What really makes us happy at work?

Most of us spend a serious chunk of our lives at work. In fact, research shows the average person spends around 45 hours a week in the office. 

Even when we clock off, lots of us still don’t switch off. Thanks to smartphones, it’s easy to spend evenings and weekends checking emails and picking up business calls. So with so much of our lives devoted to our jobs, it seems more important than ever than our jobs make us happy. But, just like in everyday life, the recipe for happiness isn’t always easy to figure out.

However, Mikkel Hundborg thinks he’s got it sussed. He’s a Senior Consultant at the Job Satisfaction Research Institute within Krifa, based in Denmark. They specialise in helping people feel happy and fulfilled at work.

So what really makes us happy?

“There’s one thing that stands out from everything else when it comes to making people happy at work – and that’s having a sense of purpose,” Mikkel says. “That doesn’t just mean finding a higher purpose, such as saving the planet or helping people in need.

“These kinds of things are important, of course. But even more important is to have a sense of personal, inner purpose. This really drives happiness at work.”

But how do you create a sense of purpose?

For Mikkel, it’s all about being in the right role and doing a job that you are good at. “Purpose is created when you are proud of your work and feel you are an important and needed part of the company.

“Once you have purpose, you have the foundation for happiness at work.”

Read more: The happiness formula

Mikkel helped author the Job Satisfaction Index in partnership with the Happiness Research Institute. The report investigates what makes people happy at work.

“The research we did to put together the report showed us that the second most important factor when it comes to feeling happy at work is what we call ‘mastery’,” Mikkel adds. 

“Mastery is about feeling competent in your role – but also that you are learning and developing. It’s closely linked to feeling that there is a good match between the tasks you work on and your talents.”

The third ingredient in Mikkel’s recipe for happiness for work is leadership.

“Our happiness at work is directly linked to our relationship with the people or person leading us,” Mikkel says. “It’s vital that we trust our bosses and get on well with them.”

No such thing as a ‘quick fix’

While things like good leadership have been shown to make all the difference to happiness at work, what about the things that some bosses think make a difference – but actually don’t?

In some organisations, leaders like the idea of tapping into the recent trend for doing more to make employees happy, but they fall short of making it a long term success.

Mikkel warns leaders against being tempted to offer ‘quick fixes’ for happiness.

“A bonus, a small raise or a social event might give employees a short term boost but it doesn’t have any real impact on happiness because it doesn’t stop you being stressed and it doesn’t make the work you do more meaningful,” he says.

It seems the things that are needed to make us happy at work are much the same as the things that makes us happy as a human being: trust, fairness, recognition, purpose and good relationships.

So perhaps it’s time to stop thinking about the next pay rise or office party and start thinking about adding meaning to our roles and getting to know our colleagues better. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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