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What Really Makes You Happy At Work

happiness work

At Ivy Exec we recently asked senior executives in 25 different industries what made them happy at work.

I admit I was a bit surprised at the answer; money wasn’t the key to happiness on the job.

While money was not unimportant, several other factors had more impact on happiness. In fact, the number one factor contributing to overall job satisfaction among survey respondents was the job quality and the scope of responsibilities.

Evaluating the quality of a potential job and team is a lot more difficult than judging a compensation package. So how do you determine if these less tangible elements can be found at a new employer — before you sign on the dotted line?  Here are my suggestions for assessing the most important factors for happiness:  job quality, co-workers, and leadership:


Job Quality (Breadth of Responsibilities):  You need to do a mindful read of the position description every time you apply for a job.  Seem obvious?  You’d be surprised at how many people are more interested in firing off as many resumes as possible for positions that barely fit their backgrounds.  It’s also very important to go beyond the job description to get a good understanding of how the entire team–your future superiors, colleagues, and direct reports–understand the responsibilities of the position. Especially in large companies, there can be a disconnect between the HR person who wrote the job description and the team.

Co-workers and Leadership: If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, you should interview the management team and your possible future co-workers as much as they interview you.

In every interview – whether informational with “insiders” or the real deal – pose a consistent set of questions to each person you speak to so you can compare answers.  If glaring inconsistencies surface – those are red flags.

Some questions to guide your interviews:

  1. Does the company hire from the outside a majority of the time, or promote from within?
  2. How does work get done?
  3. How would you describe the management style at the company?
  4. Describe your own career progression at the company – how has it evolved over time?
  5. Is the senior management team homegrown or brought in from the outside?
  6. How does senior management interact with the rest of the team?

Look before you leap.  When it comes to job satisfaction, the potential payoff from careful research can be huge.

About the Author

Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a selective online career network for top performers.