• Gustavo Serbia

Your Employer Is Not Responsible For Your Happiness. You Are. (but they sure can impact it)

For years, I have struggled with the concept of happiness, both as the responsibility of those around me to provide it and of me providing it to others. Be it, my wife or children, my mother or siblings, friends or colleagues, I have tried not to place that responsibility on others. I have also struggled with the thought of others expecting me to provide them with their happiness.

In my 20’s, I was dating someone who said to be in love with me. She frequently told me I made her happy. One day, she looked into my eyes and said she loved me so much she wanted to be part of my life; that without me she was not happy. (gulp)

Remember the movie Jerry Maguire and the “you complete me” scene? Well, pretty similar to that exchange is what we were experiencing. But unlike Rene Zellweger, it was not a “you had me at hello” moment.

After processing what she said, the thought that came to my mind was that now I was responsible for her happiness too. I could barely handle my own! Scared of this new-found responsibility, I said the first thing that came to my mind; “if you can’t be happy by yourself, on your own, within the walls that surround you, there is no way I can make you happy. EVER.” I know, not the most romantic response. Well, that partly explains why we broke up a couple of weeks later.

My happiness, my responsibility

Since that moment, I have concluded that my happiness is my responsibility, no one else’s. It is an internal thing; an intrinsic decision that I make on a regular basis. I take the same approach when it comes to my family, and what I tell my children. To depend on others to be happy makes me feel like it is a never-ending goal; unachievable! Bound to be disappointed if I do rely on them. But maybe that is what is supposed to feel.

The World Happiness Report

According to researchers who published the annual World Happiness Report (National Geographic, November 2017), three-quarters of human happiness is driven by six factors to living the life that’s right for you:

  1. Strong economic growth

  2. Healthy life expectancy

  3. Quality social relationships

  4. Generosity

  5. Trust

  6. Freedom

The author of the article states that these six factors are “intimately related to the country’s government and its cultural values.” He further states that “the happiest places incubate happiness for their people.”

Happiness in the workplace

I bring with me the same personal philosophy of happiness to the workplace. No, not that of the report. My own. See, I know my employer doesn’t exist to serve me. My wife doesn’t exist to serve me. Both do not live because of me or for me. They exist to serve other purposes; take your pick as to which purpose they serve, but it is not to serve me. Similarly, your employer and your boss do not exist to serve you. However, while I take full responsibility for my happiness, I am fully aware of how my actions (or lack of) impact others and their happiness. And considering the six factors of happiness, I must ask myself: is my employer responsible for my happiness? What role does my boss play? What role do I play in the happiness of those I lead and work with?

To me, there is no question that the workplace influences happiness. To what extent, and what is the employer’s level of responsibility (or that of your boss), is likely where the debate lies. I remain firm that happiness comes from a set of intrinsic values and motivators. But as I look at the six factors listed, I can’t stop thinking that those factors are part of the workplace, and how the employer (and one’s boss) approach them represent a direct influence on how one feels. And how one feels influence one’s level of happiness.

To employers out there

This is not a touchy-feely argument. I can picture already the rolling of the eyes and can hear the “here we go with the HR feel-good caca philosophy.” Hold the emotional reaction for a moment. I agree that happiness requires intrinsic motivators that an employer can’t design or perhaps even develop. I concede that. Maybe that is why the researchers only attribute three-quarters of happiness to the six factors. I also know that resources are limited, and not everyone is Google or Apple. But look at the factors listed. These represent three-quarters of a person’s happiness. And based on the number of hours we spend working (and most at work), many will argue that the employer has more influence than families (from a percentage of time perspective).

But the point is this: the spectrum within how these factors can be brought to life in the workplace is broad and ample. Four of the six factors bear little or no cost, and if these are in place, studies have shown that many are willing to live with limitations on the first two. Furthermore, just like these factors are intimately related to the government, I believe these factors are inextricably linked to the work environment, and how you as an employer, and as a manager or leader, see your role in acting on these six factors, says a lot about how employees will see you.

Life is not a bubble, at least not everywhere

I know life is not a bubble for many. I realize that many employees go every day to earn a paycheck, and happiness is not a priority, but rather the responsibilities they have to take care of themselves and others takes precedent. I also know there are bad employers out there. But to the degree that you have opportunities to pick where to work, use the six factors as a barometer. To the extent that you are stuck, continue to push through and seek the help of those around you to see what other choices you can pursue. And if you believe your employer doesn’t provide the six factors to the level you desire, perhaps it is time to move on.

I won’t lie and tell you that I have come full circle. That I have had a vision and now realize that the happiness of others is my responsibility. I don't think I will ever agree to that. But what I can tell you is that I know the power I have as a leader of others, as the provider of employment opportunities to those I select, and to those I work with, to influence how they feel. I know I can also impact how they approach their day-to-day work, and how my actions can affect their feelings, and how in some occasions, it can be that one moment of happiness that carries them the rest of the day or week.

Your journey, your career. Own it.

If you want your question answered, email me at gus@stretchthestring.com

"The most important instrument to your career development, growth, and success is you. Therefore, you must work to stretch beyond your comfort zone, fine tune what you have to offer, and must do so continuously." - Gustavo Serbia

The opinions I express are completely mine and do not reflect those of my current or previous employers.

I work in human resources. I also Stretch the String, dedicated to career development, human resources, management, and leadership. For more on my content follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or at stretchthestring.com. I will respond to your comments and feedback.

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