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Seven things employees want most to be happy at work

Experts say job satisfaction begins with respect and appreciation, not salary and perks.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 28, 2008

Career specialist: Lynne Sarikas of Northeastern University in Boston says that happiness at work is highly individual, but she finds most employees want to be appreciated. ‘A sincere thank you or short note often means a great deal,’ she says.

Nicole Hill


Ask bosses what makes employees happy at work, and many are likely to think in terms of tangible rewards: a good salary, a pleasant office, generous benefits.

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Those play a role in job satisfaction, of course. But increasingly, workplace specialists are discovering that for many workers, the "happiness factor" depends heavily on intangibles, such as respect, trust, and fairness.

"Study after study has shown that it is the small things that make workers feel committed to an organization," says Barbara Glanz, an author specializing in workplace issues. "One study shows the top three things workers want are interesting work, full appreciation for the work they do, and a feeling of being in on things."

The percentage of people who say they like their jobs and find them satisfying is higher in the United States than in Europe, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., who writes and lectures on happiness.

He and others note that workplace happiness depends on two components – the individual and the institution.

"You can be, generally speaking, happy in your work but not happy in a specific company," says Sally Haver, senior vice president of The Ayers Group/Career Partners International in New York, "due to a variety of factors such as a bad boss, a bad corporate culture, or a colleague who makes your life miserable." At the same time, she adds, "Some people are unhappy 'situationally' and some are just systemically unhappy, no matter where they are or what they're doing."

Career specialists emphasize that happiness is highly individual. "People have very different definitions of what brings them happiness and satisfaction on the job," says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston.

Even so, certain priorities remain constant in terms of what employees say makes them happy. Here are seven intangibles workers want most, according to experts:

1. Appreciation

Praise heads the list for many workers in the search for happiness.

"If the office is gorgeous, the pay is good, and the work is interesting, of course that helps," says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "However, there is one huge factor that does not cost an employer money: praise. So many supervisors go out of their way to let employees know what they have done wrong, but don't bother to congratulate and praise them for success. Praise does not cost anything to give, but its benefits on employee morale are priceless."

2. Respect

This attitude costs nothing and yet yields big dividends.