We spend one-third of our lives at work. We should at least somewhat enjoy it. Unfortunately, the majority doesn’t. The 2017 Hays US What People Want Survey found that less than half (44%) of respondents are happy at work. Further, 81 percent said they would consider leaving their current role for the right offer.
So why the dissatisfaction with our work? Unhappiness can sprout from a number of factors: workplace environment, company culture, wrong job fit, lack of recognition, and lack of personal or professional development, to name a few. In fact, we’ve prepared a guide for measuring and improving employee satisfaction to help you assess and diagnose your team’s sentiment.
Once we realize we’re not happy with our jobs, we often look to our company to fix it. And for good reason. Many organizations struggle with how to address and improve employee happiness, so it’s easy to place the blame on management or co-workers when those feelings of dissatisfaction arise.
But no matter if you’re a business owner, corporate executive, dedicated team member or starting your first job, the following is true: you don’t have to wait for someone else to make you happy at work. Many times, changing the way you think about and manage your work can help you find happiness and fulfillment all on your own. It may sound cliche (but who doesn’t love a good cliche?) — happiness starts with you.
And now, time for a caveat. Not every job is right for you. Not every workplace is the right one. This list wasn’t assembled to excuse bad company behavior or to minimize the unhappiness you feel. Our goal is to share steps you can take on your own, without overhauling an organization, to be happier in what you do. If you’ve tried the following without success, or if external factors outweigh the positives, it might be time to talk to your boss or even brush up the old Linkedin profile. That one-third of your life is too short to stay in a job that’s not right for you.
Without further ado, here are seven changes you can make to be happier at work.
Start your day right
Happiness in your professional life begins with your personal life, so kick off your day right with a positive start to your morning.
According to a study by Brigham Young University, people who work out in the morning end up being more active in general, and consume less unnecessary calories throughout the day. Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier and go to the gym, or get outside for a morning jog. You’ll be surprised at how much extra energy you have throughout the day.
Start with meditation
If you find it challenging to work out first thing in the morning, try meditating. Giving yourself time to pause and reflect will set the tone for your entire day. Plus, you’ll find yourself more energized than if you would have pressed the snooze button one more time.
There are a number of ways you can do start a meditation practice, so check out this list of the best mindfulness apps to find the one that’s right for you.
Another ingredient to starting your day off right? Setting aside some time for breakfast. Skipping breakfast or rushing through it sets a precedent for the rest of your day to hurry from one task to the next. Instead, take a moment and actually enjoy breakfast. If you feel like you don’t have time to make a nutritious breakfast in the morning, try these quick and easy recipes, or prepare your meal the night before.
By starting your day off right, you’ll get to work with an already better attitude to tackle the day.
Find happiness at work by getting involved
One of the easiest ways to feel happiness at work is by getting involved. You’ll be surprised how fast things turn around when you have an invested interest in activities and events within your company.
If your company has events or groups created to help build company culture, join them. This is a great way to build connections with your co-workers, and get to know people on a more personal level. If your company doesn’t already have a book club or a potluck day, offer to assemble a committee or plan one yourself. There are most likely other people you work with who have thought about something like this. The result could end up being positive for not just you, but your whole team. Take our company, Hubstaff, for example.
As the company grew, we knew culture had to become a focus if we wanted to retain our team. One of our software engineers, Raul Popadineti, brought it up to the group, explaining, “After two years of working at Hubstaff I started to want more. I wanted to know more about the person behind the screen.”
Raul approached our co-founders with a proposal to start a culture committee, and they were completely on board. Raul gathered employees from different departments and began brainstorming ways that Hubstaff could improve its culture.
“The glue was definitely the annual retreat, where we all meet up in person. But there are smaller things that we were able to do to learn more about each other throughout the year,” Raul said.
Here’s what we implemented to boost involvement and interaction for our team:
- Sharing short intro videos when someone new comes onboard using Soapbox by Wistia
- The #props Slack channel, where we shout out members of the team on a regular basis
- The #hobbies Slack channel, where we talk about our outside-of-work activities
- The #puppy-love channel, where we share pictures of cute animals
- Having regular reviews from your lead
- Relying on video chats instead of just voice calls
- Hubstaff t-shirts mailed to you, even before your first day
Raul continued, “From my perspective, in the company, it’s all about the people you’re working with. If you don’t strengthen the relationships between everyone, you’ll end up with a lot of turnover because you’re unable to keep up with what everyone wants to achieve while working in a company.”
At Hubstaff, we’re all different, working from over 11 different time zones. If you can put a smile on a coworker’s face every now and then, and feel more connected, you’re more likely to look forward to work.
If there is no connection between you and your co-workers, or if your team is nothing more than the work you do, it’s time for you to get involved. A culture committee made a huge difference with our team. You’ll find that once you get involved with planning or simply show up in culture-related activities, your happiness for your job will increase.
Open communication with management
Open communication is a two-way street. If you’re a manager, create opportunities for your team to share feedback and ideas. If you have a boss, send them a note or schedule time to bring up ideas. No matter what position you’re in, if you are feeling unhappy and you know there’s nothing personally you can do to address it, it’s time to talk it out.
Before bringing up your feelings and frustrations, take some time to prepare. Challenges are met with more open minds if you’ve also spent time coming up with solutions. You don’t need to have it all planned out. But if you can come to the table with an issue and a few possible ways to fix it, you may have more luck implementing change.
The management team at Hubstaff has always promoted an open door policy, which is something our marketing manager Madhav Bhandari appreciated from personal experience.
“During my time at Hubstaff, I’ve had few instances where I was underwhelmed by my work and felt stuck. I was not being challenged or learning anything new. I would occasionally bring this up in our monthly call (super important for open communication), or drop a message in Slack.
The most recent one I can remember happened before our annual retreat in Chicago last year. My weekly tasks (we call them sprints) were so easy and boring, I could do all of them with my eyes closed. I was spending a lot of time just managing people, which is basically ignoring my natural instinct as a marketer.”
If you’ve ever felt stuck in a role, this next part may sound familiar.
“Most of the tasks I was working on just weren’t contributing to our revenue or growth enough, and most of my marketing experiments failed. I didn’t want to work on a single task on my list, and Monday mornings became a drag again.”
Madhav brought this up with our CEO, Dave Nevogt, who was very receptive to the feedback. He said, “I totally understand and 100% agree. You need to level up and start leading bigger projects. But I don’t know what you want, you need to figure that part out yourself. Find an opportunity in the business that could contribute to our growth in a big way, go do it, and come back to me with results.”
Dave even suggested books to read and recommended they revisit the situation in person at the retreat. Madhav found incredible value in this reset, explaining, “It made me realistically think what I want, where I can add most value to the company, and where my personal growth is.”
Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager about any feelings of dissatisfaction you may be experiencing. They can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on.
If you are a manager and looking for ways to keep the lines of communication open between you and your team, consider having monthly meetings where you can catch up with each team member individually. This is the perfect chance for them to get anything off their chest and discover what their pain points and frustrations may be. You can also keep things anonymous by using an automated, anonymous feedback tool. Officevibe, for example, sends out weekly surveys to your team in order to get a better idea of exactly how they feel about different aspects of the company.
For a happiness boost, take a vacation
Feeling unusually frustrated lately? Sometimes, you just need to step away from your desk. Not only does looking forward a vacation make you happy, but the time off itself can bring you back to your desk with a fresh outlook.
And yet, at least in the U.S., we don’t. According to humanity.com, “The average American employee only takes half of the eligible paid vacation time off.”
So many people have this irrational fear of taking a holiday. Maybe you don’t want to fall behind on projects, or leave your team stranded, or face the barrage of emails once you’re back. Sure, those are all legitimate concerns. But if you have vacation time to use, let this be your encouragement: take it.
That’s what it’s there for. If you like taking a long vacation and using your holiday time all at once, book it far enough in advance that you and your team are prepared. You may have to work a few extra hours before you leave in order to get all your ducks in a row. But you’ll be glad you did when you don’t have to worry about work while on vacation.
Trust your team to get the work done even while you’re away. You can even schedule a call the week before to wrap everything up if you have outstanding tasks.
Pick a stress-free locale
You may feel that taking a long vacation is more stressful than it is relaxing. According to a report by Expedia, 22 percent of the world’s workers say they feel “somewhat guilty” for taking their vacation time.
If this is you, let me introduce you to my friend, The Long Weekend. Take a Friday or a Monday off, and enjoy a mini-holiday or staycation. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Regardless of whether you are travelling halfway across the world or staying close to home, it’s important to unplug and disconnect. Yes, it’s okay to tell your team they can contact you in case of emergency. Other than that, set your Slack to ‘do not disturb’ and turn on an ‘out of office’ notification for your email.
According to that same report by Expedia, 85 percent of employees say they’re happier at work once returning from a vacation. So there it is folks, if you want to be happy at work, take a vacation!
If Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard can do it, so can you. Here’s his approach to trusting his team while on vacation:
“I take off from June until November. I’m gone. I got a place in Jackson Hole and I go fishing every day. And I call in maybe three times in the five months that I’m gone. People know that if the warehouse burns down, don’t call me. What can I do? You know what to do.”
Chasing the elusive work/life balance
No, you can’t always be on vacation. If you could, you’d probably be on a beach and not reading this. But the next best thing to taking an endless holiday is changing the way you think about time on and time off.
A phrase you hear often is work/life balance. But if you think about work as opposed to life, you might feel trapped in how little time you have outside of it. Maybe you work long hours, so you may never feel like the “balance” is right. Instead of thinking about how much time you work vs. how much time you don’t, try thinking about work as a part of life, just like any other activity.
To do this, make a list of your priorities in life — work included. List out the things that help you grow, the things that make you happy or grateful, the things that keep you healthy. Some parts of your work are likely on that list. If not, jump ahead to the next section. At the very least, writing out this list may remind you of what drew you to this job in the first place.It's not about work/life balance. It's about thinking of work as a part of life. Click To Tweet
While the phrase work/life balance can be misleading, the sentiment behind it is true. Everyone needs time to unwind and unplug, no matter the activity. This can be challenging for the always-moving crowd. However, it’s easier to disconnect once you get involved in a hobby that will force you to use other parts of your brain or other skills you possess.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Find a sport you enjoy and join a team
- Take a cooking class
- Get your friends together and work on a DIY project
- Start a book club, either in person or over Slack
- Join a professional organization where you meet up once a month in person
If you have a hobby that you are committed to, it allows you to turn off the computer and get out of the office. Plus, when you’re inspired and enlivened by your new hobby, that happiness can spill into your work, too.
Another easy way to unwind is to disconnect at the end of your work day. When you’re done working, shut off notifications and let yourself commit to the current activity. You’ll be happier at whatever you’re doing when you allow yourself to focus and enjoy the moment.
Unhappy at your current job? Find a workplace you believe in
You know the saying, “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life?” Yeah, it’s cliche. Work is called “work” for a reason. But, like most overused phrases, there’s truth to it. Jobs are better when you believe in what you’re doing.
How do you find a career that you love doing every day? Align your work with your values. Remember that list of priorities we mentioned? If you haven’t yet, take a moment to write down what truly matters to you when it comes to growth, happiness and health. Does your current role align with those values? Or is there a position in your company that would allow you to do more of it? If not, maybe it’s time to seek out a new job.
Keep in mind, there are always going to be ups and downs within your career regardless of what you’re doing. Especially for entrepreneurs. But if you really care about your work, those difficult times will be easier to get through.
Need help getting started? Try taking a personality test like Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths to get a better idea of your personality type, ideal professions, strengths, and weaknesses. You might not get a clear path to your dream career, but if you’re having a hard time narrowing your focus, this is a good place to start.
Better yourself, better your happiness, better your work
If you’re feeling stagnant or unhappy in your job, maybe it’s because you’re not working at your full potential. Many founders talk about their a-ha moment, which is when they came up with a better way to do something and felt compelled to build it. Maybe this is where your founder origin story begins?
If you’re already running a successful business, when was the last time you dedicated time to refining or improving your skills? There is always more to learn, whether it’s about your industry, your skillset or your customers. Even if you only have 20 minutes to spare, you can lean from other entrepreneurs by listening to any one of these top business podcasts. You can even consider offering an education-based benefit for you and your team.
Companies will often send employees to conferences, where they can connect with other like-minded professionals and bring fresh ideas back to the organization. There’s no substitute for the knowledge-sharing and bonding that the right conference provides.
If your business doesn’t have anything like this in place, there are thousands of amazing resources available online. One of our current favorites is Skillshare, a learning community with thousands of classes in everything from design to entrepreneurship.
Learning a new skill that can help you excel in your work will motivate you and give you a new sense of purpose. Don’t be afraid to learn something new.
Share the happiness
Happiness at work starts with you, and can grow from there. Hopefully these tips have helped you identify the root of your work frustration, and given you a few ideas of changes you can make.
We’d love to hear from you, what are some of your tips for being happy at work?