Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Boost Workplace Happiness

Image via Andrey_Popov/

Greatist is the fastest-growing fitness, health and happiness media start-up. Check out  more wellness news at

87.5 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. That’s a pretty impressive number, even considering the 12.5 percent of people who aren’t thrilled by the Monday through Friday slog. So what determines whether an office is pleasant or prison-like, and can a few plants, a gym break, and a smiley boss really make or break employee enthusiasm?

Seeking Satisfaction — The Need-to-Know

Job satisfaction research can be traced to the early 20th century. Faced with an increasingly rapid pace of production, assembly line workers were more tired and prone to making errors than ever before. So managers began seeking ways to boost employee mood and morale. Happier employees, the thinking went, produce better work, stave off burnout for longer, and keep colleagues competitive.

For decades organizational psychologists have searched for what exactly makes work most enjoyable. There’s still no magic formula for job satisfaction, since people have their own preferences for what they need and want from a job environment. Some would rather get ’er done and leave, while others seek a greater sense of community. In general, it’s important that our work proves personally meaningful, says organizational psychologist William A. Kahn.

Work It — Your Action Plan

Still, there are some qualities that almost all happy workplaces share. For those seeking a new gig or just looking to spice up their current workday, here are 10 factors that research suggests have the biggest influence on job satisfaction.

Motivation and Dedication

1. Get engaged. Who can forget that sales rep whose genuine enthusiasm for the product he pitched led you to bust out your wallet? Employees who are actively involved, dedicated, and personally invested in a company produce far better work than those who feel disconnected and alienated, says Kahn. Performance evaluation and recognition programs, benefits packages, education, and social support help foster engagement. (This includes office break rooms and happy hours.)

2. Face the challenge. We reach our max motivation when we engage in activities that are difficult but not insurmountable, like pulling together a presentation after doing months of research. Sure, it’s hard, but the final product’s gonna’ rock. Kahn notes that having time to reflect on completed projects is also key.

3. Back off! Beware of micromanaging supervisors and authoritarian bosses who don’t give workers much choice on the job. They tend to lower everyone’s moralewell-being, and motivation to put in extra effort. On the other hand, bosses who make employees feel competent and cared for (“You seem stressed, Gina. What can we do to lighten your load?”) boost satisfaction, productivity, and company loyalty even further.

Daily Schedule

4. Get flexy. Less rigid work schedules help retain team members — especially folks who prefer to hold down a job and have adequate time to spend with family. Workers who can produce on their own clocks and outside the office also tend to be more efficient and call in sick less often than their office-bound counterparts. (Plus people whose day jobs don’t jibe well with their home lives arethree times as likely to quit.)

5. Keep it movin’. Employees who fill their morning routines, lunch breaks, or happy hours with physical activity tend to be more engaged and energetic on the job than those who stay glued to their chairs. Getting a move on throughout the workday improves overall cardiovascular health, provides a healthy distraction from stressful office situations, and can even enhance workers’ capacity to tolerate physiological stress. Company gym membership, anyone?

6. Go places. In 2011, long commute times made almost half of Americans less satisfied with their destinations. And approximately five million workers called in sick last year because they couldn’t take the stress of time spent in transit. While bosses may not be able to influence traffic, some can provide commuter’s compensation.

Office Setup

7. Pipe down, please! Loud noise raises our levels of epinephrine (a hormone involved in our body’s fight-or-flight response), even if we don’t feel bothered by it. Too-chatty coworkers, keyboard clatter, copy machines, phones, outside disruptions and other problematic sounds also make us more inclined to sit in rigid positions. Smart strategies to cut noise include carpeting, lining walls with sound-absorbent material, soaking up street sounds with thick curtains, and white noise machines. Headphones make for the quickest fix.

8. Put some players in the atmosphere. Keeping the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit appears to be the best bet. A chilly office can literally make us perceive our workspace as less friendly. Some greenery might make us more comfy too (though there’s some evidence plants can decrease productivity.)

9. Find your sweet spot. Make sure to use adjustable chairs and desks, which shift where our weight is stacked and keeps joints from getting overloaded. Or try standing at the desk for a cumulative two hours throughout the workday — employees who do this report feeling more energetic and less depleted by office closing time. And fellas, take note: Furniture has a bigger impact on guys’ productivity than on gals’.

10. Improve the space between. Office setups that encourage face-to-face communication (like open-plan bull pen types) boost employee satisfaction. Cubicles with high walls have the worst influence on employee’s smile rates, since they increase isolation. Organizational psychologistJennifer Bunk advocates for more non-virtual “Hello’s!”

In general, workplaces that make us feel included, valued, cared for, and competent bring out our best efforts. Adequate lighting, comfortable office décor, a quiet environment, breathable air, and empowering team dynamics are just some of the numerous ways managers can improve their underlings’ workplace experiences.

And while happiness alone may not cause productivity, it’s a pretty solid start. Happier workers stick around longer, bring more energy and enthusiasm to their tasks, and help maintain organizational morale.

How happy does your job make you? What are some of the biggest stressors you encounter in your workplace and how do you get past them?


Image via Andrey_Popov/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.