Why authentic leadership and pride in work are crucial for employee happiness

New research reveals that authentic leaders who treat employees fairly and encourage them to feel pride in work are the most successful.

Authenticity and leadership have become major talking points over the past twelve months, with the Brexit vote and the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader in the UK, as well as the election of Donald Trump in the US and the upward rise of Marine Le Pen in France all demonstrating that in politics, authenticity is key.

New research from the Institute of Leadership & Management, a professional membership body for leaders, managers, coaches and mentors, points to how crucial authenticity is to good leadership in business, but highlights that many managers and leaders in UK firms are failing to demonstrate authenticity in the workplace.

According to Phil James, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management, key indicators of authenticity are being true to your values; acting ethically; leading with integrity; and inspiring trust. However, the Institute of Leadership & Management found that 50 per cent of leaders allow their mood to dictate the climate of the workplace, 40 per cent frequently show favouritism in the workplace, and one in five don’t see the merit in building trust with colleagues.

Bad managers ruin it for everyone

“Real authenticity is not measured by the amount of outrageous things you can say to appeal to your target audience. It’s not about saying what people want to hear. Authenticity and its role in leadership runs much deeper – it is far more nuanced,” says James.

“Leaders can practice the fundamentals of authentic leadership by being self-aware and making time for self-examination, taking note of lessons learned through challenges, and carefully considering and integrating feedback from others.”

As organisations discover the effect a motivated and happy workforce has on productivity, a separate study by Robert Half reveals that pride in work trumps all other markers of employee happiness, over high salaries and flexible hours.

The research surveyed 2,000 people in the UK and found that on a scale of zero to 100, employees ranked an average of 67 when questioned about happiness in their jobs. Respondents named pride, fairness and respect and feeling appreciated as the ingredients they associate most with happiness.

The top five ingredients of employee happiness

Factors Percentage of those who associate ingredients with happiness Percentage who score well on each ingredient
Pride 51% 60%
Fairness and respect 51% 67%
Feeling appreciated 50% 50%
Accomplishment 49% 63%
Freedom 43% 66%

“The foundations for building a happy workforce are finding employees that have a genuine interest in the job, the right skills and temperament so they can develop satisfying and fulfilling careers in the long-term,” commented Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK. “With fulfilled employees, organisations can nurture a positive work culture. This has a tremendous impact on both staff morale and the business as a whole – boosting satisfaction levels, enabling companies to remain competitive and directly impacting the bottom line.”

For the clear majority, work isn’t just about pay; over a third (37 per cent) are willing to accept a lower salary to secure their ideal job. The research also shows that those in more skilled roles tend to be happier and more interested in work.

For example, managers in the UK reported higher levels of happiness (71) and interest (77) than those in clerical, administrative or secretarial positions who ranked 61 and 63 respectively. There is also a general pattern where younger workers aged 18 to 34 feel they have more opportunities for learning and constructive feedback, which makes them happier.

Senior staff in executive positions feel like they are using their strengths more and that their skills are closely matched to their jobs. They also appreciate that they have greater influence and freedom at work, which contributes to their happiness.

The top drivers effecting happiness for each age group

  Rank #1 Rank #2 Rank #3
18-34 Feeling appreciated Pride Accomplishment
35-54 Pride Fairness and respect Accomplishment
55+ Fairness and respect Feeling appreciated Good team management

Nic Marks, CEO and founder of Happiness Works, believes that happiness isn’t about feeling cheerful every day or avoiding challenges. “Work can be difficult and demanding, but if employees are given the opportunity to progress, grow their skill sets and get the training they need, then they tend to be happy and do better work as a result.”

Many employees highlighted that the people they work and interact with daily contribute to how happy they are at work. Overall, four in five UK employees believe they have good relationships with people on their immediate team and over a third highlighted inter-team relationships as an important driver for happiness and interest at work.

In addition, those who have regular meetings score higher on happiness (74) and interest (76). In comparison, those 10% who never meet their team have the lowest level of happiness and interest, highlighting that a basic level of inter-team relationships is important to keep employees engaged.

“Most business leaders acknowledge that workplace happiness has a tangible impact on productivity and profitability,” concludes Sheridan. “For businesses struggling to attract and retain workers with in-demand skills, our report provides a roadmap for forging deeper engagement and commitment levels among staff. By creating a positive culture that rewards employees then workforce satisfaction levels will rise and positively influence the business.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.