5 things you need to be happy at work

Find a way to make sure these needs are met, and you’re likely to be happier at work, a new study suggests.

5 things you need to be happy at work

There are countless benefits to finding a job that makes you happy, not the least of which is not having to suffer from the Sunday night blues, the Monday morning misery, the Tuesday terrors or…well you get our point.  

A new study by staffing firm Robert Half, which evaluated the happiness levels of more than 12,000 working professionals, shows that happier workers also perform better, have closer relationships with co-workers, and take more pride in their work than their less-jubilant counterparts. Figures, right?  “When people are more excited about their work, they invest more time and energy into their job,” says Atlanta career coach Hallie Crawford.

Okay, you’re thinking, but how do I get my personal happy place? That same study offers some interesting revelations about what makes happy employees, well, happy—and how you can be one of them.

Finding #1: You need to feel accomplished.

According to the survey, a sense of accomplishment is the strongest driver of happiness for employees under 35 years old.

“Employees want to feel like they’re having an impact on the company, which means they need to see the results of their work,” says Crawford.

Find it in your current job: “If you want that sense of accomplishment, set benchmarks for yourself and focus on making progress toward small goals,” says Stefanie Wichansky, CEO at Randolph, N.J., management consulting and staffing firm Professional Resource Partners.  “For instance, if you’re working on a 6-month project, set progress check-ins every one to two weeks. By seeing that you’ve moved the dial, you’ll feel more confident in your work.”

Find it in your next job: Look for signs that the team or department you’d be working with is driven toward achievement. These signs may include employees mentioning things like “regular check-ins with the boss” or “great feedback” in the Kununu company review or words like “goals” or “benchmarks” in job postings on Monster.

Ask the hiring manager how he or she defines success and how he or she drives the team to achieve.

And depending on your field, you might also look for systems that are set up to drive results, such as agile methodology in project management.

Finding #2: You need positive reinforcement

Feeling appreciated is the second-biggest driver of happiness for workers, the survey found. “People want to feel like they’re putting out great work,” says Crawford. Recognition, of course, can come in many forms—from a  simple thank-you email to a promotion or salary bump.

Find it in your current job: If you’re not receiving positive reinforcement from your own boss, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re underperforming. He or she just might not be great at communication. You might just need to actively solicit feedback from your manager. We recently wrote about how to do this.

Find it in your next job: Company reviews on Kununu are a great place to get honest opinions about whether or not current employees feel like they’re appreciated, so check them out while you’re deciding whether or not to take a new job. If you see multiple mentions of things like “I was never thanked for my hard work” or “I never knew if I was doing a good job,” see those as red flags.

Finding #3: You need to like your coworkers.

Employees who have good relationships with their co-workers are 2.5 times more likely to be happy on the job than those who don’t get along well with their peers, the survey found. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%.

“Relationships are one of the best predictors of happiness in any field,” says Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.

Find it in your current job: To form authentic bonds with colleagues, “take an interest in their lives outside of work,” Carter says. In other words, don’t be the coworker who’s all business all the time. Stop what you’re doing once in a while and ask your colleagues their pets, their children, their hobbies. Do they run marathons? Express genuine interest in what they love, and you may notice a bond begin to form.

One of the easiest ways to connect with people is to find shared interests, says Nic Marks, CEO and founder at Happiness Works, a firm that helps companies create happier workplaces. So, once you’ve taken an interest in your co-worker’s interests, you may find that you share some—and that might be a ticket to a new work bestie.

Find it in your next job: If you want to get a sense of whether or not you’ll click with your future co-workers, this is another perfect time to check out company reviews on Kununu. But the best way is to ask your interviewer what the vibe is on the team you’ll be working on. See if you can meet multiple people from your future team and ask questions about how friendly people are, and if there’s a chance to mingle during or after work.

Finding #4: You need some level of autonomy.

The happiness survey also found that a sense of empowerment—meaning: employees can make some decisions on their own—improves work happiness.

“You need to feel like you’re steering your own ship,” says Carter.

Unfortunately, few people feel this way about their gig: 23% of those surveyed by Robert Half said they wield little or no control over their work.

Find it in your current job: If you crave more independence at work yourself, but your boss is a micromanager, there are ways to retrain your manager so you’ll have more freedom to do good work.

“Micromanagers need a lot of proactive reassurance from their direct reports that they’re doing good work,” says Wichansky. So, the best way to build confidence is to provide your boss regular progress reports, ideally on a weekly basis,” she says.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility and oversight. Your boss may not realize that you are ready to take on something bigger.

Find it in your next job: If autonomy is what you crave, it’s important for you to make that clear to future employers, so be upfront during the interview and tell the hiring manager that you crave some independence and the ability to manage your own time and workflow.

Also, don’t forget to read the job description carefully.  Look for phrases like “works independently” to get a sense of what the hiring manager is looking for.

Finding #5: You need to be part of something that makes you proud

Employees who are proud of their organizations are three times more likely to be happy at work, the survey found.  This goes beyond pride in your actual output, but pride in your company and what it stands for—which makes sense, given that “cultural fit” is a top priority for millennial job-seekers, according to a recent survey by The Workforce Institute.

Find it in your current job or your next job: For some people, knowing they work at a Fortune 500 firm with a marquis status gives them a sense of pride. For others, their company’s community service makes them feel good. And for others, a “cool” factor, like working at a company with amazing perks, can make the difference.

If you’re not bragging about where you work, take a few minutes and jot down some of the reasons you’re not brimming with pride.

Are any of them fixable by you? Maybe for example, you don’t like the way your particular team operates, but a shift over to another team would make you feel better about things.

If the problems are not fixable from your position—for example, your company CEO is taking the brand in a direction you don’t agree with—look back at your list to get a sense of what values are important to you. Then start looking for a company that espouses similar values; our employer pages and Kununu reviews  may be able to help you find a better fit.