.


What does it mean to be happy at work?

Workplace happiness, according to the research, is really about finding the right fit: finding a job with just the right balance of challenge and reward.

In the study, the majority of workers surveyed (71 percent) said they are happy on the job. But a significant portion (29 percent) say they are not happy at work. Thirty-three percent admit that they are thinking about leaving their jobs in the next six months.

Nic Marks, one of the world’s leading happiness experts and CEO and founder of Happiness Works, describes happiness as shorthand for a great experience. “It’s an emotional word we use to summarize the quality of experiences in our everyday work — essentially, whether we are feeling good and doing well.”

Phillips, who works for a utility cooperative in Eugene, Ore., says, “I’m happy at work for a couple of reasons. I’m past that age of having to deal with all the crazy juggling of raising children. As a senior manager, I have autonomy in my day, and I’m not punching a clock. As for the finance part, I’m a math person, and I look at accounting as a Sudoku puzzle. There is always a solution to it, so it’s satisfying.”

Top drivers of workplace happiness

According to Robert Half’s research, happiness depends upon these top drivers:

  • Having pride in your organization
  • Feeling appreciated
  • Being treated with fairness and respect
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Interesting and meaningful work
  • Positive workplace relationships

In other words, happiness is a deep feeling of satisfaction and meaning caused by doing a good job, helping a colleague, receiving recognition for your work and other similar actions.

View an infographic and see the Anatomy of a Happy Employee in a SlideShare, below.

How to be happy at work

How do you find more of this sense of pride, appreciation and respect at work? It’s clear that happiness is an individual experience. What’s good for a finance manager on the West Coast might not be the same for someone with the same job title on the East Coast. No two employees have the same needs, goals, preferences and personalities.

There are, however, some universal factors that directly affect employee happiness. Here are some of those factors and ways you might assess your happiness level:

  • Fit — Have you found the right role and the right organization for you? Are you comfortable with the company culture?
  • Fundamentals — Do you have pride in your organization? Is the work interesting or dull? Is it stressful?
  • Room to grow — Can you ask for the advice, training and flexibility you need in this role?
  • Support — Do you feel free to ask for what you need, such as time off or work-life balance? Is your salary in line with the market rate for your skills and experience in your region?

What can companies do to help?

For their part, organizations can enhance happiness in their workforce from the start, by hiring people who are the best fit for the job. Workers who say there is not a good match with their employers are the most likely to leave their jobs within a year, according to the study. Those who lack pride in their organization are the next most likely.

Companies can support employees’ work-life balance by offering them more support in terms of guidance and workload, and celebrating their contributions.

They don’t need to take full responsibility for their staff’s happiness, however. Employees realize they play a significant role in how satisfied they are on the job, with a full quarter of the workers surveyed saying their happiness at work is their sole responsibility. Just 5 percent say their happiness is entirely in the boss’s hands.

Still, it works to everyone’s advantage to encourage happiness at work.

As Marks says, “In the workplace, happiness helps us focus on our work, helps us produce more, helps us be more creative, helps us build better relationships with people … (and) all of these directly impact the company’s bottom line.”

Workplace happiness matters — and you have the power to influence it.

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Anatomy of a Happy Employee from Robert Half