The biggest misconception about what it means to be happy at work, according to a happiness expert
Jenn Lim has spent the last decade as CEO of Delivering Happiness, a business consultancy that works with global companies to help them build happier, more sustainable workforces using science-backed research on happiness.
And during the global pandemic that’s led people to re-examine their values, many Americans are finding their day jobs aren’t matching up to how they want to spend their time. As a result, the U.S. labor market has seen record waves of people quitting their job through the spring and summer months, in search of something that could bring them greater flexibility, pay, purpose and happiness.
But for all the ways employers are trying to get workers to stay put, or attract new ones, Lim says they’re getting one major thing wrong about what it means to be happy at work.
The biggest misconception about being happy at work
Too often when companies try to create a supportive, happy or fun company culture, they do so by offering extra amenities or perks, like free lunches in the office or a monthly wellness stipend. This can make the work environment more enjoyable, Lim says, but only creates a happier workplace at a very surface level.
“The biggest misconception about workplace happiness is taking extrinsic things and thinking that’s what people are really interested in — these perks,” Lim tells CNBC Make It.
Lim adds that she’s seen this over-reliance on extra perks since starting her career in Silicon Valley as a so-called “Dot Com baby,” back when having a good work culture was synonymous with “things like having ping pong tables and free Red Bull in the office.”
Public sentiment about amenities-filled corporate campuses have changed over the years, especially during the pandemic when employers could no longer rely on their office experience as a staple of their company culture. But Lim says employers have still fallen into the same trap when they try to figure out how to engage and support employees outside of a traditional office space, such as by offering employees access to mental health apps instead of doing the work of figuring out what’s really keeping people from feeling motivated in their jobs.
How leaders should think about workplace happiness
What employers miss when they rely on offering extra perks is figuring out their employees’ intrinsic motivation, or “why we show up, according to who we are as human beings.”
“If we think about retention,” Lim says, “we think about people wanting to be productive and engaged. The more they’re treated as a human being, the more they’ll show up.”
This deeper exploration of what individuals want out of their work requires leaders and executives to “look at treating people as a holistic person — not just their skill set or their role and responsibility,” Lim says.
She says leaders should consider: Where are their employees mentally? Where are they emotionally? Where are they physically? Where are they relationally? How do they relate to the purpose and values of the company, and is the company doing enough to help them build that connection?
Lim’s latest book “Beyond Happiness” offers exercises individuals can do to better understand their intrinsic motivations, as well as what employers must do to enable workers to build those values into their every day work environment.
Values assessments — and building companywide strategies to support employees — don’t have to be expensive, either, Lim adds.
“There’s a misconception that if you invest in your people, it’s going to be a big expense to a company,” Lim says. “But the more you invest and see people as an asset instead of an expense, the more you’ll see the positive outcomes in who they are, what they do and what they’re engaged in. That benefits the company’s business goal of profitability, and their purpose, too.”