There comes a time for many of us when our job isn’t as interesting or rewarding as it used to be. This can be especially true if you have been at the same company or in the same position for more than a few years. Let’s be honest. when we are just starting out to create a career, or a name–or a life– for ourselves, there is quite a bit more natural energy and excitement than after we have been doing it for a few decades. We’ve achieved our goals and fulfilled those possibilities. We’ve received the promotions or built the company. Now it seems like a life on autopilot is what we have to look forward to. Or perhaps a steady diet daily stress and frustration has drained your energy and enthusiasm. You just don’t feel the same sort of satisfaction that you once did at the end of the day.
So what can you do if a quiet ride to retirement isn’t what you signed up for? Of course, you could always quit, change careers, or retire early. But what if those aren’t viable options? The idea of changing careers after a lifetime in the same industry can be too much of an unknown to contemplate. With a mortgage to finish paying off or kids to put through college, oftentimes losing a steady paycheck would cause more stress than voluntarily starting over. Is there a way to revitalize your work life so you feel satisfied at the end of the day instead of just exhausted?
In his book, Flourish, Martin Seligman describes the five elements of positive psychology essential for a sense of well being. These same elements apply to the workplace, and might be even more important since so much of what happens during the workday can feel like it is out of our control. If you apply these elements to your day, you can reignite the passion you once felt for what you do.
The first element deals with positive emotions, Okay, this might seem like a stretch when you are pushed by deadlines and surrounded by others who are quick to point out everything that is wrong. I was recently in an office where two of the staff had nothing but negative things to say about the company and their future in it. Needless to say, they contributed to a toxic environment, one where a positive thought could hardly take root, much less thrive. However, by changing your mindset, you can begin to shift from negative or neutral emotions to positive feelings. Start by smiling. Yes, it does help. There are many other ways to increase a positive outlook, and it really is vital to being happy in your workplace.
Engagement is another key to a satisfying work life. Do you have a job that makes use of your talents and skills? By utilizing your strengths you can enter the flow–that space where time flies without realizing it. You are immersed in what you are doing and enjoying it. If this doesn’t fit the description of your job, what could you do to change it? Delegate mundane tasks to someone else? Focus on what you do best? You will become more productive, happier, and more valuable to your company if you are engaged in your work on a daily basis. If you aren’t in a position to choose your workflow, possibly speaking with a supervisor about making some changes might be an option.
Next we come to relationships. Relationships in the workplace are just as important as relationships in our personal lives, especially since we spend the majority of our time with these people. It is worth putting the time and energy into creating positive, beneficial relationships with colleagues, superiors, and staff members, as well as internal and external customers. Studies show that most workplace stress is generated by bad relationships. Creating good working relationships is invaluable to a sense of wellbeing in everyday life. Plus, it gives you something positive to talk about when you get home at night.
The next element is a little trickier. An important part of creating happiness in the workplace deals with finding meaning in what you do. Now, for some that is easy. In the service or health industry, it’s pretty much a no brainer. For others it might seem more difficult, but it is really a matter of perception. I recently worked with a man who fixes printers. One day, off-duty, he was in line at a doctor’s office when the admitting printer went out. The line stopped, and no one was going anywhere. At one point he stepped up to the window to see what the problem was and the nurse told him the printer was on the fritz. He offered to help, and spotted the problem which was an easy fix. With just a little tweaking, the printer was working, and the line was moving once more, The nurse looked at him thankfully and asked, “Do you know how many people you just helped?” He took that comment with him, and found a new meaning on what he had thought was a mundane job. If you look for meaning in what you do, you can find it. It may not present itself easily, but it is there.
The final piece in this puzzle is about accomplishment. Do you set goals for yourself at work? More importantly, do you celebrate achieving those goals? While it is important to find contentment and satisfaction in daily tasks, it is just as important to have something to work toward. That is one reason organizations set goals for employees during review periods. However, I believe goals chosen by an individual can be even more energizing. It doesn’t have to be an organizational or life-changing goal, but it should be something that has some type of value to you as an individual. And again, once you achieve that goal–celebrate it. Otherwise, that accomplishment will lose its power and value.
So there you have it. Five ways to be happier in the workplace. Do you need to implement all of them at once? No. Although it is possible, such major changes could be overwhelming. Start with one, and add another when you feel comfortable in doing so. By incorporating just two or three of these elements into your day, you will create a much more satisfying work experience.
Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2002
Flourish, by Martin Seligman, Simon & Schuster, 2011