Smile And Be Happy: How to Measure Happiness For Women In The Workplace?

Measuring engagement at work as a gauge for happiness shows gender gaps.

Measuring engagement at work as a gauge for happiness shows gender gaps.

None of us can grin from ear to ear every minute of every day at work. But being happy with what we do professionally matters. Still, we wonder, is achieving happiness at work a goal or a natural byproduct of meaningful work?

It’s a topic we have tackled before at Take The Lead and one worth revisiting.

“All this talk about happiness may also make us lose sight of what it truly means, if we ever understood it in the first place,” writes Leah Eichler in The Globe and Mail. “A recent ruling by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board determined that employers cannot force their employees to be happy.”

Sure, your employer can order in lunch now and then and treat everyone in the office to a company picnic, even reduce hours, add extra perks like travel and upgrades.

If you are the boss and the leader in your organization, you can also do your best to improve morale with a positive work culture. Still, the workplace culture could resemble the dysfunction of “The Office,” or even “Parks and Recreation.”

Eichler writes that trying too hard to make everyone happy at work may backfire. “The issue arose when T-Mobile employees felt that their company, which demanded ‘a positive work environment,’ was asking too much.”

Trying too hard to make everyone happy at work may backfire.

It turns out many entities are measuring happiness and there is a recent World Happiness Report Update, “that can be used to measure the inequality of the distribution of satisfaction with life as a whole,” according to The World Economic Forum. And there is happiness inequality across the globe—as measured by life satisfaction and the differences between answers on a scale of 1-10.

“Well being inequality is lowest in Western Europe and South-East Asia, and highest in Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa,” the report shows. That means there is a higher standard of life satisfaction and a smaller gap between those reporting higher levels of happiness and those reporting lower levels of happiness. “The largest increases in wellbeing inequality have been in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the report.

For women leaders in the workplace, specifically, happiness seems to be elusive. “According to preliminary findings from a joint Bain & Company and LinkedIn study shared exclusively with Fortune, many senior-level women continue to question their success even after they’ve made it to the top,” writes Valentina Zarya in Fortune.

For women leaders in the workplace, specifically, happiness seems to be elusive.

Wording the questions not about happiness, but about aspiration, confidence and endurance—or whether or not the ascent to the top made the senior executive feel it was all worth it—revealed distinct gender gaps.

The aspiration and confidence gap close between men and women, over time, Zarya writes. But endurance stays different between men and women who reach the top. In other words, women burn out.

“The research is based on an online survey of over 8,400 LinkedIn users. One reason that women report less satisfaction and happiness at the top is possibility the lack of role models for women once they arrive. ‘When women look around and don’t see some they aspire to emulate,’ says  Bain partner Julie Coffman, who also chairs Bain’s Global Women’s Leadership Council, ‘there’s a bit of a challenge in getting really excited about your success.’”

In a new report, New Tech Benchmark report 2016, from Culture Amp, employees weighed in on engagement, which is measured in a score of recommending others to work there. Motivation, pride, as well as present and future commitment to the company. Engagement can be seen as a way to measure happiness at work.

At one company, the report shows, “From 2013 to 2014 we noted a 4 percentage point drop in overall Engagement scores, which went from 75 percent to 71 percent.”

And yes, there are gender differences in engagement, or levels of happiness at work, according to the study. “Looking into the gender data we can identify areas where there are more substantive differences in responses from males and females – most noticeably in the three questions in the graph relating to recognition, honest communication and fair distribution of work.” In all of those areas, men were more engaged—or satisfied—than women at work.

The  gender gap in happiness at work globally, may also have something to do with new data from the United Nations emerging that globally, women work harder than men do, in terms of hours and years.

“According to an ActionAid report presented to the United Nations, women work a global average of four extra years compared to men—and it’s all because of their larger role in housework, caring for children, the sick, and elderly. Even in developed countries such as the UK, British women can expect to work two and a half years longer than their male counterparts. If every woman in the world was paid for these extra hours, they could expect to earn an estimated ($53,228) over their lifetimes,” according to Sirin Kale writing in Vice.

“The figures were calculated using World Bank data for 217 nations, consisting of 78 developed and 138 developing countries. The economists calculated global daily averages of paid and unpaid work hours for men and women, subtracting the total number of hours for males from the female total. The difference was then used to calculate the average extra time that women work over their lives, based on a global life expectancy of 69 years.”

The goal may be for everyone to be happy at work, but still so many report they are unhappy at work.

“Being unhappy at work has become a norm, often represented through sardonic humour and clichés like the ‘Monday blues,’” according to Your Story. “In 2013, Gallup conducted an extensive study across 142 countries on employee engagement titled State of the Global Workplace. The findings revealed that only 13 percent of the workforce comprised of engaged employees, with the remaining either were not engaged or were actively disengaged.”

Still, as a woman in leadership, you are in charge of your disposition at work. Many women leaders offer their takes on what makes them happy as they offer advice on how to be happy in your career.

Hilarie Bass, co-president, Greenberg Traurig, tells the Miami Herald, “Enjoying what you do for a living is a necessary factor for professional success.”

Similarly, Meg Daly, president and CEO, Friends of The Underline, tells the Herald, “Be whatever you want to be, but strive to be best in whatever that is. Be clear about what makes you happy, and even clearer about what makes you successful.”

Many women report that they start out in their careers as positive, happy and ambitious. But over time, they may feel their drive and happiness wane, research shows.
“A study from the consulting firm Women’s Success Coaching finds that women start out their careers extremely ambitious, but employers damage that drive to succeed by not creating enough programs that have an impact on their advancement. The result is a decline in that ambition by the midpoint in women’s careers,” according to Business News Daily.

“Women suffer from a lack of mentors, supportive managers who recognize and reward their achievements, as well as female role models. While numerous role models for success exist for men, there are few role models at the top showcasing women who have been successful especially in male-dominated industries,” writes Chad Brooks.

Others agree. Kathryn Perry, senior vice president of fixed income capital markets at Raymond James, tells the Memphis Business Journal, “As my career blossomed, I began checking the boxes of things achieved. Many times, the feeling of success, joy and happiness waned quickly or was never there. Over the years, I have recalibrated my scale of success. … If you are at the top of the ladder with nothing but a checklist in hand, the top of the ladder is quite lonely. That checklist may prove to be a poor standard to measure success.”

How to revive your happiness mojo? Some experts say communicate openly, network and find support systems within and outside of your organization. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

There are also certain job titles connected to a higher level of happiness at work, according to Forbes. At Fairygodboss, “We have been collecting job satisfaction information from every member of our community for over a year, and just a few days ago, we analyzed that data for patterns across job titles. What we found were that certain job titles correlated to higher levels of job satisfaction at work.”

The top five titles were: Senior Program Manager, Senior Product Manager;  Sales Representative; Principal and Senior Marketing Manager. Titles were across the spectrum and were not necessarily the highest in seniority, writes Georgene Huang.

“Encouragingly, it’s also clear that job satisfaction isn’t the exclusive domain of one type of job title. It seems that women working in a range of roles spanning HR, law, journalism, marketing and finance all seem to be happy in their work,” Huang writes.

“Being happy at work not only does well for your well-being, but also helps you professionally,” according to Your Story. “As author Alexander Kjerulf said, people who are content at their workplace tend to be more productive, more creative, and more successful overall.”

So whatever comes first—happiness at work or success due to the meaning of work—we can hope to be a little bit happy about it all at least some of the time.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon