Workers at small businesses report much higher rates of happiness with their jobs because they enjoy more autonomy and less structure, according to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“People at larger organizations tend to have more traditional work structures and tend to have many of the complexities that come with that,” says Justin Sturrock a partner at PwC. “People feel that they have less impact over the work they’re producing.”

At businesses with fewer than 50 workers, 43% of employees say that they feel happy versus 27% of peers at large companies, according to the research. They were also more likely to rate their company as high functioning, feel respected at work and occasionally work at home.

Eighty-six percent of large-company employees want to work from home once a week, yet only 26% do, according to the report. When employees get the opportunity to work at home, it’s a win-win, boosting employees’ morale and their productivity, says Sturrock.

Larger employers can also be more mindful of acknowledging good work and presenting opportunities for workers to learn and grow on the job, something 75% of small business employees said they had the chance to do.

“Employers need to invest more in open honest communications and environments of trust, and to back that up with clear measurements and metrics,” Sturrock says. “Employees need to step up and meet their employers half way and take ownership for building their careers.”

Employers also need to recognize the value of ‘soft’ programs such as employee recognition, says David Batman, chief medical officer at Global Corporate Challenge.

“It’s time to stop seeing psychological health issues – and happiness within that – as a nice-to-have,” Batman says. “It impacts business metrics and employers who harness it reap the benefits.”

A joint study by the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics found that being at work reduced employee happiness by up to 8% – second only to being sick. And more than half of U.S. employees (68%) are disengaged, according to Gallup.

Batman says there are three key elements employers should include in events and activities to incorporate happiness into office life. The first is anticipation, used to build up excitement around employee bonding activities and outings. The second two are about focusing on the positives – reflection, by looking at what employees have accomplished rather than lack, and gratitude, praising and giving thanks for a job well done.

“Create a culture of giving,” Batman says.
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