The #1 reason employees quit and 6 factors that fuel their happiness

Who’s happiest in their job? A new workplace study breaks down what all businesses should know.
Who’s happiest in their job? A new workplace study breaks down what all businesses should know. Getty Images

What do employees need to be happy? Managers, take note: a new jobs report released Thursday has some pointers.

“Happiness is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity for a productive and successful business,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of recruiting firm Robert Half.

The company surveyed more than 12,000 workers across Canada and the U.S. in its quest to discover the secrets of workplace satisfaction.

What makes good workers quit

One of the biggest takeaways of the research? As it’s often been said: “People leave managers, not companies.”

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A manager can have a huge effect on how their subordinates feel, explains Nic Marks, who worked on the research. He’s the founder of Happiness Works, a platform that helps improve work environments.

“If your manager says one bad thing to you, it can really dampen your motivation for days, even weeks,” Marks wrote.

He urges managers not to micromanage, which he believes “robs employees of the chance to grow.” Empower workers instead by allowing them to make decisions on their own, Marks argues.

READ MORE: Unproductive at work? It could be your manager’s fault

Those who feel a disconnect with their employer are most likely to leave their jobs within a year, according to the survey.

However, much of one’s happiness at work also comes down to having chosen the right role.

WATCH: How can you find happiness? Canadian author offers his take

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How can you find happiness? Canadian author offers his take

Who’s the happiest?

Here’s who seems to fare best (and worst) on the happiness scale, when broken down into the following four categories:

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Company size

  • Happiest: Staff at small business of fewer than 10 people.
  • Least Happy: Employees at organizations of 10,000.


  • Happiest: 55+
  • Least Happy: 35-54 (this age group is also most stressed, and least interested in their work).


  • Happiest: Marketing and creative professions. Teachers are up there too.
  • Least Happy: Finance sector. The legal field is also up there. It apparently has the highest stress levels.


  • Happiest: Senior executive. They’re apparently the least stressed as well.
  • Least Happy: Sales and customer service staff

READ MORE: Sick of your job? Here’s how long you should stay before job hopping

Even though happiness means different things to different people, these are the six commonalities that appear to span jobs, genders and sexes.

6 things all employees need

1. Pride in organization

Workers who feel proud of their organizations are three times more likely to be happy at work compared to those who don’t.

Pride is the strongest driver of happiness for both men and women across North America, the survey found.

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It also tops the list for workers aged 35 and up, and those in the IT, financial services, and administrative sectors.

2. Feeling appreciated

In the legal and accounting professions, appreciation is the most important factor.

The need for recognition was evident when survey respondents were asked for anecdotes of times at work when they felt most content.

The memory that stood out most for one person was a 10-year-work anniversary dinner where the employer handed out “a glass bowl with some candy and a cheque.”

Another had to go back a decade to when his skill set and contributions “were acknowledged.”

3. Sense of fairness and respect

Being treated fairly is especially important to women, the results show, and an area they often feel let down.

“A single act of unfair treatment — whether actual or perceived — is often enough to turn a happy, satisfied worker into one who is cynical and skeptical of the company,” the report reads.

Dianne Hunnam-Jones, a district president with Robert Half, encourages employers to give as much information as possible when making certain decisions that have the potential to be seen as unfair.

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She gave the example of a decision that might come down from the corporate office that only the sales staff get paid parking.

Even though the reasoning (that they’re in and out of the building all day) may be sound, it may not be so obvious to the now-disgruntled person sitting in a cubicle wondering why others get special treatment.

“It’s really playing fair,” said Hunnam-Jones. “Not playing favourites.”

“Make sure you have that relationship so you can give the information.”

Unequal compensation between colleagues is another common sore spot.

4. Sense of accomplishment

This ties in with the desire to feel appreciated.

5. Interesting and meaningful work

People want to feel like their values align with those of the company.

The shared vision allows a deeper emotional connection to one’s workplace.

6. Positive workplace relationships

All the perks in the world can’t make up for a lame workplace culture.

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“That games table, free lunch in the cafeteria…will only last so long,” said Hunnam-Jones, “if you don’t feel like you have a deep satisfaction [with your workplace].

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