No wonder we don’t fear robots at work. Many of us feel like robots in the office anyway, survey finds

How do you feel when you don’t have power over what you produce on your team? When was the last time one of your ideas got the green light?

It’s clear that people like a certain amount of autonomy at work— without it, we lose our motivation, our ability to succeed, and our health.

Now there’s more proof that the majority of workers are stumbling by without that autonomy, just taking orders. Robert Half and Happiness Works released a study on workplace happiness showing that a staggering 55% of people surveyed said they have “little or no control over their work,” and that 58% said “they have few opportunities” for creativity, among many other findings.

Plus, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like your job more— the report found that as you get older, “happiness and interest at work” go down, and your stress level goes up. That process starts at age 35, the report found.

From the ages of 35-54, people aren’t as happy or into their work as when they hit about 55, when “some of this loss is reversed.” Employees older than 55 feel better about their jobs in those younger than them. The study didn’t explain why, although it’s more likely that after 55, people face reduced financial and family pressures from raising kids, or enjoy greater seniority and thus autonomy.

No wonder Americans don’t fear robots taking their jobs, since everything feels cold and depersonalized to the majority of workers during a long workday.  That’s a lot of people in America who are working on auto-pilot.

The role of empowerment at work

Overall, the researchers gauged the “happiness levels” of more than 24,000 professional employees in 8 countries— that 2,000 of those people were from the UK and provided information about how they feel at work, which was displayed in various charts. More than half of those surveyed live and work in North America.

The researchers explored six elements that have an impact on workers’ happiness. “Empowerment” was one of them, which featured the findings about control and chances to be creative. Not surprisingly, certain positions offered the least ability for people to spread their wings— the survey found that only 35% of those in administrative roles and 34% in accounting said they could often be creative at work.

The researchers suggested boosting empowerment by favoring manager assistance over “micromanagement.”

Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half, commented on empowerment in a statement.

“Create a culture where team members are encouraged to stretch their problem-solving skills by taking smart, strategic risks and provide them with the opportunity to contribute new creative ideas…But also make it known that you are available to offer support and guidance so that they don’t find themselves floundering alone,” he said.

What the happiest workers share

There’s a roadmap for creating happy teams and workers, but few companies follow it. For instance, control over one’s work also ties into the “hallmarks of happiness,” or the things that the happiest employees all possess, which author Daniel Pink explained later in the report.

Although he prefaced his descriptions by saying everyone is different, two hallmarks of happiness that Pink mentioned were: “having some control over the work you do, when you do it, how you do it and who you do it with” and “having great colleagues who you both like and trust.”

One of Pink’s suggestions on how managers can boost their reports’ happiness is to meet with each person separately once a week for quick discussions (“maybe five-minute” ones) about whether they are getting ahead in what they’re working on, and offering assistance if they’re not. You’ll have to spend a lot of time with them, after all, so it’s worth the investment.

Why who you work with matters

Another finding that stood out is that our happiness at work depends heavily on whether we like who we work with.

The research found that, compared to people that didn’t work well with their coworkers, those who reported having “good relationships with others on their team” were 2.7 times more likely to experience happiness at work.

Eighty-one percent said they “get along with” members of the direct team they’re part of, while 62% reported having “good friends” in the office and 68% saying they think groups at their employer “generally work well together.”

It not all fun and games for top leaders

In another portion of the report, it became clear that the leaders at the top of the corporate ladder, “senior executives,” were the winning the most when it came to happiness.

Based on responses from 2,000 part- and full-time adult workers in the UK, this group was the happiest when compared to “staff-level professionals,” “managers,” “sales and customer service workers” and “administrative and secretarial clerks.”

But it’s not all rosy at the top. These leaders had higher than average amounts of stress.

What you can do to feel happier at work today

Even if you can’t hire all the people you love working with, there are things you can do to boost your happiness and sense of autonomy at work.

  • Take a walk.
  • Embrace positivity.
  • Instead of harping on what you can’t control at work, think about what you can.
  • We may not feel like like we have free reign at work all the time, but there are measures both managers and employees can take to work against these feelings.

And if that all seems difficult, try embracing the robots —like this little girl.