Joining the working world is an undeniable reality of adulthood. Most people have to do it. But, unfortunately, it’s been reported that up to 70% of workers aren’t actually satisfied with their career choices. Many people begrudgingly work 10+ hour workdays, that take up most of their waking hours, and for what? Salary increases have even been shown to only only make people happier to a point around $80,000 — after which there are “reduced benefits to increasing your income.”

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But that got us thinking… since we’re so programmed to work traditional jobs, could it actually make us unhappier if we didn’t work? According to a 2017 piece in the Harvard Business Review, which references the “World Happiness Report” and the Gallup World Poll, “individuals who are unemployed also report around 30 percent more negative emotional experiences in their day-to-day lives.” They note that while the monetary safety of employment is important for emotional wellbeing, there are other psychological aspects of employment that contribute to happiness, including social status, relationships, structure, and goal setting. Human’s are social beings at our core, and we rely on relationships with others to live our day-to-day lives, so it makes sense that there are important aspects of working that go beyond financial.

The Anatomy Of A Happy Employee

So, by this logic, our work environment must be pretty crucial. But what actually makes people content at work? One key factor is the way managers address and interact with their employees. Research has shown that team leader’s behaviors are crucial, and fall into five key buckets: supporting people emotionally, monitoring people’s work in a positive way, recognizing people for good performance, respecting your team’s opinions, and collaborating.

A report published on LinkedIn echoed this sentiment, stating the number one thing that made people feel like they “belonged” at their place of employment was “being recognized for my accomplishments” — 59% of candidate respondents agreed with this sentiment.

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Autonomy is also key. Individuals want to know that they’re valued and their opinions are respected. Studies have shown that “people who feel betrayed or unrecognized at work…experience it as a neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head.” Plus, the human brain actually works better when an individual is happy, leading to a 12% uptick in productivity — it’s worth the investment to make sure your employees are living balanced, healthy lives.

Happiness For Freelancers

So, where does self-employment or freelancing fall in this discussion? Freelancers are expected to make up 43% of the workforce by 2020, so they’re an important piece to the employment puzzle. In a piece by Inc Magazine, it was reported that 70% of the self-employed people surveyed claimed they were happy at their job, while only 48% full-time employees claimed to be happy. Furthermore, 94% of freelancers said they believed their jobs was making an important contribution to the world, while only 76% of full-time workers felt that way.

Additionally, the physical space people work in makes a difference in their productivity and happiness. It turns out that open office environments actually led to decreased communication and productivity between teams — another key component of working life for managers to consider when designing spaces and offices for optimal employee happiness. We’ve got a full article on this coming soon.

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But obviously, everyone is different and we can’t put a broad “one-size-fits-all” label on employment and how it affects people psychologically. It might be great for some people, or worse than average for others — it really is unique to each individual. But overall, the statistics do support that unemployment leads to unhappiness, and employment, especially self-employment or freelance, has a more positive psychological effect.

What do you think? What makes you happiest and most productive? Let us know your thoughts and work environment preferences in the comments below!