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Be Happy at Work: 10 Science Backed Ways You Can Be Happier

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Do you know how to be happy at work? Being happier at work is not a “nice to have,” it is a “need to have.” When you are happier:

  • You are more productive
  • You are more engaged in your work
  • You are more liked

Do you love what you do? Do you like what you do?

Sometimes even the best of jobs have slumps. I want to show you how to level up your job and prevent funks.

Before you can improve your work happiness, you need to know what factors are most important to target.

The annual Society for Human Resource Management conducted a massive survey on employee engagement. Their goal was to help companies know which programs and practices could have the greatest impact on their employees’ happiness. We can use this data to take control of our own work destiny.

Here’s the Problem:

You’re unhappy at work, but you aren’t sure how to fix it. You don’t want to leave your job, but you aren’t sure what to do to make your current situation better. You either do nothing and hope for the best or try random strategies. If you’re really serious about making your job awesome, then you have to make a:

Job Happiness Plan: The best plans target the most important areas of job happiness first.

The survey looked at 35 aspects of employee job satisfaction, divided into four topic areas—career development, relationship with management, compensation and benefits, and work environment.

Here’s the Good News:

They found that 88 percent of employees are satisfied overall with their current job. This is the highest level of satisfaction reported in the past 10 years.

The question is – Is this you? Are you satisfied with your job? If you are, great! Create your Job Happiness Plan as insurance for future job happiness. If not, this plan is an essential place for you to start.

The survey found 10 major factors to be the most important contributors to job satisfaction. I’ll go through each factor and then a specific action step you can do to tackle it.

Relationships With Co-workers: 77%

Do you have friends at work? Do you feel supported and that you have a professional community at your job? Your answers to these questions matter most for your job happiness.

Relationships with your co-workers is the #1 factor for your professional happiness. To be honest, I was shocked to see this as the number one contributor! I knew people skills were important, but I didn’t realize just how important.

In your Job Happiness Plan, the first section should be about your work relationships. Go through the following exercise:

Who is your closest friend at work?

  • ____________

Do you have people you enjoy having lunch with? List 3 people you would enjoy sharing a meal with:

  • ____________
  • ____________
  • ____________

Do you have people you can confide in or get support from at work? List 3 people you trust most:

  • ____________
  • ____________
  • ____________

Did you have trouble answering these questions? If so, then you need to work on building your professional support system until you can easily answer these questions.

Action Step: Who do you want to be on this list? Are there people around the office, maybe even in other departments, who you think you might be able to click with? Set aside time to get to know them. Start small–learn when they take their coffee break and join them in the break room or ask them out to lunch.

  • Try planning at least one work-based social engagement a week. This can be used to strengthen good relationships you already have with colleagues or new work friends.
  • Look forward to socializing. Set-up times with people and doing activities you actually enjoy. Your one social time per week should be something you look forward to.
  • Say no to social dread. Building up good relationships is only half the battle. Getting rid of bad relationships is the other aspect of this job happiness factor. If you aren’t looking forward to your social plans with colleagues then change them! That might mean banishing toxic people or learning how to say no more often.

Opportunities to Use Skills and Abilities: 77%

Do you feel successful at what you do? It is incredibly important for our happiness to feel capable. You know that feeling when you get something done or do something well?

Pride is one of the best types of happiness.

In a good job, you should feel pride on a weekly basis. In a great job, you feel it on a daily basis. The next part of your Job Happiness Plan is looking for more work opportunities to feel happy and proud. Here’s how…

Action Step: Take a look at your to-do list from the last few days. Circle every item that brought you pride. Now think about your potential to-do list.

  • What could bring you pride?
  • What activities make you feel capable, accomplished and smart?
  • Your goal is to make sure you are doing at least one of these pride activities every few days. These are also the kinds of tasks you want to volunteer for on your team, ask your manager for more of and savor when you get to do them.

Meaningfulness of Job: 76%

Do you know your company’s mission? Do you know the impact of your work? When we don’t have our “why” at the front of our mind, it can be hard to feel motivated and excited about what we are doing. This is harder than it seems. When we get busy or overwhelmed, the “why” just seems to slip away.

We can elevate the meaning of our job by keeping mission front of mind. I want you to know and constantly remind yourself of the meaningfulness of what you do.

Action Step: Hang your company mission statement on a wall of your office or cubicle or put it somewhere on your desk. Even better…

  • Write your own mission statement and keep it on your desktop.
  • Start meetings or calls by reminding yourself and your team of your “why.” For example, here at the Science of People, our mission is helping people level up their life, job and success with incredible social skills. Sometimes when I am bogged down in emails or writing articles, I forget about all the amazing readers such as yourself who enjoy reading our content. So, I keep a folder of my favorite supportive emails and I often paste them into the tops of documents when I’m writing on a particularly tough topic. This keeps me grounded in helping you have a bigger impact in your life.
  • What grounds you? Keep this front and center in your work tasks, projects and docs.

The Work Itself: 74%

I was really surprised this one was Number 4—I assumed it would be Number 1! After all, when looking for jobs or talking about our job, it’s all about what we do. So, why is this #4?

Often we focus on “following our passion” or “doing work we love.” Now, I want to say something here that might ruffle a few feathers.

It’s ok to just like what you do.

Love is a strong word. It’s almost impossible to love all of your work every day. I want you to focus on liking your work.

I talked about focusing more on pride-producing activities in Action Step #2 and that is incredibly important. If you can have a conversation with your boss about adding in more pride-producing activities—do it! Even if it doesn’t happen right away, maybe your boss or team slowly can add tasks you enjoy or take away tasks you dread. Another idea is changing where you do your work. Here’s how:

Action Step: Make a work nest. Make sure you like your work space–this can help you like your work more as well. Put up photos or artwork. Bring in flowers. Ask for a nicer chair. Upgrade your screen or mouse. Bring in your favorite snacks. Even if you aren’t doing work you love, at least you will be in a space you like.

Relationship with Immediate Supervisor: 74%

Here is an essential work skill: Managing up. Your boss or supervisor’s mood is incredibly contagious. Studies show that if a superior is in a bad mood, it can spread through the entire organization like a virus. You should know how to stop that virus in its tracks.

Action Step: Know how to decode your boss or supervisor’s bad mood. Watch our video on decoding your boss and managing up.

Organization’s Financial Stability: 72%

Your company’s financial stability is important for your happiness because it helps you feel secure in your job. If you are worried about the company going under, there is no way you can be relaxed and happy at work. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about this one. However, you can make yourself indispensable. 

How can you be indispensable?

Action Step: How does one become indispensable to a team or company? There are a few ways you can do this to both help yourself and the company you work for.

  • Do people know you across teams? In other departments? People who are indispensable are bridges in an organization. They share knowledge and data. The more people you know across the company the higher your relationship satisfaction (great for your work happiness) and the better off the organization.
  • Are you what Seth Godin refers to as a linchpin? Don’t just think about building relationships on your own team, expand your work social circle up, down and across the organization. Start introducing yourself to people you don’t know. Sit with new people in the break room. Take coffee breaks at different times so you see and engage with different people.

Contribution of Work to Organization’s Business Goals: 72%

Have you ever heard of a work silo? A work silo is when knowledge, resources and ideas are stuck in one department or with one person. For example, if you have one person on your team:

  • Who does all the website updates
  • Has all the passwords for the website
  • Has the most knowledge of the backend of each page and the history of website changes in their head or their computer

…Then you have a team member working in a silo. The best way to feel your work is contributing to the larger organization is to make sure you are not working in a silo and to get rid of silos on your team.

Action Steps: How do you get rid of a work silo?

  • First, make sure you know your company and team’s business goals. The more specific the better. Do you know company number targets? Do you know yearly goals?
  • Second, make sure you are not contributing to a silo. You should know exactly how your work ties into achieving the company goals AND that your knowledge is shared. If someone had to learn your job tomorrow without you sitting next to them, could they? Consider writing a tutorial for what you do and why. This can help guide you and help you contribute to the larger organization’s knowledge base.

Autonomy and Independence: 71%

Do you have a micromanaging boss? Ugh, they are the worst! And when you don’t feel like you have autonomy at work, it really can hurt your daily satisfaction. It’s hard to control a controlling boss. However, you can do a few things to limit the amount of micromanaging.

Action Steps: A micromanager is often a control freak. They want to be in control of you and your work because they are afraid of things going wrong. If you show them that you are already in control, then they will feel less of a need to micromanage. Here’s what to do:

  • Get organized. The more your boss sees you are on top of your tasks and projects, the more likely he or she is to give you space. Consider creating a public task or to-do list. Be more transparent with each step and daily or even hourly tasks so your boss can check-in without bothering you.
  • Get buy-in more frequently. You might also consider breaking down large tasks into 20- to 30-minute increments, so your boss knows exactly where you are at on each project. You can also stop and ask for feedback more proactively so your boss feels less of a need to interrupt and check-in on you.

Variety of Work: 69%

Humans get bored easily. We can’t help it! Our brains need near constant stimulation. We might have a great job that eventually, after too many repetitions of the same task, becomes boring after many years. We have to find a way to keep our jobs and tasks fresh. But how?

Make it a priority to keep old tasks fresh.

Even if you can’t control exactly what you do every day, you can change up how you do your tasks.

Action Step: Keep your tasks fresh by trying the following:

  • Think about varying the pace of your day or the order of your to-do list. Can you try working on emails only twice a day? Can you do all of your calls in the afternoon? Can you do all team meetings out of the office?
  • Change up your desk or your work space. Can you re-organize your office? Can you put up all new photos on your desk? Ask if you can work from home for a few days to shake things up.
  • Can you try something new? When possible, volunteer for new team tasks or responsibilities on short-term projects to see if you can try something new. Nothing is too small to add in variation.

Overall Corporate Culture: 69%

What kind of feeling do you have in your office? Is there a nice, congenial atmosphere or a competitive one? The overall corporate culture is the final factor that contributes to your work happiness.

I wish we could change your corporate culture in one step, but that’s impossible. One thing you can do is work to improve your team atmosphere.

Your team’s culture is an alternative to the overall corporate culture.

Even if you can’t change the entire corporate culture you can make sure that your team’s culture is safe and productive.

Action Step: Do one of my favorite team-building exercises. This is a great way to get to know your team and to learn from each other. Most importantly, this activity can help with all of the other action steps you learned in this article. This exercise can help you to achieve more variety in your work, and help you with skills you are good at. It also can give you more independence and help you make sure your work contributions matter. Watch that video right now!

I want you to be happy at work. You deserve to be happy at work. But it won’t happen magically — you have to work at it. Try these 10 Action Steps for your Job Happiness Plan and, step-by-step, your days will get better, brighter and more productive.

To your success,


How to Deal with Difficult People at Work

Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.

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