Young professionals and the pursuit of happiness at work
Suojanen, Ilona Inkeri
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Happiness has recently gained interest as an influential variable in managing the employment relationship, as studies have suggested benefits for productivity and performance. Knowledge on workplace happiness is, however, still relatively limited and more understanding is needed on employee perceptions and benefits of and expectations for happiness, as well as happiness responsibility. Qualitative approaches can provide new information on such a highly subjective and complex phenomenon as happiness, which has mainly been addressed with quantitative methods. 24 young professionals from various fields, based in Edinburgh, took part in this study. They were requested to take photos when experiencing work-‐ related happiness during a two-‐week period. Afterwards they were asked to talk through their photos. Narratives were supported by semi-‐structured interviews. Data was analysed using thematic inductive coding, leaning on the framework from Fisher (2010), psychological contract (Rousseau, 1989) and interactionist perspective (Ahuvia et al., 2015). Collected data revealed insights into workplace happiness expectations, enablers, responsibility and happiness concepts. Participants emphasised the importance of workplace happiness and expectations to be happy at work. Happiness was seen to improve performance and social behaviour, but there was also a pressure to be happy at work. The five main happiness enablers were: having sense of control, work going well, doing something that matters, physical environment and working with friends. Participants highlighted their responsibility for their own happiness at work, however, shared responsibility was also proposed. The results suggest that young professionals want to be happy at work. If they are not, they are likely to leave. The happiness requirement is mainly based on expectations on authenticity, work-‐life integration and being a good employee. The findings suggest that listening to the employees and enhancing conversations is the key in creating happier workplaces. This study also shows how happiness is better elucidated through empirical narratives than through intellectual abstractions and definitions. Theoretical contributions include four pathways into happiness responsibility, clarifying and reasoning the importance of the five main happiness enablers and providing suggestions to existing happiness models. On the practical side, this study contributes to the gaps of knowledge from the employees' point of view based on lived-‐experiences. It deepens understanding of employee happiness, providing vital information for the HR/management personnel, policy makers and academics about the values and expectations of young professionals. Furthermore, it supplies new insights into elucidating employee happiness, by explaining the advantages and challenges of using narrative methods and visual data.