Employee Happiness: What’s the Secret Sauce?

by James McDonough

HR Expertise and Support,  Member Matters

If happy employees are more productive employees, as research suggests, then what can an employer do to encourage higher levels of employee happiness?

According to a research paper discussed in the Harvard Business Review, the technical competency of an employee’s supervisor is powerfully linked to employee workplace happiness. In other words, the happiest employees are those who believe their supervisor possesses technical expertise and could step in and do their job competently. The research does not clearly explain why this link exists; one might speculate it is human nature to desire a leader with directly relevant experience and who can legitimately claim “been there, done that”. Only further research will clarify.

For employers who wish to encourage employee happiness and the enhanced productivity it offers, this suggests many practical considerations:

  • When deciding who and when to promote into supervisory positions, competency matters! If someone is a ”fast track” candidate for leadership, bypassing the job competency development stage could undermine employee happiness in the future.
  • If a work group suffers high turnover, or employee feedback surveys and Exit interviews show employee dissatisfaction with a specific supervisor, evaluate the technical competency of that supervisor. Were they promoted based on proven technical merits, or other factors? Did they work their way up in the organization? Perhaps they are technically competent, but need coaching, mentoring or other training interventions in leadership skill areas.
  • This research identifies one contributing factor to employee workplace happiness, but offers no silver bullet solutions and is not predictive. Technical expertise is NOT the sole factor in determining who is a good supervisor, and technically-competent supervisors are NOT intrinsically capable of fostering employee happiness.

Employers must continually tinker with their own recipe for developing a “secret sauce” for employee workplace happiness. Numerous other surveys, not in this research, cite other factors that contribute to an employee’s sense of personal well-being, including: total rewards, workplace relationships, the organization’s Mission, reputation, career growth opportunity.

MSEC has resources and expertise to help members develop effective supervisors and workplaces that encourage employee happiness and higher productivity.

About the author
James McDonough

James McDonough, HR Research Consultant, consults with Employers Council members to provide guidance and support on their organizational practices. He writes articles, conducts presentations and trainings on HR compliance, organizational effectiveness and business management topics. A graduate of the University of Colorado-Boulder, James has worked in the public and private sectors in HR and business management.