Thinking of changing your job? It’s about more than pay and perks

A VHI report identifies the workplace as a critical venue for five key factors that impact on our happiness and satisfaction

The Great Place to Work institute is a worldwide organisation focused on workplace culture with roots stretching back almost 40 years. It started when business journalists Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz began researching the best 100 companies to work for in the United States. Today, its best workplace list is produced in 45 countries including Ireland where the organisation has been represented since 2003.

Robert Levering describes a great place to work as one where “you trust the people you work for, have pride in what you do, and enjoy the people you work with”.

In practice, this covers the three primary relationships employees have in their workplace: their relationship with management, which is nurtured through credibility, respect and fairness; their relationship with their job, which is expressed in the pride they take in their role; and their relationship with their colleagues and the level of camaraderie that exists between them. The pay-off for organisations that foster these principles is improved retention rates, increased productivity, better engagement and more enthusiasm to devote to innovation and the tasks at hand.

The next Great Place to Work survey for Ireland is due out next February. Participation is voluntary so, to some extent, those taking part are already aware of how a good workplace culture feeds into achieving corporate objectives. The top three performers in the survey's large company category last year were IT company Workday, biotech/pharmaceuticals company Abbvie and software company Salesforce.


IT/software companies accounted for five of the top 10 but professional services/recruitment firm Morgan McKinley was also in the top 10 as was Britvic Ireland and transport company Kuehne + Nagel, which suggests the guiding principles are industry agnostic. The survey also has categories for the best medium and small companies to work for.

High trust environments

Cathal Divilly has been part of the Irish Great Place to Work organisation since its inception and he says the consistent message from employees is that they want to work in high trust environments.

“What makes the headlines on social media is the unlimited holidays and the free food but if these ‘sound good’ practices are not underpinned by a fundamental trust between employees, managers and the company then they have no impact on whether someone stays or leaves an organisation,” he says. “Trust, credibility, respect and fairness in pay and promotion matter a great deal more as do employees’ relationships with their line managers who can greatly influence the quality of their performance.”

Divilly says building trust is all about doing the basics well. This includes having open communications channels, keeping people informed, having a good action plan around feedback, following through on promises and setting a strategy and letting people get on with it. If these pieces are in place, it injects trust into the employment relationship and people feel secure.

Interestingly enough, this security helps create the sort of positive workplace experience that makes employees who leave a company to build their careers elsewhere more likely to return bringing their enhanced skills with them.

According to recent VHI data, a whopping 49 per cent of its survey sample were dissatisfied with their working lives

The breaks over Christmas and the new year are typically times for soul searching around one’s job. But there is an element of being careful of what you wish for. Being happy at work is apparently a tough nut to crack and it is about more than pay and perks.

According to recent data from the VHI, a whopping 49 per cent of its survey sample were dissatisfied with their working lives while over a third were unhappy with their lives as a whole. The proportion of unhappy corporate employees was consistent across all demographics except gender where 42 per cent of women described themselves as unhappy at work compared to 32 per cent of men.

Working parents were shown to be experiencing high levels of pressure as they tried to juggle domestic and work commitments. Working mothers in particular feel under considerable strain.

Flexible hours

Arrangements such as flexible hours and working from home have helped, but these options are still only available to less than half of employees.

Equally, there is a big disconnect between the aspirations of corporate employee support policies and how they are implemented and taken up at grass roots level.

The VHI’s report, The Pursuit of Happiness: Exploring the Dynamics of Happiness in the Workplace, identifies the workplace as a critical venue for five key factors that can have a determining impact on happiness and life satisfaction, including relationships and personal autonomy. The recommendations of its expert group are not a million miles from how the Great Place to Work philosophy tries to encourage organisations to operate.

Refining metrics

Top of the VHI’s list is aligning team and corporate culture, while practices such as refining metrics to assess job satisfaction and participation in CSR activities are also considered important. Also ranked highly was effective listening by line managers, not least because employees’ relationships with their line managers can have a big influence on their happiness at work.

The report makes a distinction between happiness and life satisfaction pointing out that happiness is an emotional assessment that can fluctuate momentarily while life satisfaction is a more stable longer-term indicator. But what comes through loud and clear is that being unhappy makes us vulnerable to physical and mental health issues.

So, when assessing a potential new employer for 2020, it’s worth considering how the organisation’s values and culture might influence this.