A handful of researchers presented studies at the American Psychological Association's annual conference last week that shed some light on employee happiness. Specifically, researchers found:
- Employees who are hopeful about their workhaving both the will and the way to accomplish tasks they consider importantare generally in better health. "Hope has a strong effect on health," said Bret Simmons, an assistant professor of management at North Dakota State University. Simmons found that employees who feel motivated and capable could ride out the more stressful times at work, avoiding some of the adverse health consequences of stress.
- Employers can instill hope in employees, says Simmons, by helping them set goals, using inspirational language, making sure the organization has sufficient resources for the employee, and protecting trust between supervisors and employees.
- Within the military, commanders who embarrass soldiers in front of their peers, show favoritism, or too obviously suck up to the brass are often rated as poor leaders, according to a study presented by Carl Castro, chief of military psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Commanders who tell soldiers when they have done well are usually rated highly.
- People who meet the beneficiaries of their work and who are aware of how their work helps others are more satisfied and productive.
"People are able to cope with significant stress at work when they believe the work they do makes a difference in the lives of others," said Adam Grant, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Michigan. In one of Grant's studies, college undergraduates soliciting alumni donations were shown a letter from a student explaining how the alumni-funded scholarship helped; then the group of solicitors talked with the student for about 10 minutes. A month later, the student solicitors had raised nearly twice as much money as they had before.
"There's something powerful that happens when you meet the beneficiary of your work face to face," said Grant. The beauty of it, he says, is that giving employees contact with their beneficiaries is often an easy task compared with other predictors of employee happiness such as organizational zeitgeist.