What makes employees happy: 3 myths

These five elements increase employee satisfaction, according to a Wrike report (hint: none are ping pong or free beer).

Why managers must measure employee engagement

Employee happiness should be a business imperative: Research shows that happy employees are better at customer service, and are far less likely to get burnt out or leave their jobs than their less happy peers, making happiness a key component to a thriving, engaged company culture, according to a recent report from Wrike.

"The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain," Shawn Anchor, co-founder and CEO of GoodThink, wrote in the report. "The human brain at positive has an unfair advantage over that same brain at negative or neutral. When we are positive, we show 31% increase in productivity."

SEE: Employee objectives policy (Tech Pro Research)

Companies tend to think they understand what makes a happy employee--typically, a competitive salary, lots of social events, and perks like free beer and food. However, after surveying 4,000 workers across the US, UK, France, and Germany, the report found that employees today are looking for more of a work-life balance, and companies should shift their focus accordingly.

Here are three myths about employee happiness, and the truth behind them, the report found.

Myth #1: People don't leave their jobs--they leave their managers

While effective leadership is necessary to boost employee morale and motivation, managers are usually far from the only factor contributing to an employee's decision to stay or leave.

When asked to rank the top factors impacting workplace happiness, the happiest employees ranked management and leadership below both flexible hours and company culture. And even the least happy employees ranked it below compensation and doing meaningful work.

Overall, compensation, flexible hours, and doing meaningful work were the top contributing factors to employee happiness. However, managers are the ones who are responsible for creating the work that meets these needs, the report noted.

SEE: Strategies for coping with a bad boss (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Myth #2: Compensation is the top factor in workplace happiness

Higher pay can sometimes be an incentive to do better work--however, pay raises often also come with more responsibility, meetings, and work to do, the report noted. Employees who are unhappy before a raise are not likely to be significantly happier at the same company afterwards, it added. A majority of employees across the US, UK, and Germany all ranked doing meaningful work as the top factor for happiness, over both compensation and flexible hours. Four out of 10 employees also said they had taken a pay cut at some point in their career to accept a job that made them happier. In the US, more than half (58%) of employees said they have done this.

To help employees find more meaning in their work, managers can work to make sure everyone is aware of the company's vision, and how they fit into that plan, the report noted. Explicitly tying individual work to company goals can also help employees understand the meaning in their day-to-day, it added.

Myth #3: Physical closeness leads to a happier culture

To boost collaboration, the majority of employees across France, Germany, and the UK now work in open office spaces, and the US is beginning to catch up as well. However, collaboration is more about process than proximity, the report found: Despite the popularity of open office plans, less than half of employees said they had a positive view of collaboration at their company. This is due in part to increased distractions in a more open environment, it noted.

Forcing team bonding in an office setting also does not increase employee happiness, the report found. Only 31% of people who frequently attend happy hours said they actually enjoy going to them, while 32% said they either attend out of obligation, or don't attend at all. Managers should seek out other ways to bond their team and make more meaningful connections, the report noted.

For more, check out 12 tech companies with impressive employee benefits on TechRepublic.

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Image: iStockphoto/ANDOR BUJDOSO