Work: we all need it, but given the chance, how many of us would willingly work if we didn’t need to? Our work is the place where we often spend one third of our day, so how we feel about it can have a serious impact on our overall psychological well-being. But as we'll see, unhappiness at work is actually very common. So, how we can change that?
Studies confirm that being unhappy at work over a period of time is linked to feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep problems, as well as higher chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive issues – so finding happiness at work is a serious matter.
However, sometimes we have to accept jobs we’d rather not be doing – the famous “but it pays the bills”. And, truth be told, few people would describe their work environment as being a truly happy place.
Indeed, being dissatisfied and unhappy at work has become so common that finding joy in the workplace is almost seen as some sort of luxury. In fact, in the US, nearly half of the workforce claims to be unhappy at work, and the figure is almost identical in the UK, suggesting a happy workplace is uncommon.
But what if achieving happiness at work was more than wishful thinking? If you find the going-back-to-work Monday Blues tends to extend over your entire working week, then read on for our six steps to achieving real happiness at work.
Purpose is one of the most important factors when it comes to finding happiness at work. Indeed, purpose or meaning ranks high when it comes to achieving a happy life in general, therefore it’s not surprising that the same applies to finding real happiness at work too.
In fact, a feeling of purpose has been linked to higher motivation, commitment, and productivity, all of which are positive emotional states that can contribute to happiness and, by extension, stop you being unhappy in your workplace.
Purpose in careers, such as nursing, can relieve work unhappiness
You can try to find purpose at work by thinking about what your job means when the greater good comes into the picture. If you're working in the 'helping' or 'saving' professions – teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers, etc – this shouldn't be difficult, but meaningful work isn't restricted to these types of professions. Sometimes it's not easy to discover the purpose in your work, but with just a bit of consideration, things become clearer. Even work considered menial by others can have a greater purpose.
For example, think about the people who built great European monuments, like cathedrals and other important buildings. Their work would have been physically demanding and they may not have loved it, but they built something that was enjoyed for many generations to come. If you're struggling to find meaning in your work, take some time to consider it more deeply.
“A feeling of purpose has been linked to higher motivation, commitment, and productivity, all of which can stop you being unhappy in the workplace.”
Furthermore, taking personal responsibility for your professional growth can also help you find meaning and purpose, so set your own goals and make sure they’re aligned with meaningful values. Indeed, if you can find an employer that shares your values, then you're on the way to becoming a happier employee.
Feeling that your work day is plagued by apathy, finding excuses to go on yet another coffee break, arriving late or leaving early, making more mistakes than normal, starting a task then jumping away to browse the web… do any of these things sound familiar? These are all signs of disengagement at work and should be addressed as they can lead to unhappiness and even health-related issues.
In fact, a 2015 Gallup survey shows that disengagement or feeling disconnected from work can lead to many health issues. For example, comparing engaged and disengaged employees in the United States, 56 per cent of the latter claimed to be stressed every day (compared with 36 per cent of those engaged), 23 per cent were more likely to be in pain (compared to 14 per cent), and 16 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with depression (compared to nine per cent).
To stop this from taking away your chance of finding happiness at work, try to find the source of disengagement. Maybe you feel that your skills are not used to the fullest, or you feel stuck in a rut. Set yourself some short and mid-term goals or new responsibilities and bring them up with your manager or human resources. When you do so, explain that you’d like to be challenged and do more for the company, as this is likely to be well received.
A kind workplace is a happy workplace, or has more chances of being so. Your relationship with coworkers is closely connected to overall job satisfaction, and if that relationship is strained or marked by hostility and competition, it can affect your emotions and make it almost impossible to find happiness at work. This makes sense considering that you’re probably spending 40 hours a week – or more – in close contact.
Staying engaged depends on your work satisfaction
In fact, poor workplace relationships are one of the most common complaints and a leading cause of work-related stress and unhappiness on the job. It’s also worth mentioning that some studies have found that feeling lonely or isolated at work also has a negative impact on job performance.
RELATED: Compassion at work
Acts of kindness are an easy and quick way to build a positive work environment. Small gestures can go a long way. Going to the kitchen to make a drink? Make sure you ask your colleagues if they want anything too (and wipe clean the microwave while you're there, even if you didn't make the mess!). Heading on holiday? Bring a few treats back and leave them in the office kitchen or communal area. Small gestures of kindness create positivity and, in fact, boost productivity.
“If you're unhappy at work, set yourself some short and mid-term goals or new responsibilities and bring them up with your manager.”
Indeed, research from the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) showed that incivility has “profound implications on the level of energy, emotional engagement, and performance of work teams.” Its study found that teams in a respectful environment:
The working world is becoming increasingly flexible with the growth of options like freelancing, working from home, job sharing, and the compressed working week. Of course, flexi-work comes with its pros and cons: key advantages include reduced commuting expenses and freedom to meet personal/family needs, while common downsides are learning to deal with distractions, isolation, and sticking to a schedule.
However, importantly, flexibility at work can help achieve a good work-life balance and contribute to a happy workplace. Indeed, research studies have linked workplace flexibility to individual and team effectiveness, stress reduction, and greater commitment to the job.
Balancing act: flexible working is on the up
If you think more freedom and flexibility can help you can relieve your unhappiness at work, approach your employer to see how they feel about flexi-work, highlighting the benefits and your willingness to help create a happy workplace that is conducive to productivity. More and more employers are open to flexible working hours and realizing the potential it has for creating happy employees.
Indeed, companies are now toying with the idea of introducing four-day working weeks, with some showing positive results in trials. There's emerging evidence that a compressed working week can boost both productivity and happiness in workers. For example, Pursuit Marketing in Glasgow, Scotland, switched 120 people to a four-day week in late 2016 and claims it has been key in a 30 per cent productivity rise.
And in January 2019 the Wellcome Trust became the biggest UK employer to jump on the bandwagon when it announced it was considering switching 800 staff to a four-day working week. Let's hope this is one particular fad that catches on!
Not feeling appreciated is one of the main reasons why people become unhappy and quit their jobs, as it can be both demoralising and frustrating. Not feeling appreciated at work can appear in many ways: your manager not paying attention to you, not being paid what you deserve, or not receiving credit for work (worse still: someone else taking credit for your ideas).
Sometimes it can be the case that employers genuinely don't care about their employees, but it's better to first give the benefit of the doubt: often managers are so busy they haven't realised the've been neglecting you. If you're not feeling appreciated, you need to speak with your manager directly or human resources team and ask for regular, six-month reviews to discuss how you're progressing in your role and the company.
Kindness pays: be nice to colleagues and create a happy workplace
Prepare well for your meeting and draw up a list of what you want to discuss and all your recent achievements (to jog your manager’s memory of your fantastic work), especially if you're going to ask for a pay rise. As well as discussing your strengths, do find out any areas where you can develop further.
“If you think more freedom and flexibility can help you find happiness at work, approach your employer to see how they feel about flexi-work.”
While you're waiting for your chance to shine, you can still show your appreciation for your coworkers, who may also be wondering how to be happy at work. This can help generate a more positive work atmosphere and create a happy workplace where people feel valued. The link between giving and happiness is well documented, since studies show that being generous increases personal happiness, and this includes giving intangible things like our time or appreciation for others.
Stress, uncertainty and unhappiness cannot be completely avoided in the workplace, so the best thing you can do is grow stronger to cope with professional setbacks. In other words, cultivate resilience. This doesn’t mean putting up with what you dislike, as this would only make you feel more disengaged, but rather to change your mindset.
RELATED: 5 strategies to build resilience
Instead, focus on being adaptable and start practices like meditation and mindfulness, which can help you develop a more flexible frame of mind – the basis for resilience. In fact, any stress management technique can help build resilience, as you’ll be in control instead of letting workplace stressors take over your mood. You can also invest in activities that strengthen your inner self, whether than means going on a retreat, taking up yoga, or a creative hobby.
If you're struggling with being unhappy at work, take your time to incorporate these six factors – which are some of the many building blocks of happiness – into your professional life. Take your time to work on purpose, engagement, kindness, flexibility, appreciation, and resilience, and your efforts will pay off: finding happiness at work will also reflect in other aspects of your life. ●
Main image: shutterstock/Pressmaster
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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