While job satisfaction is a part of happiness at work, many people treat the two as identical concepts. This is a mistake. For instance, many leaders ignore happiness at work and, instead, focus solely on employee satisfaction. Also, many companies measure customer satisfaction instead of customer happiness.

Job Satisfaction VS Happiness at Work

And while the two terms are definitely related, they’re still quite different. Specifically, job satisfaction is what you think about how satisfied you are with your job. When you sit down and weigh all the pros and cons, how satisfied are you with your work situation? This is very much a rational, intellectual, thought-based process that takes place only when you make a conscious effort to think about these things, e.g., once a year when you complete a staff satisfaction survey.

Happiness at work is much more about emo­tions. For instance, do you experience mostly positive or mostly negative emotions daily? This is automatic and takes place all the time and hence tends to affect us much more deeply than satisfaction, which only matters when we are consciously making an effort to think about it.

In other words, satisfaction is how happy you are while you think about how happy you are (which is probably rarely). Your emotions govern how happy you are the rest of the time while you’re actually going about your life, which is hopefully most of the time. This makes emotions much more relevant than satisfaction.

Furthermore, according to the research, our emotional state over time has a huge effect on our well-being and performance. Satisfaction, on the other hand, turns out to have much fewer beneficial effects. Indeed, there is a weak correlation between job satisfaction and employee performance but a much stronger correlation between a positive emotional state and job performance.

Why is Happiness at Work Critical?

Also, who wants to spend their work life simply being satisfied? When you look back on your career, do you want to be able to say, “Well, I was perfectly satisfied”? No! Make happiness your goal. As in, “I will lead in a way that makes this company a workplace where people love to work and where they spread happiness to our customers and community.” This way you motivate people to engage with each other and show their true potential.

This tendency to focus on satisfaction and ignore workplace happiness means that companies waste a ton of time and money on activities and initiatives that have little to no effect on employee loyalty or productivity.

Here’s a partial list of perks that I’ve seen companies offer their employees to keep them satisfied: free fruit, office gyms, fancy office design, office parties, competitions, team Building activities, wellness programs, massages, laundry/dry cleaning service, legal counseling, health insurance, free breakfasts, swimming pools, Christmas presents, stop smoking programs, weight loss programs, nap pods, and free drinks/coffee.

Am I missing any?

Companies spend huge amounts of money on perks like these, but they make employees no happier at work because they target satisfaction rather than happiness. On the one hand, this is frustrating. Things would be so much easier if employee happiness was all about enjoying trainings in the gym or free massages. On the other hand, this means that only very wealthy workplaces, which could afford all of these pricey perks, could ever be happy. Luckily, the things that really make us happy at work are available on any budget.

The Importance of Benefits at Work

However, we can’t ignore compensationtitles, and perks completely, because even though they can’t make employees happy, they can make them unhappy when they’re unfair.

If you want to see how important fairness is, try this experiment:

Get two Capuchin monkeys, and train them to do a task (to give you back a small, polished rock) in exchange for a slice of cucumber. These are smart monkeys—they quickly learn that when they hand back the rock, they get their treat.

Then try something new. Give one of them a better treat than the other. While Capuchin monkeys like cucumbers, they like grapes even better because they’re sweeter. If one capuchin sees you paying the other one in grapes, it will refuse to cooperate, and will no longer hand over the rock in exchange for cucumber. As if he was saying: “Listen, buster, you’re paying that guy in grapes, and my work is at least as good. I want grapes too, or I’m going on strike.” Some of the monkeys even throw the now unwanted cucumber piece right back in the researcher’s face.

Why Nurturing Fairness Should Be Your Priority

We know from the research that unfairness lights up the human brain in the same way as physical pain. We hate it. We want to be treated fairly, and we want to see others around us being treated fairly as well.

Here is another example from Jack Welch who shared this story from his early career:

“My first boss…I just didn’t like his methods. I thought I was doing well …I got $1000—a 10 percent raise—and I was quite pleased…I thought I was doing much more than everybody else, I thought I was performing at a different level…and everyone came bouncing back with their raise and they all got $1000. So [the] raise that sort of pleased me at one point now irritated the hell out of me…And so I quit. I had a baby and no money. I borrowed $1000 bucks from my mother. I quit.”

This means that salaries, bonuses, titles, and perks do matter for our happiness at work because they can make us unhappy if we feel we are not being treated fairly.

Happiness at Work as the Ultimate Goal

However, the same factors cannot make us happy at work. Once they’re fair, increasing them further does not make people any happier at work. Many companies don’t know this and try to create a better workplace environment through things like free smoothies, office gyms, and bonus schemes, which is bound to fail. We need to ensure that these things are fair and equitable and then go on to focus on the things that actually do make people happy at work.

This is why job satisfaction is one of the areas measured in HeartCount. It will allow you to find out if employees feel they are being treated fairly or not. And once you know that, you can address the issues.