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Daniel Glasser
Daniel Glasser

Posted on • Originally published at Medium on

8 Keys to Happiness at Work

If your manager asks you to “Rate your happiness at work from 1 to 10” what comes to mind? What expectations do you have that either of you will effect positive change? I want to explore why these questions can be difficult to answer. I’ll also propose an alternative way to think about the underlying question: How can we ensure you feel valued and engaged?

Your manager is not responsible for your happiness. They are responsible for many things — your team’s effectiveness and outcomes, creating a healthy and inclusive environment, recognizing good performance and correcting poor performance, coaching, career development and providing context that connects purpose to the day-to-day… but not happiness.

So if happiness isn’t the right framing for the question of engagement how should we think about it? Not surprisingly, individuals value different aspects of their work. The framework I’m proposing is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Daniel Pink’s research from Drive and the wisdom of Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger.

The 8 Keys

I’ve captured a number of important factors of job satisfaction and engagement. These facets are:


Having work/life balance. You’re able to get a healthy amount of sleep and recharge.


Your basic financial needs are met. Your company’s future and your standing in the company isn’t at immediate risk.


You have long-term financial security. Your savings rates are healthy. Your 401k is well-funded and/or stock incentive plans provide meaningful future growth.


You go to work with people that you enjoy. That means the environment is inclusive of you and others and toxic people are dealt with quickly and decisively.


You work for people you respect and admire. The company strategy and values are transparent and behaviors are consistent with those values.


You have room to grow your career and achieve promotions. You’re also recognized appropriately for the work you do.


You are met with the right challenges for your knowledge, skills and experience. You have autonomy in your work and are able to master relevant skills.


You find meaning in the work you do and have belief in the product you are building.

8 Keys to “happiness”

Motivational Factors

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a framework for understanding human needs and the interplay between them. Basic physiological and safety needs (food, air, water, employment, health, shelter etc.) are at the foundation. Progressing up the pyramid are needs related to belonging, respect, recognition and becoming your best self.

Daniel Pink shares research in the book Drive and his Ted Talk on the same subject about intrinsic motivators. According to Pink, the research shows that after you have money off the table as a conversation — that is people feel compensated fairly in the market — the best motivators are all intrinsic. He talks in depth about three such motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Charlie Munger has three rules for a successful career. His focus is on interpersonal relationships and a belief in the work you’re doing. His three rules are:

  • Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself
  • Don’t work for anyone you don’t respect and admire
  • Work only with people you enjoy

Put it into Practice

Self-reflection time! With the various facets now defined it’s time to think about what is important to you and how fulfilled you feel in each area. The result of these ratings tell you where things are going well or poorly, areas of opportunity, and where the team has perhaps over-invested.

Step One

Rank each facet according to your own personal value judgement (the Importance axis). Rank them based on your current life stage, career stage and aspirations, other responsibilities outside of work and any other factors important to you. For each facet assign it a rating of:

  • Very Important
  • Important
  • Nice-to-have
  • Not Important

Upon your first reading it’s easy to say “they are all important”, but try to categorize them relative to each other given the factors above.

Step Two

For each facet determine to what degree your job is meeting your expectations relative to what you’d consider the market of available jobs (the Execution axis).

  • 5  — This is better than I can expect elsewhere
  • 4  — This is better than average
  • 3  — This is adequate
  • 2  — This is worse than average
  • 1  — This is worse than I would reasonably expect anywhere else

Personal Assessment

For any areas that you rated as important or very important you’d ideally have a score of 3 or higher. Any areas that are scored 2 or lower may or may not be a factor in your employment decisions based on whether you value them or not. In any case, have a conversation with your manager about what your needs are and where they are and aren’t currently being met.

Manager Assessment

Managers can use this framework to identify team trends. For example, a hypothetical team might have a problem understanding why their work is important and in need of some new challenges (as indicated by relatively important but not well-executed Flow/blue and Purpose/purple scores):

Final Thoughts

Only you are responsible for your happiness. You must evaluate how well what you value is aligned with the work you do. You have the choice of where you spend your time working — do it somewhere that you feel engaged, valued and aligned with your company’s values.

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