When someone talks about being happy or unhappy in their job, most people think about the job itself — the work, the supervisors, the company, the pay. And so many times these days, people will tell you that they are unhappy because of too much work, abusive bosses or insecure jobs. What is unfortunate is that these are the parts of the job that are largely less controllable.
But there is another aspect of happiness at work more within your control: the interpersonal aspects of the job. I think of it as relational happiness. While it has little to do with your boss, your salary or the security of the job, the interpersonal part of the job makes these other aspects of the job more bearable, while bringing a kind of happiness in itself. But in this competitive environment, where everyone is worried about their job, we tend to focus far more on the work itself, and far less on people and relational happiness.
It is a bad idea to underplay the relational side of work happiness. Why? It cuts you off from the support systems you require and from the human coping mechanisms that are exactly what is needed in a sometimes insane job environment. The fact is that while you may not able to get happier with the job, a focus on relational happiness can make you happier on the job.
So how do you do it?
1. Connect with Coworkers
Commit to have lunch with your coworkers, even if you brown bag it, at least once a week, but do not discuss anything about the job. Talk about your hobbies, the movie you saw, your families, or a sporting event, but do not talk about work. An hour away from the work mindset, particularly when you have the companionship of others, relaxes you and makes you better equipped to deal with the job after lunch. It also strengthens your connections to people.
2. Lend an Ear
Pay attention to your coworkers who express problems and offer to talk to them when they need an ear. Develop your empathy skills by offering to talk to colleagues who just need someone to listen to them. “I’m not a therapist,” is what I have been told by some employees—and the truth is that you certainly are not. If the person needs a therapist, they can hire one. Instead you are the person who listens and honestly commiserates with their issues, makes them feel that they are not alone, and offers to be the heart in what can sometimes be a heartless office environment.
3. Be a Role Model
Serve as the model. Years ago, I was checking references on Jim, someone we were hiring. I asked the reference about how Jim was as a colleague. “Jim,” he told me, “is the kind of guy who makes you look forward to going to work because you know he’ll be there.”
Gandhi said that you should be the change your want to see in the world. So, act as a more positive force in the organization. This does not mean being the local Pollyanna, or being blind to everything around you — it is about being the person who helps others transcend the problems. Help people find the humor in it, find the good in it, find a way to fix it or think about how great life is going to be when the current crisis ends. If you cannot help people transcend it, then be the support person.
You might ask yourself how focusing on others makes your life happier? The answer is simple. It does three very important things: It distracts you from your own issues; it improves the workplace by making others happier; and it builds relationships that later serve to support you — all of which are counterintuitive in a world that has wrongly taught us that happiness comes from taking rather giving. By giving, your well-being stabilizes and even increases in profound ways — regardless of the job itself!
Making these workplace modifications creates incremental changes in your mindset and that of your work unit. Once you start, you begin to see that others follow your lead, and the relational environment itself begins to change. It is not a panacea, but it can be the difference between coming home angry and upset each day — or happier and feeling better about your work.