The Great Realization: Why Happiness at Work Is Possible

Updated October 17, 2023

The onset of the global pandemic has offered a slower pace and new lens to reflect on how we might live happier, more fulfilling lives. For many, that means taking a more critical look at the place we spend nearly a third of our lives—our jobs. In a 2021 Workplace Happiness Study, commissioned by Indeed and conducted by Forrester Consulting, we learned that nearly 50% of people believe expectations around work happiness have increased over the last five years. ¹ Furthermore, 97% of people felt like happiness at work is possible.¹

As some demand to maintain the remote work they were offered during the pandemic to sustain flexibility and work/life balance, others leave their jobs completely in search of better, happier work. In a 2021 Microsoft study of hybrid work, 40% of respondents said they are considering leaving their employers this year. In June alone, four million workers resigned. While some call this pattern a “Great Resignation,” Indeed sees this moment rather as a “Great Realization” of the opportunity to find happier, more fulfilling work and, in turn, lives.

In this article, we’ll discuss why happiness at work is possible, why you deserve it and what actually makes us happy at work. To help us deliver more transparency around happiness for people around the world, share how you're feeling at work by taking Indeed’s work happiness survey.

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Why work happiness is important and achievable

In her book, "The Writing Life," Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” In our study, 92% of people said how they feel at work impacts how they feel at home. ¹ Finding ways to be genuinely happy in our work and personal lives is certainly an achievement in and of itself, but it also makes us better at our jobs. Psychology professor and happiness specialist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky says that research shows happier people experience more success, positive reviews, greater creativity, higher incomes and less burnout.

Annie Dillard Quote
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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” - Annie Dillard

Leading psychologists and wellbeing experts also believe it's even more important to focus on wellbeing in times of transition and change, which we have certainly seen over the last year and a half. On top of that, job loss is one of the top five most stressful events in a person’s life. Wellbeing contributes to overall happiness—and happier people are more likely to be resilient, energetic and innovative in times of great challenge or stress.

So, whether you’re looking for a new job or investing in your current one, increasing your happiness is critical, both broadly for quality of life and success in your job or job search.

One of the questions in the 2021 Workplace Happiness Survey asked people what the primary reasons they'd consider leaving their current job for new opportunities.

Indeed Workplace Happiness Report
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Second only to pay, lack of happiness is a leading reason people consider leaving a job. Others include:

  • "I'm not paid fairly for my work." (30%)

  • "I don't feel happy at work most of the time." (19%)

  • "I don't feel energized in most of my work tasks." (18%)

  • "I don't feel like I am achieving." (14%)

  • "My manager doesn't help me succeed." (13%)

Most respondents said they’d leave if they’re not paid fairly (30%), followed by not feeling happy at work most of the time and not feeling energized when performing work-related tasks. ¹ It's worth understanding how you feel at work to decide if you're in the right role, with the right company, or if it's time to make a change.

Related: How To Use the Work Happiness Score on Indeed Company Pages

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What makes us happy at work

Happiness can mean different things to different people. Indeed’s research reveals that people often misjudge what drives their happiness at work. While many believe compensation is the top predictor of happiness, in reality, the social elements of work prove to be more important. For example, dimensions like being energized by your work (17%), feeling like you belong (12%) and having a sense of purpose (11%) all rank higher than pay (5%):

What actually makes us happy 2021
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What actually makes us happy at work

  • Energized - 17%

  • Belonging - 12%

  • Purpose - 11%

  • Achievement - 9%

  • Inclusion - 9%

  • Trust - 8%

  • Manager Support - 6%

  • Support - 6%

  • Flexibility - 6%

  • Learning - 6%

  • Appreciation - 5%

  • Paid Fairly - 5%

Source: Indeed Workplace Happiness report, a commissioned study (n=4,033) conducted by Forrester Consulting, 2021

Indeed’s work happiness study and consultation from leading happiness experts Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of Oxford University’s Wellbeing Research Centre, have helped us identify the following key drivers of work happiness:

  • Belonging - I feel a sense of belonging in my company.

  • Energy - In most of my work tasks, I feel energized.

  • Appreciation - There are people at work who appreciate me as a person.

  • Purpose - My work has a clear sense of purpose.

  • Achievement- I am achieving most of my goals at work.

  • Compensation - I am paid fairly for my work.

  • Support - There are people at work who give me support and encouragement.

  • Learning - I often learn something at work.

  • Inclusion - My work environment feels inclusive and respectful of all people.

  • Flexibility - My work has the time and location flexibility I need.

  • Trust - I can trust people in my company.

  • Management - My manager helps me succeed.

  • Stress level - I feel stressed at work, most of the time.

  • Satisfaction - Overall, I am completely satisfied with my job.

While we may think fair pay and flexibility are drivers of happiness, we might look at them more as fundamental needs. Once those are met, we can focus on the aspects of our jobs that prove to drive more happiness, such as feeling like you belong, doing work that energizes you and feeling more appreciated.

Hierarchy of needs
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Elevated Needs: Lower stated importance, higher revealed importance

  • Energized

  • Belonging

  • Purpose

  • Achievement

  • Inclusive + Respectful

  • Trust

  • Manager Support

  • Support

  • Flexibility

  • Learning

Basic Needs: Higher stated importance, lower revealed importance

  • Appreciation

  • Paid Fairly

These dimensions change throughout our lives and careers, varying in importance for each of us as individuals. They might also vary based on our industry, job title, job type or hours, stage in our career and stage in life. Finding small but meaningful ways to integrate these dimensions into your current job or job search can help you find more success, productivity, creativity and of course, happiness.

A great place to start is by identifying your key happiness drivers. To do this, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • How do each of the key drivers of happiness resonate with you?

  • Do some stand out more than others?

  • What does each of them mean to you?

  • How might you prioritize them in rank order?

For more tips, hear from Indeed Work Happiness Lead and a seasoned career coach in our Job Cast, Wellbeing at Work: Understanding what drives work happiness.

¹ Indeed Workplace Happiness Report, a commissioned study (n=4,033 US adults) conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Indeed, 2021

Work Happiness Report, 2021:

This report shares the findings of commissioned research conducted online by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Indeed, fielded in March 2021. Forrester Consulting surveyed adults ages 18+ who reported working either full-time, part-time and individuals actively searching for a new role: 4,033 US adults were surveyed.

To ensure a representative sample, quotas were set by age, education, gender, geography, and income.

The research explored a variety of topics related to happiness at work, including happiness in different aspects of respondents’ overall lives, the contribution of workplace happiness to overall happiness, the importance of different dimensions of workplace happiness, and underlying factors that respondents believe would influence the different dimensions of workplace happiness.

The Work Happiness Score and work happiness survey are now the Work Wellbeing Score and work wellbeing survey, respectively. Learn more and access our most up-to-date resources.

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