Starting a new job often comes with new excitement, new challenges and a new outlook on the future. For many employees, happiness is at its highest point during that first year with a new employer because of it.
Research from Friday, a service that tracks employee happiness as a way to help organizations build a productive work culture, and the staffing firm Robert Half found that employees are typically their happiest and least stressed during their first year in a new job.
"Most people are optimistic when they join a new job," said Nic Marks, founder and CEO of Friday. "They have high levels of motivation. They are learning a new role and tend to have to less responsibility as they onboard."
The happiness decline after the first year
Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, said the first year is often a honeymoon period. "Things are new and exciting. Employees are warmly welcomed and told why they're good for the company and the company is good for them. The potential for success is great."
The study found that happiness levels drop and stress levels increase significantly in the second year with an employer. Those levels rebound in the following years.
"After 12 months on the job, employees are expected to work more autonomously and take on added responsibility," McDonald said. "At the same time, aspects of the job that at first seemed novel and interesting may lose their luster."
Besides job satisfaction dipping in year two, so do a worker's interest levels. The study found a significant drop in how interested employees are in their work between year one and two.
Marks said the second year of a job is when some employees realize their position isn't quite what they hoped it would be. "There is a selection bias going on here, as people obviously self-select out of jobs they don't enjoy. So those still in the role in year three are more likely to enjoy their jobs, as they have stayed."
Why the end of the honeymoon phase matters
There are numerous reasons why employers should care about their employees' happiness. McDonald said happy employees are engaged, more productive and innovative. In addition, they lift the morale of their colleagues. "This can result in several additional benefits for companies, including enhanced retention efforts and an improved reputation as an employer," he said. "This helps with recruiting, as others in the business community hear about the positive workplace the organization provides."
The job of keeping employees happy falls on the shoulders of many within an organization. McDonald said that while managers often have the most direct impact, senior executives set the tone at the top. He added that employees don't have to be in a leadership position to affect happiness, either for good or bad.
"Everyday actions can improve the spirits of colleagues, or deflate them," said McDonald. "All professionals need to understand how their actions and work affect those around them and across the organization."
Marks believes the key to keeping employees happy is communication. At Friday, he said, they recommend teams meet each week to discuss how their work is going. This team ritual enables successes to be built on and any frustrations to be dealt with in real time.
"We suggest that they note each week successes that people have had, to recognize their contributions and efforts, as in a fast-moving workplace these can often be glossed over," Marks said. "Encourage colleagues to appreciate each other and thank them for the support given. This builds respect, empathy and friendships, bonds that help everyone when things are stressful and/or challenging."
Tips to stay happy at work
To help employees maintain their spark as they build tenure at an organization, and to maintain your own spark, Robert Half offers several tips:
- Consider the greater good. You can build passion for your job by looking at your organization as a whole and how it contributes to making the world a better place. For example, accountants at a CPA firm are not only performing accounting functions but are also helping clients grow their businesses.
- Create friendships. Work friends can make your days more fun. To deepen these connections, make a concerted effort to socialize and build camaraderie with co-workers.
- Be proactive. Instead of waiting for your boss to assign you new projects, be proactive and talk to them about taking on assignments that will build your skills and make you a more valuable employee. This not only increases engagement levels, but it can also increase your earning potential.
- Show appreciation. When co-workers help you with a project, show them the appropriate amount of gratitude. This may brighten their day and give your own spirits a boost.
"Take advantage of the company's professional development and benefits offerings," said McDonald. "If you no longer find joy in your work, talk to your manager about changes that can be made, including by you, to rekindle the happiness you felt when arriving at the company."
In the end, Marks said, happiness is a joint responsibility between employers and employees. "It is in both their self-interests for everyone to enjoy their jobs," he said, "though, of course, there are always ups and downs in any job."