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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Study reveals secrets of the happiest workplaces

WordHampton's owner, Steve Haweeli, takes job candidates out

WordHampton's owner, Steve Haweeli, takes job candidates out to lunch with his staff to ensure that they fit in. His employees include, from left, Ashley Fresa, Jennifer Haagen, Nicole Castillo, Haweeli, Edward Haweeli and Marissa Jacobs. Jan. 9, 2017. Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

What do the happiest workers and workplaces look like?

It’s not necessarily one size fits all, but here’s what a recent study from staffing agency Robert Half International found:

  • The happiest role is senior executive
  • The happiest tenure on a job is the first year
  • The happiest field is marketing and creative
  • The happiest company size is fewer than 10 employees
  • The happiest age is 55-plus.

The report, based on a survey of 12,000 professionals in North America in collaboration with research firm Happiness Works, gives insight into the secrets of the happiest companies and employees. And while happiness may be subjective, it’s in a company’s best interests to try to promote it within the workplace, according to the study’s findings.

“Happy employees really equal greater productivity,” says Dawn Fay, Manhattan-based district president for Robert Half International, and they tend to stick around longer.

That’s why it’s in a company’s best interest to think beyond dollars and cents and dig deeper into creating a happy work environment, Fay says.

“Employers are doing this not just for the benefit of the employee, but because they want the best workers at their organization, and they want them to be healthy and productive,” says MaryAnne Hyland, a professor of human resources management at Adelphi University in Garden City.

Among the study’s key findings from the respondents is that having pride in one’s organization is the No. 1 driver of happiness, followed by feeling appreciated and being treated with fairness and respect.

So where does salary fit into the picture?

“Pay would fall under a sense of fairness,” Hyland says.

While there are different drivers of happiness for different individuals, focusing on the overall factors that influence happiness for most of your workers is a good strategy, she says, noting that happiness comes down to a bigger-picture concept, not just short-term feelings of gratification.

Other factors that influence workplace happiness include empowering staff to make decisions on their own or with minimal direction from management; having interesting and meaningful work, and having positive workplace relationships, according to the study.

Cathy Kaye, 61, head of product design and development at ClearVision Optical in Hauppauge, says her “happiness drivers” include feeling appreciated, having challenging work and having great mentors, as well as being able to mentor others. ClearVision gives her an opportunity to do that through shadowing programs.

Kaye, by being over 55 and in a senior executive position, falls into two categories that are among the happiest, according to the study.

She says she can see why. “I think by the time you’re that age [55-plus], you’ve already experimented with all different kinds of jobs, and you realize what you really want in life,” says Kaye, who’s been with ClearVision more than 18 years.

It also helps that her 125-employee firm provides many employee perks.

“We know that if our employees are happy, that directly translates to the success of our business,” says Jennifer Trakhtenberg, senior talent leader at ClearVision, a designer and distributor of eyewear and sunwear.

Among the seven company values imprinted on an entryway wall for all to see are fun, integrity and compassion. The firm offers wellness programs including yoga classes and massages, and even brings in “stress dogs” during peak periods to help lighten the mood. It also gives employees two paid days annually to volunteer, which Kaye makes use of.

To gauge employee happiness, management does surveys and holds “living room chats” with employees in mixed focus groups and one-on-one meetings.

It’s not always easy to tell, especially in larger organizations, if everyone is happy, but there are some overarching factors that contribute to unhappiness and “demotivate” employees.

Among them are office politics, having unclear expectations, constant change, dishonesty and withholding information, says Ellen Cooperperson, CEO of Cooperperson Performance Consulting, a Hauppauge organizational and leadership development firm.

Among the happiest workplaces are those where there are open lines of communication and a solid level of trust, she says.

Hiring people with the right fit from the start also helps, she says. So she has all new employees complete a personality assessment that helps identify their communication styles, what motivates them, and their strengths and weaknesses. Cooperperson also administers these assessments on behalf of clients.

When Steve Haweeli, president of WordHampton Public Relations, a six-person firm in East Hampton, is considering a hire, he conducts up to three interviews.

On one of those interviews, the entire staff will take the candidate out to lunch to help the person loosen up a bit and get talking.

“We really want to get to know the person and gauge if they’ll be a fit in our tribe,” he says.

Haweeli conducts an individual skills assessment with his employees three times a year to talk about their progress, what they think they’ve mastered and what’s next.

Ashley Fresa, 25, an account coordinator at WordHampton for over a year, says she likes the free and open communication a small firm offers. She can see why employees at firms with fewer than 10 employees were among the happiest.

“It’s just really easy to ask questions,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine a place where you couldn’t get to your boss as easily.”

Other perks at the firm include annual corporate retreats, annual excursions (this summer it was aboard a 42-foot sailboat) and individual birthday celebrations.

It’s important to recognize employees whenever possible, says Fay of Robert Half. There are so many things you can do in an organization to make people feel connected and motivated, she says, “and that will make them want to be there and work harder for the company.”

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The workplaces with the least happy employees were those with 10,000 or more employees.

Source: Robert Half International/Happiness Works survey

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