Although “it’s finally Friday” is an oft-repeated refrain that expresses the need to take a break from the tasks that take up most of the week, there are many people who find a real and genuine sense of happiness in their work performance. Who are these lucky ones and how do they do it?
What will I read about in this article?
What is happiness at work?
Happiness at work is a complex and multidimensional concept that refers to a positive emotional state experienced by people in the work context.
One of the most successful definitions has been developed by Professors Salas-Vallina and Alegre of the University of Valencia. According to the authors, happiness at work is made up of these three dimensions:
* Commitment: this dimension is related to emotion, passion and a positive state of mind. It is, in short, how we “give ourselves” to the organisation. This energetic and motivational experience is an intrinsic part of happiness at work.
* Satisfaction: this dimension is linked to positive feelings about working conditions. It’s a passive and reactive concept. Positive appraisal of such conditions is a fundamental part of happiness at work.
* Affective organisational commitment: this dimension is linked to the affective feeling towards the organisation. The perception of emotional, identity and affective links with the organisation is another central part of happiness at work.
What’s the incentive for happiness at work?
A recent study conducted a review of happiness in the work environment focusing on knowledge-oriented organisations, such as research centres, technology companies, consultancies or software development companies.
The emphasis of the research was to understand who was responsible for the greater or lesser degree of happiness at work among employees in these organisations. The authors identified the following 4 elements:
* Work context: the presence of factors in the work environment, such as autonomy and flexibility, proved to be facilitators of happiness at work.
* Leadership style: Leadership style also determined the level of happiness in the workplace, with transformational leadership being one of the most conducive.
* Social interactions: The quality of relationships with supervisors and colleagues was also found to have a significant bearing on the level of happiness at work.
* Personal resources: Resilience and positive attitudes were the most important personal resources that positively influenced happiness at work.
Do organisations have the capacity to foster such happiness?
As outlined above, there’s one type of leadership that seems to have the capacity to “activate” happiness in employees’ work: transformational leadership. In the face of an avalanche of books and theories on leadership, it’s always good to avoid over-enthusiasm about any new type of leadership that emerges, but at the same time it’s necessary to pay attention and assess its potential contribution. In the case of transformational leadership, it can be defined by four basic characteristics:
* Idealised influence. Occurs when a person is perceived as an example and someone to be respected, setting high ethical and moral standards, causing other team members to identify with them.
* Inspirational motivation. Occurs when a person is able to stimulate and nurture motivation in others, articulating a clear and compelling vision, awakening a sense of purpose in others.
* Intellectual stimulation. Occurs when a person inspires and intellectually challenges others, promoting continuous learning, fostering creativity and critical thinking, as well as providing constructive feedback.
* Individualised consideration. It emerges by giving personal attention to others, facilitating open, two-way communication, showing empathy and acknowledging the achievements of others.
When these four elements are embodied in someone who also has a focus on organisational goals, he or she can be considered to have transformational leadership.
A study published in the Journal of Business Research with a sample of 389 employees from five large Italian and Spanish banks revealed that there was a direct relationship between having someone with transformational leadership as a supervisor and experiencing happiness at work.
There are more and more studies focused on analysing the elements that favour happiness at work —most of them place personal resources as a key factor, but also contextual situations— and, as we have seen, the role of the leader. In the light of all these academic results, companies that consider it important to work for the happiness at work of their employees have before them an opportunity to:
- Measure, using validated scales, the level of workplace happiness of its employees and to examine the enablers that make this possible.
- Promote actions to facilitate transformational leadership among decision-makers wherever possible.
- Fostering spaces to improve the quality of relationships between the different people who make up the organisation.
In conclusion, happiness in the workplace is not an abstract concept, but a tangible and measurable reality that can be encouraged through various strategies. The work environment, social interactions and personal resources play a crucial role in shaping a positive work atmosphere. Organisations that aspire to foster the happiness of their employees should therefore focus on these aspects, assessing and enhancing the enablers of happiness at work, promoting the most conducive type of leadership and working to improve the relational quality within the organisation. Only in this way will they be able to cultivate work environments in which happiness is not just a goal, but an everyday reality.
- Salas-Vallina, A., & Alegre, J. (2021). Happiness at work: Developing a shorter measure. Journal of Management & Organization, 27(3), 460-480.
- Salas-Vallina, A., Alegre, J., & Guerrero, R. F. (2018). Happiness at work in knowledge-intensive contexts: Opening the research agenda. European research on management and business economics, 24(3), 149-159.
- Salas-Vallina, A., Simone, C., & Fernández-Guerrero, R. (2020). The human side of leadership: Inspirational leadership effects on follower characteristics and happiness at work (HAW). Journal of Business Research, 107, 162-171.