AT THE OFFICE: Happiness at work could keep employees from straying

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Workers found a new love for their jobs in the recession, whether they were really satisfied or not. But as the economy recovers, the unhappy worker is likely to start looking for a new job.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Workers found a new love for their jobs in the recession, whether they were really satisfied or not. But as the economy recovers, the unhappy worker is likely to start looking for a new job.

Employers that want to retain their talented and skilled workers should be aware of what tends to make their employees happy at work. For some, that may be flexibility with their work schedules. Others cite a friendly, collegial environment. Rarely is compensation listed as what makes people happiest at work.

But with some employers handling layoffs poorly, the attitude is "when this market turns and I'm no longer fearful of losing my job, I'm going to be finding a new job," says Stacy Ethun, president of Park Avenue Group, the Orlando affiliate of MRINetwork, a global search firm.

The Conference Board recently reported that job satisfaction is at a 22-year low, with only 45 percent of those surveyed being satisfied with their jobs. Almost one-quarter of respondents said they didn't expect to be at their current jobs within a year.

Management is often unaware of the level of dissatisfaction among workers and fails to take steps to prevent significant turnover, Ethun says. "There's almost a general apathy of appreciation of them. Managers seem to have the attitude, 'If I'm going to be unhappy, than everybody's going to be unhappy,'" she says.


Ethun says younger workers usually want opportunities to learn and seek new challenges. "They want to feel like they're making a difference, that what I do matters," she says.

JoAnna Brandi, a specialist in customer retention in Boca Raton, Fla., asks employees in her workshops to write down "everything that makes you feel good at work." "The two that matter most are the people I work for and the people I work with," Brandi says. "We're social animals. What matters to us are connections with other people."

Participants also say they feel good when: "my boss notices my effort and my results," "higher-ups ask me questions," "people tell me clearly their expectations," "I can provide feedback without fear of negative consequences," and when management "gets out of my way."

"It's having faith in me," says Brandi, who is collecting data on what motivates people to be their best at work on . Visitors can take a confidential survey on the site to give their feedback on what makes them happy at work.

I recently asked several workers what makes them happy at work.

Maria Cristina Gonzalez, a strategy consultant for IBM, says she likes having the autonomy to make day-to-day decisions, instead of dealing with bureaucracy. She likes to work with people who are top-notch professionals but who also are caring people who give to others.

Julianne Carelli, public relations manager at MSC Cruises in Fort Lauderdale, prizes an environment where she is recognized for her efforts and communicates well with her boss and colleagues. "If your boss is flexible and willing to work with you, it goes a long way. ... It makes you want to work harder and builds loyalty," she says.

Michael Scuotto, assistant manager of environmental services for Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, says he strives to treat his staff members with dignity and respect, and give them flexibility. As a result, they're more willing to step up when extra work is necessary, he says.


He also appreciates recognition from top management. Recently, Scuotto was recognized as one of the hospital's "shining stars," who goes beyond the call of duty. A poster in the lobby makes everyone aware of his achievement. "It makes you feel so good. Doctors, nurses and administrators congratulate you," he says.

Terry Frisenda, vice president for sales at Johnstone Supply in Fort Lauderdale, values a good balance of work and personal time. "I've preached that in my entire career: work hard and play hard," says Frisenda, who enjoys competitive bass fishing in his leisure time and has found clients that way.

He becomes concerned when younger worker spend too much time at work and not enough with family because he has seen older workoholics lose their spouses and families.

Besides, he says, work-hard and play-hard approach is good for business. "The successful person in sales environment is a well-balanced person," Frisenda says.

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