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How to find happiness at work (and why science says it matters)

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You will spend roughly 83,000 hours of your life working. That is, if you put in the typical 40 hours a week and retire after 40 years of employment. If so much of your time is spent on the job—shouldn’t you feel happiness at work?

Ideally, we’d all be doing our dream jobs and loving every day of it. But reality isn’t always so sweet. Below, we’ll go over some tips for boosting your workplace happiness. But first, let’s find out why enjoying what you do is so crucial.

Table of contents
Why is happiness at work important? 5 relevant statistics
How to find happiness at work: 9 action steps to take today
What makes you most happy at work?
How to measure happiness at workplace
Happiness at work is within your reach

Why is happiness at work important? 5 relevant statistics

  • Happy employees plan to stay at their organizations longer. The iOpener Institute in the UK has researched happiness at work since 2005. They found that the happiest employees plan on staying at their organizations two times as long. [1]
  • Happy employees are more productive. Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a six-month study on telesales workers and found that happy employees worked faster and closed more sales than their unhappy counterparts. [2]
  • Employees are prone to quit if they’re unhappy with their workplace environment. Case in point: 39% of American employees would consider quitting if they have to return to the office after the pandemic. [3]
  • Burnout leads may lead to high turnover. Chronic stress leads to burnout, which is why it’s important to keep employees happy so they don’t get to that point. According to a study by  Kronos and Future Workplace, 95% of HR leaders believe “burnout is affecting employee retention.” [4]
  • Employees who don’t feel recognized by leaders for their accomplishments are 74% more likely to leave. No one likes feeling unappreciated, and for workers, it’s a crucial part of wanting to stay at their organization. [5]

How to find happiness at work: 9 action steps to take today

Look for purpose and meaning.

Having a sense of purpose and meaning is a key ingredient to overall well-being. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, University of California San Diego researchers found that people who found meaning in their lives felt better both physically and mentally than those who didn't. In a different study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that adults with a sense of purpose lived longer than their counterparts.

Even the most mundane or difficult tasks can bring you happiness if you feel that they make a positive difference in the world. If your job feels devoid of meaning, try to find ways that you can infuse purpose into it. You can begin by asking yourself:

  • Does your company or team have a vision or mission statement? Find ways to reconnect with it and tie it into the tasks that you complete. 
  • Is there a particular client you serve whom you really care about? Talk to them about how what you do makes their life better.
  • Do you feel a personal connection to a specific cause? See if your manager will let you get involved in it through your work, such as having your team volunteer with you as a team building activity.

Challenge yourself.

Goal-setting theory suggests that we actually enjoy being challenged. We want goals that are just difficult enough that we have to stretch and grow, but not so difficult that we get overwhelmed. So if you feel like your job has become so easy that you could do it with your eyes closed, talk to your manager about your goals, what you’d like to learn and how you can be challenged. Most likely, your manager will be impressed that you aren’t content with stagnation or coasting by.

Meet one-on-one with your manager.

Speaking of talking to your manager, having regular one-on-one meetings with them can actually boost your workplace satisfaction and productivity. Research shows that one-on-ones can do wonders for employee engagement and growth. Gallup found that employees who regularly meet with their managers are nearly three times as engaged as those who do not. And Microsoft found that a one-on-one with their manager during their first week on the job helped new employees have a larger network and led to higher-quality meetings.

Whether you meet once a week or once a month, take this time with your manager to:

  • Review your progress since the last time you met.
  • Outline your goals for the future.
  • Discuss any roadblocks you’ve encountered and how to overcome them.
  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Provide feedback to your manager.
  • Talk about projects or programs you’d like to take on for your growth.

Find a workplace mentor.

Mentorship can spur career development and be a great solution to your workplace happiness woes. A mentor can give you insights regarding what might be contributing to your dissatisfaction and might be able to connect you with people and resources to help you enjoy your work more. Even simply having someone to talk to, who’s been in your shoes before, can provide you with relief.

If you can’t find a mentor at work, consider hiring a coach. Coaches are trained specifically to identify your friction points, ask insightful questions and inspire growth that you didn’t know you were capable of.

Bond with your team.

Liking who you work with is a huge part of liking your job. Office friendships are so crucial, in fact, that Gallup made the item "I have a best friend at work" one of the 12 traits of highly productive workgroups. Gallup found that employees who have a best friend at work are 43% more likely to say that they've been praised or recognized for their work in the past week.

You don’t have to be best friends with everyone in the office, but having at least one friend at work to confide in, grab lunch with and laugh with can make coming to work exciting. If you haven’t formed office friendships yet, it’s not too late. Look into team building activities and suggest them to your leaders.

Communicate your needs.

A lot of times, if you’re struggling to feel real happiness at work, it’s because your needs or desires aren’t being met. The only way for things to get better is to clearly communicate what you want to see change. 

For example, if you hate that your commute to work takes two hours every day, leaving you frazzled and exhausted, let your boss know that a remote or flexible schedule would boost your productivity because you’ll be more energized. Or, if you can’t focus on your work because the open office plan distracts you, let your manager know that some quiet time in a conference room will give you the focus you need to complete tasks better.

Being a clear and effective communicator will help you with your work and personal life, so it’s a great skill to learn.

Establish clear boundaries.

The quickest way to determine if you’re not communicating your boundaries? Think of how often you vent to your friends about something annoying someone does at work. Complaints like, “My boss always asks me to take on a big project right before he knows I’m about to head on vacation!” or “Joe always walks right into my office without knocking first!” are pretty clear indicators of boundary violations, especially if you’ve never discussed these issues with the perpetrators before. Solving these nuisances can be as simple as talking to your boss about not assigning big projects before a vacation or hanging a sign on your office door asking people to knock first. When your boundaries are respected, you’ll feel a huge weight off of your shoulders.

Consider a career change.

If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t seem to master the art of happiness at work, consider changing companies or even transitioning into a new career path altogether. It could be that your organization has a toxic work culture that you just can’t rise above. Or it might be that there’s another calling in life that you haven’t yet explored. If you’re thinking of a career change, working with a coach in the industry you want to be in is a great first step to landing your next dream job.

Realize that work can’t bring you all your happiness.

While these are all great ideas for finding happiness at work, the number one tip for overall happiness? Don’t expect work to give you everything you need. You will, one day, retire. And if work was your be-all and end-all, you’ll feel lost and unfulfilled in retirement. 

So if you aren’t getting your social needs met at work, that’s okay! You can foster deep and meaningful relationships with friends and family. Is your work not giving you all the sense of purpose you need? Don’t sweat it. You can volunteer to support a cause outside of office hours.

What makes you most happy at work?

In 2019, Udemy surveyed more than 1,000 American employees for its Workplace Happiness Report and found that balance matters more than you may think. “Good work-life balance” came out on top when respondents were asked which metrics lend meaning to their work—that beat "personal accomplishment," "success in my role” and even “contributing to a greater good”! 

Based on its research, Udemy suggests that creating an environment that encourages better balance through flexible schedules and remote options may have the biggest impact on happiness at work.

How to measure happiness at workplace

Employee engagement

American analytics company Gallup, which has measured employee engagement since 2000, defines engaged employees as “those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Based on its extensive research, Gallup provides a 12-question survey that any company can administer to measure employee engagement. 

Employee satisfaction survey

You could also conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys, asking your workers to rate their satisfaction with their job in multiple areas on a scale of 1-10. Some statements you might include are:

  • I feel supported by my boss.
  • I feel sufficiently challenged by my work.
  • I find a sense of purpose in my job.
  • My colleagues appreciate me.
  • My superiors value my feedback.

Send the survey to all of your employees and ensure their anonymity so they feel free to answer honestly. Gathering this kind of data will give you surprising new insights into inspiring happiness at workplace.

Productivity and output

If happiness at work is positively correlated with productivity, then you might not even need to conduct a survey to measure this. You could simply look at your employees’ output and performance. Has productivity gone up or down? Is it at your expectations or below it? A low productivity rate could be a sign of employee dissatisfaction. Take this with a grain of salt, though. Low productivity could also be a sign of poor leadership or unrealistic expectations.

Employee Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score, or NPS, is a measure of customer loyalty often used by marketers and customer support professionals. However, it can also be used on employees (eNPS). It is simple because it consists of only one question that is rated on a scale of 1-10. Because of this, though, it may not tell you the full story and would be best used with other measurements, such as an employee satisfaction survey.

Turnover rate

A high turnover rate is usually a strong signal that your employees are not happy at work. Again, take this with a grain of salt. A high turnover rate might also be typical for your industry, especially if your organization has a large number of entry-level or seasonal positions, where employees don’t tend to stay long anyway.

Happiness at work is within your reach

As you can see, happiness at work isn’t some pipe dream—it matters deeply for your productivity, performance and overall well-being. Thankfully, if you’re dissatisfied with your job, there are many things you can do to change that. Try each of the nine action steps we outlined above. And if you need an extra boost of support, consider our coaching program that is specifically designed to help you find happiness at work.

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