The most annoyingly happy workers on earth

The most annoyingly happy workers on earth

Imagine tomorrow you walk into your office and your furniture has been replaced with frumpy hand-me-downs and your computer with a slower older model. When your system finally springs to life, an email from your direct superior awaits. It says your compensation has been cut 10 percent.

Naturally, this downgraded work situation would dampen your enthusiasm for the job, correct?

Every day, one in 15 workers walk into the equivalent of the above job and nevertheless are happier, work harder, are more loyal and feel more rewarded by their employment than their peers with slicker offices, higher wages, more advanced equipment and more perks. Who are these annoying freaks?

They are nonprofit workers.

That’s right. Most studies find that, despite fewer extrinsic perks and rewards, nonprofit workers are more satisfied and engaged with work than for-profit workers. An Australian study conducted by Maxxia found that nonprofit workers were more satisfied than the general workforce with their working environment, sense of achievement, sense of belonging, level of enjoyment and level of recognition. That is, they measured higher on every form of satisfaction measured.

Why are nonprofit workers so stubbornly upbeat and productive? Mainly because they have jobs that are more “purposed” than those of their corporate counterparts. A nonprofit organization’s raison d’etre makes it more likely that its employees make a societal impact through their everyday work.  While a corporate customer service representative might help a customer buy a T-shirt, a nonprofit customer service representative might help a an individual in need find shelter in a winter storm or grief counseling after losing a loved one. Nonprofit employers have an inherent advantage in offering purposeful work and, thus, in having satisfied and engaged employees.

The Job Satisfaction Index published by the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen found that purpose is by far the most important factor affecting job satisfaction. Making a societal impact transforms the work experience so profoundly that Dr. Paul Light, from New York University and the Brookings Institution, has described nonprofit workers as living in a “parallel universe.” I think I know the location of such parallel existence. It’s the top rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a place few for-profits explore but nonprofits naturally inhabit.

I’m not suggesting you ask your for-profit employer to re-incorporate as a nonprofit. In fact, the employer’s formal legal structure is largely irrelevant. Many nonprofits have jobs that are not purposed and workers are as disgruntled as anywhere. What matters is whether employees knowingly make a positive societal impact. Nonprofits certainly have an advantage in offering such a purpose perk to employees, but don’t despair. For-profits can have similar results by applying the management practice of job purposing.

Job purposing involves modifying the job so that it makes a societal impact. The corporate customer service representative who sells T-shirts, for example, could sell organic cotton shirts or help customers find ways to carpool, recycle or otherwise help save the environment. Done well, these actions would purpose her job and imbue it with a similar sense of meaning nonprofit jobs naturally have.

In fact, there is a company that job purposed the customer service job as described. It’s the outdoor clothing retailer, Patagonia. Are its employees happy? Here are the first five adjectives in its employee Glassdoor reviews: Incredible, great, wonderful, fun and amazing. If you prefer quantitative data, 89% of Patagonia employees recommend it as a great place to work and over 90% choose to stay with the company every year.

Work happiness is not a matter of place. It’s a matter of purpose.


This post was originally published on LinkedIn on the post date and reposted here in January 2018 when this site launched.

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