Accountants and finance professionals could be more productive if they were happier at work, research by Robert Half suggests.
Happy employees are better employees because they are more engaged and more satisfied, they change jobs less often, and their mental health outside of work is better, according to Marsha Huber, CPA, CGMA, a happiness researcher and associate professor of accounting at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Huber, who was not involved in the Robert Half research, suggested that these benefits can translate into saved recruiting and training costs and even fewer sick days and lower medical costs.
Surveys by staffing firm Robert Half found that two-thirds of employees in North America, Europe, and Australia are generally happy in their jobs, but accountants and finance professionals rank in the bottom half of the happiness scale among eight different professions.
Accountants came in fifth and finance professionals were dead last in being happy at work, a survey of more than 12,000 working professionals in North America found. They were also the least interested in their work.
“In general, to help any employee become happier on the job is to help them find meaning in their work,” Huber said. “We need to help some accountants progress in their careers. Other accountants may need to feel they are doing something meaningful. For example, an accountant who works for a non-profit may earn less then peer accountants, but loves her work because she finds the work rewarding.”
How to work happy
Happiness at work is shorthand for employees being satisfied because they have a great experience on the job, Robert Half suggests. Needs, goals, and preferences that change from employee to employee make this experience a highly individual one, but Robert Half concluded that the following six factors are key drivers of job satisfaction:
Hire to fit. Set expectations by crafting detailed job postings that clearly communicate to prospective hires what the job entails. When you select job applicants that seem suitable, conduct in-depth interviews and thoroughly check references to avoid skills alignment issues. Also, devote attention to interpersonal abilities during the interview process to avoid hiring someone who’s brilliant but is going to irritate other workers.
Finance professionals that Robert Half polled in the US and Canada said they did not feel well matched to their work. They said they aren’t able to use their strengths on the job to a high degree.
Reward smart risks. Empower employees to make decisions on their own, or with minimal direction, to let them develop problem-solving skills they can use to advance their careers, build confidence, and feel comfortable suggesting new ideas. Invite your entire workforce to brainstorm new ideas and approaches.
When somebody tries something that doesn’t work, capture the lessons learned through the failure and celebrate the smart risk taken.
About one-quarter of the professionals Robert Half polled in the US and Canada said they wield little or no control over their work (23%) and feel they have few opportunities to be creative (26%).
Make employees feel appreciated. Offer gratitude for a job well done. Be specific when you recognise an employee and deliver the praise in a timely manner. Provide frequent feedback not only to individuals or the less experienced workers but to the entire team.
Respondents in the Robert Half North America survey who were 55 or older were less likely to receive constructive feedback (44%) than those under 34 (54%).
Offer work that’s interesting and meaningful. Let employees know through multiple channels that their contributions matter and that they are part of something larger than themselves. One way to do this is to allow employees to volunteer and establish ties with the community. Research suggests employees who feel their work is worthwhile are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be happy than those who feel the job they do is “just work.”
Workers at very large companies (2,500 or more employees) feel the lowest sense of accomplishment, according to Robert Half research.
Play fair. That means managers must ensure every team member knows what it takes to get promoted or earn higher pay and workers must have a chance to say when they feel a sense of inequality. To ensure employees feel their pay is equitable to that of others doing to the same work, employers must periodically benchmark salaries. Knowing the going rate is vital to recruiting and retaining top talent.
Only 70% of women feel they are treated fairly compared to 74% of men. Likewise, 52% of women say they are paid fairly versus 58% of men, according to Robert Half research.
Help employees establish supportive workplace relationships. Managers can promote a positive workplace culture by creating opportunities for employees to forge and strengthen bonds with colleagues. For example, enlist older, or more experienced workers to support their less experienced coworkers.
Happiest at work
Based on a survey of more than 23,000 professionals across Europe, North America, and Australia, Robert Half ranked the following eight countries by how happy workforces are on the job:
—Sabine Vollmer (Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.