The Five Rules of Employee Happiness

Linda Le Phan

Happiness at work, which psychologists also refer to as “job satisfaction”, is what everyone wants but not everyone gets.

What are some common reasons for not being happy at work?:

  • You strongly dislike the work you do
  • You strongly dislike the people you work with
  • The work you’re doing is way too challenging or even impossible
  • The work you’re doing isn’t nearly challenging enough

If you’re not happy at work, there’s a good chance one or more of these statements might ring true for you. But even if none of these reasons apply to you, it’s still totally possible to feel undercurrents of dissatisfaction at work.

To be fair though, sometimes happiness at work isn’t totally within your control.


happiest places to work in the US

According to our Career Happiness Indexwhere we evaluated employee happiness within thousands of companies across the U.S., some locations and industries tend to have happier employees than others.

The Top Cities for Employee Happiness are:

  • Cambridge, MA
  • Palo Alto, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Columbus, OH
  • Oakland, CA

And the Top Industries for Employee Happiness are:

  • Government
  • Media / Technology
  • Business & Professional Services
  • Entertainment
  • Retail

But location and industry aside, what else matters for employee happiness? In sum, it has to do with a bit of human psychology and also a bit of common sense.

Here are five rules of employee happiness:

Sense of purpose

The happiest employees have a sense of purpose, also known as “meaning” if you’re going by the scientific theory of happiness. This is especially true for companies who want to retain top talent for as long as possible. The reasoning is simple: the most worthwhile things in life require sacrifice and hard work and in order for you to do both over a sustained period of time, there has to be a belief that what you do actually matters.

Whether that means that the work you’re doing impacts the world at a grand scale, or if you’re improving lives one person at a time, work that has meaning = happier employees.



Employees are happier at work, and are also two times more likely to stay in their current position, when they have a choice about where and when they can work. Giving employees this type of flexibility makes them happier in two ways: 1) it demonstrates trust between employers and employees, and 2) it naturally fosters a higher degree of work-life harmony.

Here’s some more solid proof of that. Companies with the best ratings on kununu tend to offer ‘flexible working hours’ and the ‘ability to work from home’ more often than all other companies overall:

Among all companies rated on kununu:
25.1% offer Flexible working hours
9% offer the Ability to work remotely

Of all top rated companies (4 stars or more) on kununu:
51% offer Flexible working hours
17.4% offer the Ability to work remotely


Strong relationships

Human beings are wired to connect and so employees who are able to create and maintain strong relationships with co-workers are happier than those who aren’t. This ties back to a fundamental concept in human psychology and the thing that we fear the most as people – rejection. Close relationships at work allow employees to exchange sympathy and empathy, and ultimately feel accepted as part of a group.

Why do you think #squad became such a big thing?

Because being part of a group makes people really happy!

Added bonus: employees who have strong relationships at work are also more productive, since this social support helps them stay engaged and perform better under stress.



The biggest contributor to employee happiness actually comes from higher up – the presence of transparency in company leadership. If you think about it this makes lots of sense, because transparency correlates with honesty and a lack of transparency correlates with deception, a.k.a. being lied to. And nobody likes being lied to.


Two things happen when employees don’t find transparency from their company leaders: first, they begin to distrust the leaders themselves, and second, they will lose commitment to the company. Both things are giant roadblocks to employee happiness and powerful reasons to promote transparency in the workplace.  



In a recent workplace study, nearly 40 percent of workers said the first thing they would change if they could trade places with their bosses would be to say “thank you” more often. This clearly shows how important appreciation is for employee happiness and, in a way, it’s also common sense. Isn’t saying “thank you” something all of our moms taught us?

“Acknowledging employees’ efforts motivates and inspires much more than many people realize,” Joyce Maroney, director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos, said in a statement.”It’s also easy to do and doesn’t cost a thing.”

Are you happy at work? Is there something specific your company does (or doesn’t do!) that contributes to that? Let us know @kununu_US!


Linda Le Phan is the Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. That means that everything on the editorial calendar goes through her (want to write for us? learn more here). When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.