Does being happy at work seem like an impossible dream? Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace Report revealed that roughly seven in 10 employees are struggling or suffering, rather than thriving, in their overall lives. Not only that, but 80% are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This lack of engagement costs the global economy $8.1 trillion—nearly 10% of GDP—in lost productivity each year. And what is most shocking is that these issues existed way before the pandemic.
So, what does it take to feel truly happy at work? Job satisfaction is driven by many things, including the people you work with, challenge and a sense of accomplishment. As you analyze your current situation, start by asking yourself these key questions:
Does your company share your values?
Studies have shown that the people most satisfied with their work find a match between their employer’s values and their own. In fact, it’s one of 14 key drivers of employee engagement according to 15Five, the human-centered performance management platform. As defined by 15Five, “having shared values at work means employees share common work attitudes and principles with their colleagues. This can help build a feeling of camaraderie and a shared interest in success. It can also reflect how an employee’s personal values align with the organization and the work they’re performing.” So, to be truly happy at work, find a company that shares your values.
Does your boss appreciate you?
Can you remember the last time your boss said, “Hey, great job on that project!” or just simply, “Thank you?” A new USC study finds that many workers across various job sectors feel underappreciated, especially by their bosses. And roughly 50% of employees say they are thanked less than once per week by their supervisors. “There’s nothing worse than feeling unseen and unheard in the workplace,” says Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work. “We all have a human need to be appreciated for our efforts, and so when your colleagues don’t notice [your contributions], it makes you feel as though you don’t belong,” she adds. Researchers also found that employees value written thanks over verbal expressions of gratitude and prefer their managers deliver the message one-on-one instead of in front of larger groups. Why? Thank you notes take time and effort and can be used as a record of performance. It’s also nice to re-read those sentiments of appreciation when you need a dose of inspiration.
Are you documenting awards and accolades?
One way to boost your confidence is to keep a running list of compliments and kudos from managers, co-workers, customers and clients. Then start what I call an “inspiration folder.” It can be a physical or email folder, Google Doc, Evernote list, or journal—whatever works for you. It’s a handy tool when preparing for performance reviews or even updating your résumé. But most importantly, when you’re having a bad day or need to raise your morale, you can re-read these expressions of gratitude to lift your mood.
Are you setting realistic boundaries?
You can’t pour from an empty cup. To stay productive, engaged, and happy at work, you must set healthy boundaries. And by setting boundaries, you will get closer to achieving the work-life balance you’ve been craving. So, start by conducting a boundary audit. Become more aware of those people and situations that cause you stress and anxiety. If you notice yourself feeling angry, resentful or guilty, that’s a sure sign that you may need to reset a boundary or communicate it more clearly. Then start setting limits. One example could be not checking work email in the evenings between 6-9 p.m. so you can focus on family time. Another may be to let your manager know that you need advance notice of work-related travel so you can plan your family vacation. Finally, practice saying “no.” Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, suggests choosing some low-risk situations to practice saying no. Say no when your waitress offers you dessert. Say no to the street vendor offering to sell you something. Go into a room by yourself, shut the door and say no out loud ten times. It sounds crazy, but it helps to build your “no” muscle.
Are you prioritizing your health?
According to the Hartford’s 2021 Future of Benefits Pulse Survey of approximately 2,000 respondents, 61% of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout at work. And the numbers are even higher among women and younger generations. In addition, research from McKinsey shows just how significantly the pandemic has affected working mothers. Working moms especially are grappling with a “double shift” of household responsibilities, mental health challenges and a more difficult remote-work experience. Clearly, there’s never been a more critical time to prioritize your mental and physical health. And as the saying goes, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others.
Life is stressful, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy at work. By prioritizing your health, setting boundaries, and finding a company that shares your values, you’ll be on your way to finding the fulfillment you deserve.