Welcome back to Work Tip Wednesday! Come to CareerBliss every Wednesday for a new work tip to help you make the most of your job.
The solution to being happy at work is easy - right? Get a job doing something you love. Be paid a good salary. Have congenial colleagues. And a friendly flexible boss. Work in attractive surroundings. And don't forget all those desirable benefits - health insurance, a pension plan, lots of paid vacation time, a personal parking space....
Okay. Now let's return to the real world. When you're job-hunting you will of course look for a job that interests you and you believe you would be good at. With luck (and, naturally, a good cover letter, an excellent resume and a successful interview) that is the type of job in which you will find yourself.
But the reality is that in today's competitive jobs market many of us will find ourselves in jobs which aren't ideal, which may not totally accord with our interests, our passions and our talents. Even if you're lucky enough to be doing something you love, that you're good at and which satisfies and fulfills you, there will inevitably be tasks or projects or assignments you don't particularly enjoy, or there will be aspects of your surroundings or the people you deal with that you actively dislike.
So all of us - and I mean all of us, irrespective of our role or job title or level of seniority - will have days when we feel unhappy or bored or just plain grumpy, when all we can think about is how many hours are left before we can go home.
Why You Have More Control Than You Think
All of those idealized visions of the perfect job - good salary, colleagues, boss, surroundings and so on - are largely beyond our control once we've started the job and are faced with the reality of being the ‘newbie’ who has yet to prove themselves. So you may think there is not much you can do if you're not enjoying a task, or if a colleague irritates you, or if the space in which you work is not to your liking.
But you're wrong! There is actually a lot you can do to make your day or your surroundings or simply your mood a whole lot happier. Here’s how to begin making a change.
Find Your “One Ray of Sunshine”
Whenever a cloud of unhappiness or discontent settles over your head, take a few moments to consciously identify the aspects of your work and your workplace that you like, which make you feel good. Maybe it's the view from your window, or the groundbreaking technology you use, or the lively conversations you have with colleagues in the lunch break, or the proximity of your office to local stores or bars, or the quality of the machine coffee (okay, scrap the last one - good coffee from a machine is yet to be invented...)
Whatever it is, there will be something or, more likely, several things about your job that makes it worthwhile, even on bad days. You're not enjoying a project? Well, what about the one you completed last month which earned you praise from your boss?
If something isn't going well, think of all the things you have succeeded at. In other words, create your own state of mind. If you take a moment to focus on the positives rather than becoming stressed over the negatives, you will find it easier to get through the day.
Try Not to Let Personal Problems Intrude
Nobody's life outside of work is problem or worry-free. But it's important to try and leave your personal concerns behind when you set off for work in the morning, just as when you come home at night you do your best not to bring your work problems back with you.
Of course it's hard not to worry if the kids are unwell - or the dog, or the cat - or if an unexpectedly large bill has arrived, or an awkward relative is coming to visit. But it's hard to concentrate on work if you're preoccupied with concerns you can't actually do anything about while you're not at home. You'll feel happier and be more productive if you try and stay focused on the job.
Organize Your Workload
We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed, for example, when the boss dumps a load of extra work on our desk before we've finished what we're currently working on. The trick is not to focus on the amount of work you still have to do. Instead of panicking or groaning in despair, take a few minutes out of your day to get organized by prioritizing your workload.
Maybe there's something in the assignment you have just received which is more urgent than the task you're working on, so if possible get on with the new task and temporarily put the current one aside. Place your tasks in order of importance - if it helps, make a physical checklist, with a rough schedule of when you hope to complete each piece of work.
Could you maybe delegate some of the tasks? Or maybe you could come in early or stay late - or take shorter breaks over those cups of bad machine coffee - to keep on top of the workload.
Another good tip is to break down each task into smaller tasks and tick each one off as you complete it. If you can see each small step of progress, it will help you overcome the feeling of powerlessness that can immobilize you when you feel you have more work than you can handle. If you feel better able to cope you will also feel much happier.
Find Meaning in Your Work
So many of us like to groan and complain when faced with what seems a tedious, time-consuming task. Here's where learning to create your own mindset pays dividends. Every task, no matter how mundane or monotonous, has a purpose. The trick is to consider the reason behind it, to think beyond the task itself to what it is intended to achieve, to who will benefit from it.
Adam Grant, Professor of Management at the Wharton School, states that "employees who know how their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others are not just happier than those who don't; they are vastly more productive, too."
Showing gratitude can also add an element of happiness to the workplace. Thanking someone for something they have done shows appreciation, but thanking a colleague in advance for a piece of work you want them to do, or for their assistance in a project, makes them feel valued and more eager to please. It creates a positive atmosphere which can be of enormous benefit to any department or team.
Take Charge of Your Professional Growth
You are the only one who really knows what inspires you, what truly stretches, challenges and fulfills you. So if you think your talents and abilities are not being fully utilized, don't be afraid to say so. Maybe there is further training you could do, or assistance you could provide to another team, or a project your boss didn't realize you were interested in or had the aptitude to work on.
As management consultant Susan Heathfield says: "You have the most to gain from growing - and the most to lose, if you stand still."
Create a Welcoming Workspace
You can't do anything about the building you work in or the office you've been allocated. But you can have control over your own individual workspace, even if it's no more than a desk in a shared office. You probably spend more time in that space than you do in your bed at home, so it's vital to make it as comfortable and homely as possible.
So personalize it as much as company policy allows. You know the sort of thing - photos, momentoes, plants, fresh flowers (if in a communal area remember to check that none of your colleagues has hay fever-type allergies!) If your chair isn't comfortable, maybe you could press your boss for the right to select a chair of your choice - employers are increasingly aware of the correlation between their workers' comfort and their level of productivity. The more relaxed you are at work the greater your level of happiness is likely to be.
Take Time Out for a Breather
It's very important to your mental state to take breaks throughout the working day. Stress can build up without us noticing it, so between tasks you should take a minute or two to breathe deeply, or stretch your legs around the office, or get the blood pumping by running up and down a flight of steps.
You may think that eating lunch at your desk means you will get more work done, but what about the effect on your health? Sitting at a computer all day can lead to problems such as eye strain, back and neck disorders, weight gain, or more serious ailments such as an increased risk of heart disease.
If you take a complete break from your work environment, preferably including some fresh air and exercise, you will feel more refreshed and able to resume your work with renewed vigor. Not only will you produce work of better quality, but also, as Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work, says, "without some breathing space in the face of constant demands, we won't be creative, competent, or cheerful (or) get along with others as well, and we won't take criticism without the possibility of imploding. It is a must to control the level of our daily stress." And, of course, to increase our level of happiness.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
Okay, maybe being merry at work is not really appropriate, but what you eat at work can play an important role in how you cope with your day. Too much refined food can sap your energy after the initial high and reduce your ability to concentrate. So replace white with wholemeal bread, or fries with a jacket potato, and satisfy your sugar cravings with naturally sweet foods, such as honey, cherry tomatoes, dates, raspberries, blueberries - although there's nothing wrong with the occasional chocolate bar.
At lunchtime, food heavy in salt and carbs such as pizza or microwaved meals can cause a case of the instant (and dreaded) Sleepies as soon as they start digesting, the effects of which can be felt in as little as 30 minutes. Try eating a meal with at least 40% protein instead, such as steak or chicken with veggies. You’ll find you skip the familiar 3pm slump and feel much more energized all day. It's also important to stay properly hydrated - water is preferable to (you've guessed it) that sixth cup of coffee, but if you must have caffeine, try black or green tea.
Finally - Don't Forget to Smile!
It sounds almost too easy, but something as simple as a smile can go a long way towards improving your happiness at work. The physical act of smiling triggers the release of neuropeptides, chemical signals in the brain which modulate behavior, so it sends a message to your brain to actually feel more happy.
It's also infectious - if you smile at someone and they smile back, you will both feel happier. It might even work on that irritating colleague or impatient boss. Never forget that the simplest of actions can often have the longest-lasting effect.
Happiness at work is within your grasp, so reach for it whenever you can.
Tune in next Wednesday for more great work, job and career tips tips! Same time, same place!