Should it be a goal of the workplace to make employees happy? Or is striving for satisfaction enough? Happy workers are likely more productive, and potentially even healthier and more creative. But can a physical workspace really create happiness? Or is it simply a function of inherent personality traits in our workers? Is striving for satisfaction aiming too low, or is it simply creating a measurable for companies to define whether they have succeeded or failed? Perhaps it's a nitpicky debate over semantics of words, but I'll suggest for a moment we strive for satisfaction.
Perhaps this latest workplace debate stems from a generational divide. In the past, employees showed up at their beige-hued cubicle farms and were thankful for it (after walking uphill in the snow for six miles, of course). Millenials and Generation Y have different standards for their workplaces. While traditionalists and Baby Boomers may have sought more personal identity from their work, younger generations are becoming more focused on work-life balance and their own quest for happiness. (Perhaps a side effect of those helicopter parents paving the way?) The axiom, "If work were fun they wouldn't call it work" no longer applies. Modern employees continually seek opportunities for happiness and are looking to employers to support this ideology.
However, businesses cannot be held accountable for each of their employees' happiness. Sustainable happiness derives from a long list of variables of which work is only a part. For some, work is the most important value in their lives. Others find their joy in health, hobbies or their families. Happiness is a state of mind or attitude which may be inherently intertwined with an employee's personality for better or for worse. An employer will not likely be able to change or even influence someone's attitude and inherent personality no matter how hard they try. We all have good days and bad. There is no definitive methodology for creating happiness so it's difficult and nearly impossible for businesses to try and accommodate or even measure each employee's relative level of happiness (or lack there of).
Satisfaction, however, can be psychologically linked to what helps an employee feel fulfilled, which employers should be concerned with as it is directly linked to a measurable for the business: engagement & productivity. Satisfaction is a much more objective quality that today's data-centered businesses can measure. Are our employees engaged? Should we set up a large communal ideation area where employees can crowdsource ideas or spontaneously collaborate with their coworkers? How do our rooms foster innovative ideas? These are the questions that should guide businesses when designing an office space. A place without irritants, inconveniences and frustrations is the foundation to productive workplaces. The office should be viewed as a welcoming communal space for talented people to generate big ideas and deliver excellence. These are the qualities of a workplace that can help employees find meaning and satisfaction in their work and create sustainable productivity.
Happiness certainly should not be shunned at the workplace; it just shouldn't be the goal of the employer. Rather than catering to subjective needs, management needs to set the tone for company culture and ensure the workplace fully represents the drive, hopes and dreams of its workers. This is a business's weapon against the scourge of "presenteeism" -- a condition where people show up for work but operate at subpar levels -- and engage their workforce. Satisfaction should be cornerstone of the office, happiness the aspiration.