We’re confused.

When it comes to assessing employee engagement or “contentment,” every consultancy offers a different measure.

One claims it’s about having a best friend (among other factors).  Some point to the amount of discretionary effort workers exert – willingly.  “It’s all about the manager-employee relationship, in part, how well your boss supports you,” say a number of other experts.  At its extreme, happiness can be translated, simply, into higher pay and company-sponsored outings.  [That was the solution for Foxconn, the Taiwanese contract manufacturer that experienced worker suicides not so long ago.]

Then there’s the constant dialogue about the differences between generations – surveyed Millennials, for example, rated their managers more highly than Boomers did – among diverse populations, and in different geographies.

It’s no wonder that work happiness is under discussion.

Our point of view (and you know we have one):  Friend after friend, story upon story tells us that meaningful and self-empowered work makes the difference in productivity and engagement.  No, it’s not a statistically significant study.  On the other hand, these anecdotes are very personal and very powerful.  Listen to the comments:

“I quit my job because life is too short; I wasn’t making a difference.”

“My boss was a micromanager.  In the end, I couldn’t please her – and when a recruiter called, I hurried.”

“The work was boring.  I’d spend hours surfing.  And no one cared.”

Even in this challenged economy, workers, whenever they can, are opting out – to join other companies, to do their own thing, even to take sabbaticals.  It’s about the purpose  of, the meaning behind, and the contribution to work.  Twenty-first century trend-seers have already pegged the issue, from Daniel Pink to Stephen Covey.  And a handful of corporations are experiencing true engagement – and worker happiness, like Southwest Airlines, W.L. Gore, Zappos. 

Happiness, in short, is no longer a warm puppy.