A Recipe for Happiness at Work

“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.” —John Ruskin

I recently came across these words by art critic, philosopher, and writer John Ruskin and they got me thinking about the current status of the workforce today. We’ve all heard about or have possibly experienced the effects of what’s being called The Great Resignation. But I’ve been thinking about how to solve this problem so that people can be empowered, successful, and happy in their careers. 

A Good Fit

Ruskin says that people must be fit for the work if they are to be happy in it. I interpreted this to mean that we as business leaders and owners must ensure that the people we’re bringing onto our teams are going to be successful in the role. I don’t just mean that they can do the work—that should be the very minimum. I mean that they will thrive and grow in the role, that they will have accountability, and that they will be empowered to work in whatever ways are best for them. And, perhaps most importantly, that the job is the best fit for them. This is how I’m interpreting “fit” for the job. So how can we ensure this?

First, I suggest being clear with your prospective new hires right from the start by asking questions about them—and not the typical trick interview questions that make people feel like they’re being interrogated. Ask them what they like. Ask them what makes them feel good in their work. Ask them about the type of environment that is most conducive to their productivity. Ask them what excites them about the position. And let them know you’re asking because you genuinely care about their success and want to ensure that the job is the right fit for them and not the other way around. 

Asking these types of questions lets the prospective hire know that you care about them, that you want them to be successful, and reinforces the idea that they are more than just a resume that slid across your desk. By putting people first in all we do (what I call the human element strategy), we can build a corporate culture of respect, loyalty, and a place where people love to be. 

Don’t Work Too Much

The term work-life balance gets used a lot. And while I do believe in having a healthy balance between our professional and personal lives, I want to expand on what I think Ruskin might have been alluding to, while adding a bit of a modern take to it. 

Endless meetings with no clear agenda, constant micromanagement, and confusing processes that don’t yield positive outcomes are sure to lead people to feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration, as well as the sense that they’re working hard but not achieving anything. When we confuse activity with accomplishment—when we look busy but aren’t moving forward—we’re thwarting both the growth of our businesses as well as the growth of our employees. When people feel productive, empowered, and can see tangible outcomes from their hard work, they feel inspired to keep going and work becomes a joyful part of life.

I encourage everyone to evaluate their processes to ensure that you’re not wasting time or spending time on tasks that aren’t necessary. Doing so can lead to increased productivity and accomplishing your goals and tasks in a timely way. When our systems run efficiently—and people are empowered to ask questions—then our work becomes more efficient as well. So, ask yourself and the people around you some tough questions to determine if you’re wasting time and working too much. Ensure that all of your meetings have a clear outcome and are driven by a well-thought-through agenda that everyone has at the outset. Working too much can certainly lead to burnout and frustration, and some of that can be avoidable by ensuring you and your employees are spending the right amount of time on the right tasks.

Success Is Key

As I’ve mentioned briefly above, people must feel successful in their work if they’re going to do a good job and stay with your company. It is up to us as business leaders to ensure that our employees have a sense of success. If they don’t, they’ll leave. So how can you ensure this with your staff? Again, the human element comes into play here. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Then act accordingly. Ask your employees what makes them feel successful. Ask them if they’re getting enough of that sense of success in their current role. If not, adjust and find ways to ensure that they do more of the work that is fulfilling for them. 

As a leader, you are not required to have all the answers. But you are responsible for finding out how to best lead your team. Remember not to micromanage, as this leads to feelings of distrust and will most certainly hinder your employees’ sense of success. Make sure that you truly believe in a culture that supports your employees and behave accordingly. It’s your job as a leader to listen and respond, not dictate and command. When people feel supported and valued and they know they’re doing work they’re proud of, they will get the sense of success from their work that may be lacking for others who are merely doing a job. 

The Takeaway

There is no one-size-fits-all method of leadership and I know that there are a lot of variables that contribute to running and growing a business. But I also know that happy employees don’t leave their jobs. Remember to ask questions, listen to the answers, ensure you’re spending time on the right tasks, and, above all, that your employees know that you care about them and  their success. This is the recipe for building a great company where employees love to come to work. Ruskin certainly seemed to think so and I agree. 

What have been your experiences with employee satisfaction? What are your thoughts on Ruskin’s three things that people need to be happy at work? Please share your feedback in the comments below.