Why Is My Boss So Happy?

In a recent study done by the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment among 14,940 Danish employees including 712 in Management positions, they found that Managers are considerable happier with their work than employees without management responsibilities.

The study concludes that 83% of the managers feel they get a large degree of joy and increased self-confidence from their work. In comparison only 65% of the employees felt this way. 88% of managers answered that salary was not the main driver at work. Only 73% of the employees felt the same way about salary as a motivator.

In a comment to the study a researcher found it surprising that money is not a bigger motivator for managers. In my opinion the surprise is that researchers keep finding this surprising.

In his book “Drive”, Daniel Pink argues that a number of studies has found that mainly three factors contribute to motivation at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the ability to direct our own lives. Mastery is having the possibilities to get really good at something and purpose is being able to connect what we do on an individual level to a greater motive.

If we take a look at these three factors and compare them to the Danish study on management and employee happiness, I think it become quite clear why managers are more satisfied than employees.

Let’s start with purpose. People who are promoted to management positions in a company have a proven track record. They have often worked in the company for years and they identify themselves with the purpose of the company. Unfortunately they sometimes take the purpose of the organization so much for granted that they forget to help new employees feel the same ownership and sense of belonging.

Secondly Managers are often shown greater trust than other employees. As they build a positive track record, which got them promoted to a management position in the first place, they are under less scrutiny and control than other employees. They therefore have a greater possibility of directing their own lives.

As you get good at management you get promoted to new departments and/or higher levels of responsibility. With each promotion comes new challenges, but also expectations of using the management skills already acquired to move things forward. As a Manager you therefore constantly get the opportunity to master your craft by practicing and improving your management skills.

Finally managers often get paid considerable more money than other employees and they are therefore not motivated by money in the same way. As Daniel Pink explains money is a motivator in a strange way. If you don´t pay people enough, earning more money becomes a motivator. On the other hand, if you pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table, more money is not going to make people more motivated. This observation is supported by a comment to the Danish study by a business school professor explain that Managers will have an easier time adjusting to lets say a 10% pay cut than other employees.

In the study only 4.75% of the people participating were in management position. This means that there is a significant potential, if we could increase the happiness of the remaining 95% of the workforce to the same level as their managers. To do this, managers need to help employees see the connection between what they do on a day-to-day basis and the overall purpose of the organization. Managers should also focus on creating an environment that makes it easy for the individual to get good at what they do. Thirdly managers need to delegate responsibility and not only tasks so that employees can be more self-directed. Finally they need to pay employees enough to take the issue of money off the table.

If you want to know more about Daniel Pinks findings I encourage you to view this RSA animation of his TED talk on the topic:

Finally I would love if you leave a comment on what motivates you at work and/or how you think we can make the workforce happier.

Image credit: Unsplash.com


  • Erik Korsvik Østergaard

    September 18, 2013 at 19:05

    Hi Martin,

    Well, lots of comments, as this philosophy is a pillar in my own leadership 🙂

    First, I think Dan Pink is spot on with “Drive”. I use the theory actively and even have an index where I measure my own motivation according to the three elements, each broken down to 4-5 underlying factors. My own motivation comes from (a) being free to choose approach, (b) having control over my own time, (c) no micro-management and – above all – (d) working for a purpose.

    Second, in an article today in Berlingske Tidende (I cannot find it now) it was stated that performance driven management is winning terrain in Denmark. I was stunned, as this was something we saw growing 10-15 years ago and now is a dying fad in large areas of my stakeholder landscape.

    Finally, a happier workforce is strongly correlated with happiness at work, or “arbejdsglæde” in Danish. Check out Alexander Kjerulf and his work (http://positivesharing.com/), which focuses on relations and results as the two factors for “arbejdsglæde”. In my leadership, motivation, passion and “arbejdsglæde” are the three factors to creating a happier workforce.

    /erik 🙂


    • Martin

      September 19, 2013 at 21:21

      Hi Erik,

      Thanks for sharing your insight on this subject, which is know is close to your heart. It’s pretty depressing to hear about the article on performance driven management. Like you, I thought it was a thing of the past, but as long as they keep teaching the stick and carrot approach to management at business schools, this will probably not be the last time this unproductive scheme becomes popular 🙁

      Keep up your good work spread the word on how to motivate in the 21st century and hopefully we can eventually make the workforce at little happier.



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