Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Douglas Adesko

People have completely rearranged their lives in the last two years, and they continue to do so. Leaders must adapt – and that’s a continual process.

Michelle Slater

As the global pandemic heads into its third year, workers continue to re-evaluate their jobs and whether their work makes them happy.

Workers across North America are experiencing what is being referred to as “Great Realization,” which means they’re quitting their jobs in search of more fulfilling careers and lives.

In the U.S., for example, 4.3 million workers left their jobs in January 2022. And while Canadians were more likely to stay at their roles in 2021 than they were pre-pandemic, some experts predict resignations and career switches may be imminent.

“The pandemic has forced people to work in different ways,” Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, professor of economics and director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at the University of Oxford says. “And that has activated an assessment of what matters most, how they work, and where they work.”

Mr. De Neve was one of the experts who worked closely with Indeed to develop its Work Happiness Score. This score leverages data from more than six million surveys of workers and job seekers on Indeed, the global jobs site and enterprise hiring platform, to uncover the forces that help people thrive at work. Indeed’s latest Work Happiness report reveals that unhappiness at work is the second-leading cause of quitting, just behind unfair compensation.

With that in mind, leaders have to think of happiness as a business essential and strategize around it, particularly as they navigate a return to an office.

Belonging, flexibility and empathy are key

Factors like job security and compensation are important to how workers feel about their jobs, but the Indeed Work Happiness report shows the main driver of happiness is actually a sense of belonging.

“If you have a low sense of belonging,” Mr. De Neve says, “you will not hesitate to move on.”

But companies shouldn’t suddenly command employees to report back to the office and expect camaraderie, purpose and retention to happen automatically.

Where possible, leaders should acknowledge the ways workers have reorganized their lives around remote work and offer flexibility accordingly. While about 4 per cent of the Canadian workforce worked primarily from home before the pandemic, about a quarter did so by mid 2021. The pandemic has lasted years, not weeks, and many workers have changed their schedules around the realities of working from home.

As people edge back into the world – or continue to work onsite – there’s a renewed understanding that everyone’s needs are different. For example, workers with families may want flexibility to fill gaps in childcare whereas those who are new to the company may look forward to office time as a way to network.

And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, quality in-person time can make a job something that’s worth sticking around for.

“Working from home all the time does, in the long run, undermine your social and intellectual capital,” Mr. De Neve says. Social capital comes from having work friends and connections, while intellectual capital comes from impromptu conversations, collaboration sessions, or chance meetings.

“Oftentimes, serendipitously, that’s how you build and come across new ideas,” Mr. De Neve says.

For some types of work there’s a best of both worlds. Mr. De Neve suggests teams co-ordinate in-office days for brainstorming and creativity-related tasks.

Working from home can be reserved for asynchronous and heads-down tasks best done without the distractions of an office, such as writing reports or responding to e-mails.

“We will have gains in productivity and gains from flexible working, which will help in the work-life balance, which makes people happier,” Mr. De Neve says.

Companies on a mission

Cultivating workplace happiness is a process, and something to work toward perpetually, or risk losing current and prospective employees, says LaFawn Davis, senior vice-president for ESG (environmental, social and governance) at Indeed.

“While there is a universal acknowledgement that happier workers are more productive, there is an opportunity to better understand the expectations that today’s workers have and envision ways companies can foster environments that help their workforce thrive,” she says.

Fulfilling those expectations starts with building a better sense of corporate culture. At smaller organizations, leaders know their employees by name, and those workers understand how their roles directly add to the company’s mission. Mid-size and large companies can enforce these values through peer-recognition programs, team bonding, diversity initiatives, and more.

The type of company matters too, since feeling energized and having a sense of purpose are also top drivers of happiness.

“Government services, education, and NGOs heavily populate the upper echelons of the work happiness score,” Mr. De Neve says. These organizations inherently offer a clear sense of purpose and drive.

For-profit enterprises can leverage ESG strategies and embed social purpose into their larger mission.

“There’s no question that this will positively impact people’s well-being, which, in turn, is helpful in driving their own performance and their firm’s performance,” Mr. De Neve says

Empathy for the planet and for society can extend to the person sitting across the hall (or across the country) no matter what kind of team you’re leading.

“A thoughtful employee listening strategy that includes a focus on well-being metrics can help employers identify areas that need immediate attention,” Ms. Davis says. “Knowing what is directly impacting employee happiness and well-being can help employers take action to improve their workforce’s experience.”

Ultimately, cultivating happiness is an ongoing process and responsibility for happiness is shared about 50-50 between employees and the executive and leadership teams.

As De Neve puts it: “You can’t make people happy; but you can provide the best possible environment for people to thrive in.”

Michelle Slater is a director at Indeed Canada


Read the 2021 Work Happiness Report to learn more about work happiness and wellbeing.


Advertising feature provided by Indeed. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

Interact with The Globe