If you're feeling unhappiness in your work life, there are six things you need to find. Dee Marques explores how you can achieve them, becoming happier in the workplace and your career, while encouraging your colleagues to do the same.


Work: we all need it, but given the chance, how many of us would willingly do it if we didn’t? 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 commonplace. 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 avoiding being miserable 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.


Unhappy at work? The 6 things you need to find

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 in your job.


1. Purpose

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 joyful life in general, therefore it’s not surprising that the same applies to finding real happiness in your job, too.

In fact, a feeling of purpose of life 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, means happy work

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 – a teacher, nurse, doctor, soldier, etc, then 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 clear. 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 bridges. 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.

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. 


2. Engagement

Feeling that your work day is plagued by apathy, finding excuses to go on yet another coffee break, arriving late or leaving early, 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, depression 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).


“A feeling of purpose has been linked to higher motivation, commitment, and productivity, all of which can stop you being unhappy in the workplace.”

To stop this from taking away your chance of finding happiness in your career, 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. 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.


3. Kindness

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 or competition, it can affect your emotions. This makes sense considering that you’re probably spending 40 hours a week – or more – in close contact.

happiness-unhappy-at-work.jpgStaying 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. Indeed, 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:

  • Have 26 per cent more energy.
  • Are 30 per cent more likely to feel motivated and enthusiastic about acquiring new skills and being exposed to new ideas.
  • Express 36 per cent more satisfaction with their jobs and are 44 per cent more committed to their companies.


4. Flexibility 

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! 


5. Appreciation

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 they've been neglecting you. If you're not feeling appreciated, you need to speak with them or human resources directly 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. 

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. 


6. Resilience

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: Mindfulness at work

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.

Work and career unhappiness: final thoughts

If you're struggling with feeling unhappy or miserable on the job, 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



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Written by Dee Marques

dee.jpgA 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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Nice article! Quite a few good points in there and a good reminder for me as an employer.

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