Happy employees are productive employees. That’s why companies go out of their way to make sure they’ve got the best benefits, perks, and workplace culture. One Gallup survey found that companies with a higher percentage of engaged employees experienced, on average, 147 percent higher earnings per share than their publicly traded competitors.
But it’s not only what your employer can do for you (though that helps). The real secret to being happy at work? It’s on you. That might sound Pollyanna-ish, but just as in your personal life, taking matters into your own hands is key. A 2016 survey of 12,000 employees by staffing firm Robert Half found that 25 percent believed happiness at work is solely their responsibility. Only 5 percent said it’s up to their boss. If you don’t like your job, it might be because you “are looking for happiness in the wrong places,” says Corey Adams, a regional manager at Robert Half’s Boston office.
It’s time, then, to take control of your happiness. “As tempting as it is to blame that bad boss or irritating colleagues, if we truly want to enjoy our work, we have to take responsibility for our own fulfillment,” says Annie McKee, author of How To Be Happy At Work.
To find your bliss at work, consider these six habits of happy employees:
First, take inventory. Decide what factors bother you about your job, and put that angst into two categories: Things you can control, and things you can’t. “Give yourself credit for being in control of a lot,” says McKee, who is also a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and an executive coach.
Attitude, she adds, is critical. “Can you get back to why you took this job in the first place?” Then take steps toward a better work life. For example, change how you spend your time by focusing more on activities you enjoy, or look for a new challenge. “Getting outside of your comfort zone is scary, but the learning that comes with taking a risk is deeply rewarding,” McKee says.
Seek feedback. Happy employees, for better or for worse, know what their bosses and colleagues think about their performance. Feedback can help set and clarify expectations with your career development. But what tends to happen, instead, is that everyone gets busy and feedback becomes an afterthought.
WordStream, an online advertising management company, got high marks in this year’s employee survey for creating an environment conducive to feedback, whether it’s an annual review or weekly check-ins. “We provide manager training about giving feedback and receiving feedback” to help them serve as role models to their organizations, says Lucy Lemons, vice president of people success at the Boston-based company. “It is about creating a culture where feedback is the norm.” The company encourages it from manager to employee, employee to manager, and employee to employee. “You sometimes get even more insightful feedback from your peers,” she says.
To get constructive responses, Lemons suggests you let your manager know you’re interested in better understanding how you are performing. Ask to set up a meeting to review what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. If your manager isn’t used to giving feedback, this gives time for him or her to prepare. You should also come prepared, and be ready to share observations about your own performance.
Make friends at work. According to Robert Half, people with good work relationships are two-and-a-half times more likely to be happy on the job, compared with those who don’t get along with colleagues. But as technology increasingly means we connect remotely, getting to know colleagues is something that doesn’t happen naturally anymore. “You are going to have a lot more unhappy employees because they are isolated,” says Josh Levine, a workplace culture strategist and author of Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love.
To foster collaboration, some companies are using online tools such as Donut, a bot that can be added to communications software Slack to pair up colleagues who don’t know each other well. For those who come into the office, Levine encourages them to break up their cliques. He says work should not be high school all over again — try going to lunch with someone different.
Having good relationships lets people bring their whole selves to work, which ultimately makes them happier employees. “When you have a deeper connection with people inside or outside of work, you are able to open up; you can be yourself,” Levine says. “They like you for more than the work you are doing for them.”
Choose meaning over money. We think a bigger paycheck will make us giddy, but survey after survey indicates finding meaning in our work is the biggest driver of job satisfaction. Meaning is not simply about your company having a mission statement or being socially responsible, but about the role you play at your company.
“Meaning refers to connecting work back to a deeper understanding of the participants involved — customers, workers, and other stakeholders — and the bigger impact the work will have on helping them achieve their aspirations,” according to Deloitte Consulting’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, a study with nearly 10,000 respondents across 119 countries.
Kevin McGovern, Deloitte’s managing partner for New England, believes millennials are driving this new work ethic and that employees “are looking to their companies to help solve societal issues.” Deloitte urges employers to “reinvent” employee engagement with a human focus. Workers can start by asking themselves the most personal of workplace questions: “Am I making a difference?”
Express appreciation. This is not about telling yourself, “You’re lucky to have a job.” Rather, the happiest workers feel appreciated, and that can be contagious. According to a 2019 Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute survey of 3,500 employees, frequent recognition increases feelings of gratitude and lowers stress levels.
That means not just waiting to be complimented, but actively doling out praise as well. When everyone — both managers and peers — gives recognition, 87 percent of employees feel they belong at work, according to Workhuman, a Framingham human-resources technology company. When only managers give recognition, the amount of employees with a sense of connectedness drops to 72 percent.
A sincere “thank you” or “job well done” goes a long way, and don’t forget to send praise up the chain of command, because chances are the boss only hears complaints.
“People want to be seen,” McKee says. “They want to be appreciated. There is not enough of it at work. Nobody is going to make that happen unless we all take a crack at it.”
Finally, love your job. But not too much. Technology has made some jobs all-consuming, making it easier to be “on” 24-7 checking and responding to messages. That can lead to burnout, which is becoming such a concern that the World Health Organization is developing guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.
Don’t let chronic stress be a self-inflicted wound. Set boundaries on when you respond to work e-mail, avoid working on vacation, and give yourself a break. Feeling overloaded won’t ever make you happy.