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As the competition for top talent intensifies, organizations are seeking new ways to attract and retain employees. From competitive signing bonuses to flexible schedules and pre-paid vacation, the perks designed to increase satisfaction on the job are more diverse than ever.

This growing list of benefits may seem superfluous to some, but attempting to improve employee happiness is a strategic business decision. A recent study from the University of Warwick found that job satisfaction can directly benefit the bottom line, as happy employees are 12 percent more productive than unhappy employees. And with less than half of employees currently chipper at their jobs, successful efforts to increase satisfaction at work have the potential to substantially improve organizational results.

But what factors actually make employees happy?

The Secrets of Job Satisfaction

While you may think the best way to determine employee happiness is to ask them about it, turns out people are generally poor judges of what makes them tick. There are some stark differences between what we think makes us happy compared to what actually contributes to our satisfaction on the job.

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As seen in our infographic above, a recent study from Cangrade examined the relationship between individuals' job satisfaction and the prevalence of certain factors in their work. The results showed that some of the factors people report as "most important" to job satisfaction, such as security and work-life balance, don't matter as much as we think.

Instead, the most significant influencers on job satisfaction were intellectual stimulation, achievement and power. The difference between perception and reality is particularly interesting when it comes to power — employees rated it as dead last in terms of importance, but the study found that it's the third most influential factor in overall job satisfaction and happiness.

In a similar vein, while money was perceived as the fourth most important component to happiness, it ranked last in terms of actual impact on satisfaction — reminding us that as much as we think a raise or bonus will boost morale, compensation isn't the best way to your employees' hearts.

However, despite these discrepancies, the study found that people do have some level of self-awareness; when people list a factor as very important to their happiness, it turns out that quality impacts their satisfaction more than it does for the average employee. For instance, intellectual stimulation accounts for 18.5 percent of job satisfaction on average, but it's even more influential for people who also listed it as important — accounting for 23 percent of their satisfaction.

The main takeaway? Listen to your individual employee's feedback about company culture, but consider proactive ways to engage your workforce as well. By offering cross-training opportunities across projects and departments, you can ensure they feel both intellectually challenged and influential. Instead of simply providing bonuses, provide employees with ongoing feedback about their achievements and value at the company. Your workforce — and your bottom line — will be happier for it.

Header Photo: Shutterstock