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Your Employees Are Struggling — and It's Only Getting Worse. Here's What You Can Do About It. The "Great Gloom" is upon us. In 2023 alone, employee happiness scores are declining at a rate 10 times faster than the previous three years. What are strategies for helping employees find happiness in the workplace?

By Brad Rencher Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • BambooHR's study reveals a 6% decline in employee happiness since 2020, accelerating 10 times faster in 2023, indicating the onset of the "Great Gloom."
  • Sustained low eNPS scores suggest workers are accepting poor morale, highlighting the need for significant workplace culture improvements.
  • Strategies for combating this trend include creating a solid culture roadmap, fostering purposeful work and encouraging personal responsibility for happiness.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most people would agree that the past few years have been pretty rough on employees overall. Now, thanks to the results of a new study, we have a much better understanding of the extent of this sentiment.

My company, BambooHR, recently found that employee happiness has steadily declined at a rate of 6% from the beginning of 2020 through the present. In 2023 alone, happiness scores have seen an even steeper decrease, declining at a rate 10 times faster than the previous three years.

This alarming downward trend — the Great Gloom, as we have called it — comes from a close analysis of three-plus years of eNPS scores, which measure employee satisfaction, collected from over 57,000 employees. It also represents an all-time low for employee happiness.

We also found that volatility in eNPS scores is decreasing, meaning that the low scores are no longer downward swings from high scores. In other words, many appear to just accept that workplace morale is poor and they are unhappy at work.

The fact that a Great Gloom is following on the heels of the Great Resignation, quiet quitting and a handful of other anti-work trends is not surprising. When those impacts are combined with significant inflation, questions about remote work and several high-profile labor strikes, the evidence is undeniable: Employees are struggling.

The good news is that companies can reverse these trends. Making real culture changes, focusing on employee engagement and ensuring everyone is happy will make a real difference. Here are a few strategies for helping employees find happiness in the workplace.

Related: Employees Are Unhappier Than Ever — Here's How Employers Can Emerge From the 'Great Gloom.'

Create a culture road map

Overhauling a culture is like creating a product: The roadmap comes first. If you don't plan your company culture with a clear vision and execute through a solid strategy, then people and culture changes will happen almost accidentally, and certainly outside of your control.

There are benefits to building a strong culture of care that go beyond just creating a nice place to work. Between 2002 and 2008, the healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson invested $250 million into wellness programs aimed at supporting employees' social, mental and physical health. Leaders have since estimated that the company earned back $2.71 for each dollar spent.

Companies that want to reverse the impacts of the Great Gloom and build a powerful workplace culture need to reboot, ramp up or kick off an employee feedback program that gives people a voice. Armed with that knowledge, your roadmap can be much more specific and actionable.

This clear understanding of employee wants is especially important, because a company's roadmap shouldn't automatically begin and end with more benefits and more money. Although compensation should be one consideration, it's important to understand what drives your employees and invest in programs that encourage happiness.

Related: How to Balance Employee Happiness and Business Expectations

Help people find a purpose

Many organizations have started recognizing that employees need to feel like their work has purpose. It's becoming increasingly clear that people want to be challenged and useful in the workplace.

This impacts the company across the board. One of the biggest pitfalls of the Great Gloom is what happens to an organization when happiness is replaced with apathy. Any sense of employee dedication vanishes, and the company has to deal with more turnover and a sinking bottom line.

I once had the opportunity to spend a night aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, where I participated in discussions with the captain and the first officer. Among many other lessons, one in particular that stuck with me was that about overcoming apathy. Sailors in the Navy, he taught, are engaged because they do hard things together.

Doing hard things together is the essence of finding meaning and purpose in the workplace. There is no time or need for busy work when team members are striving together for a challenging goal.

Fortunately, impactful work projects don't need to be universally difficult to be meaningful. At the end of the day, helping employees find purpose is driven by discussing clear goals, executing together to achieve the goals, providing recognition and holding meaningful conversations.

Related: 7 Secrets to Employee Happiness

Find your own happy place

A few years ago, I was relaxing on a beach in Mexico with my wife. I had just left an intense and demanding job and was enjoying some downtime while I planned out my next professional move. Although I had a few options, I was looking for clarity about the next steps to take.

After long days of soul searching, I had an epiphany that I was at my happiest when I was building. In my case, that meant building teams, building talent and building products. That led me directly to my current job at BambooHR, where I felt like my talents for building could have a major impact — and make me personally happy.

We do a disservice to any discussion of employee happiness when we don't talk about our personal responsibility for our own happiness. We are in charge of making ourselves happy — our own engagement and well-being improve when we are connected to our purpose and our company's mission.

Leaders, in particular, often overlook their own happiness, even as they work to improve workplace morale. This is a big mistake.You can't help fill someone else's vessel if yours is empty. Working with people who are positive and optimistic will always help improve the overall happiness of any group. When you focus on being that positive force, others will take their cues from you.

The Great Gloom may be here, but reversing its impact should be a top priority for every leader. Executives and managers who have embraced the company's culture roadmap and are engaged at work will help show others the way.

Brad Rencher

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of BambooHR

Brad Rencher is the CEO of BambooHR, the industry's leading cloud-hosted software provider dedicated to powering the strategic evolution of human resources.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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