Taking back your happiness at work

February 14, 2023

Taking back your happiness at work

“You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you. And thinking that way empowers you to work really hard for a long period of time.”—Marissa Mayer

According to Gallup’s 2022 report on the State of the Global Workplace, 85% of employees are unhappy at work, with 67% of them being unengaged employees who are indifferent to their company’s success and are just showing up to work to do the bare minimum required of them. As Blessing White said, “Engaged employees stay for what they give. Disengaged employees stay for what they get.”

We’ve seen the rise in “quiet quitting” and the Great Resignation over the last few years, and the message is clear: leaders need to step up to create a work environment where our people can thrive and succeed.

We spend a significant chunk of our lives at work, and we often spend it unhappy with our jobs. Sometimes the problem is within you. Often, the problem is with the system. Regardless, it is an issue that needs to be handled.

How can we take back our happiness in the workplace? And as leaders, how can we show up more to ensure that we provide a work environment where our employees can be happy, or at the very least feel satisfied?

Where does this unhappiness come from, and how can we pivot?

In order to take back your happiness at work, you need to figure out the source of the unhappiness you feel. Do you dislike your day-to-day tasks? Are you dreading coming to work because of the people or your boss? Do you feel stuck?

Identify the root of the problem so that you can start considering ways to tackle it.

Most of the time, if the issue is a people problem, 80% to 90% of the conflict can be resolved through effective communication. In some cases, the solution is more action-based.

If you are finding a hard time figuring out where the unhappiness stems from, here are some of the most common reasons why people feel unsatisfied with their jobs, and some ways to turn things around:

You feel stuck

Feeling stuck could come from the wrong placement in the organization, where people feel like “I can’t focus on what I do best.” Other times, it comes from feeling like they are at a dead-end in their career, with no hope of a promotion or personal growth.

Humans don’t thrive in stagnation, whether real or perceived. We need growth opportunities that make us feel motivated and invigorated. It is important to do something that you enjoy doing and can feel continually challenged in.

Talk to your boss. Find out if there are any opportunities for you, such as a lateral move or a skill-expansion assignment. Maybe you could try swapping assignments with a colleague, with the permission of your manager.

Taking initiative is a highly valued trait in employees, as is the hunger for growth. However, communicating your intentions is part of your responsibility as a professional.

You feel unappreciated/unvalued

A lot of workers feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and disvalued. That is why recognition and appreciation are critical to keeping employees engaged in the workplace. It is so important that leaders have systems in place that will ensure their people feel appreciated.

This is why feedback is essential. It's time to create a functioning feedback loop if your company doesn't already have one. To keep morale high, find ways to acknowledge efforts and reward accomplishments. And if you are an employee, taking the initiative to ask for feedback so that you know where and how to improve your work is a good place to start.

Sometimes it has to do with money. Asking for a raise or a compensation renewal might be a tricky bridge to cross, but if you feel confident that you deserve it and it is reflected in your work, it is a conversation worth broaching.

Your work feels like it lacks a sense of purpose

Purpose can feel a little abstract at times, but it definitely isn’t something you can overlook. It is easy to feel unmotivated and discouraged when we feel like what we’re doing doesn’t matter.

All kinds of work, no matter how “mundane” or menial, holds meaning and value.

Finding purpose in your work depends on two things: your company’s vision and your mindset.

It is crucial for leaders to convey a clear vision that their followers can understand and support. But more than that, they need to understand how their contribution to its realization fits into the overall picture.

From an employee perspective, your mindset changes how you see things. Know your why, and remind yourself—whether it is to pursue a passion, discover something new, or ensure a secure and happy future for yourself and the people you love.

At the end of the day, you are the one who decides what something is worth.

You are overworked/burnt out

Burnout is a serious workplace issue that affects not just the organization’s productivity and performance but also compromises the individual’s well-being. To perform at our best at work, it is imperative that each of us take the time to disconnect from work and physically, mentally, and emotionally refuel.

Leaders need to set an example and encourage employees to take regular breaks and get off work at reasonable hours. There will be times that “hustling” is necessary, but finding the harmony between putting in the hard work and finding the time to rest and relax is essential for sustainable work performance.

Sometimes, the answer is in hiring new employees or bringing in interns and part-time workers to ease your employees’ load. In order to concentrate on tasks that contribute to your goals, it is also advantageous to audit the tasks that are being given to your employees and remove any unnecessary busywork and non-critical job components.

From a top-down perspective, it is necessary to inspect the system in place and check whether it is preventing your employees from thriving in their roles.

Take the time to examine your work process from the employee's point of view, then pinpoint and get rid of the busy work to optimize your workflow. If you think that the tasks assigned to your role are too much for one person, consider talking to your boss about bringing in another colleague to share the load.

You dislike/don’t feel passionate about your career field or job

Sometimes you simply discover later on in the game that you are not suited for the job or industry. While starting over in a new field can be scary, it might just be the move you need in order to regain your happiness as a professional.

Job satisfaction doesn’t always equate with passion or interests. But when you feel like the mismatch is too powerful, maybe it is time to explore new career options and reevaluate your needs. You can test things out as a side hustle, just to see if the grass really is greener on the other side.

Talk to people already working in the field you are considering to gather as much insider information as you can. Do your research on what education, retooling, skills, and credentials you need to develop to make the move and carefully map out your transition timeline.

If, after all things considered, the answer you’ve gotten is a career change, quit the job and make the move.

You don’t like your coworkers/employer/customers

Whenever people and relationships factor into the equation, things tend to get messy. People's problems are seldom black and white—they come in varying shades of gray most of the time.

If you like your job but the people you deal with suck the life out of you, whether they be your colleagues, employer, or customers, explore all possible factors and options. One thing to keep in mind though is this: Regardless of what industry you are in, you will always encounter crappy people. Sometimes, that person might even be you.

But if, after a lot of honest self-reflection and personal growth efforts, you find that the issue lies outside of you—such as unethical practices at work or toxic coworkers—then it is time to take action.

What are the things you have control over? One of them is initiating the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. Maybe a heartfelt conversation with your direct superior is what’s necessary to see changes in the company. 

If you find the constant whining or office drama in break rooms or work group chats toxic, you might want to avoid those situations. Either take your lunch break somewhere else, or check the group chat for strictly work-related messages and ignore the noise. Maybe you can try transferring to a new work area, asking for different shifts to avoid your difficult customers, or negotiating flexible arrangements that will minimize the noise for you.

At the end of the day, you can only focus on changing the things that you have control over, such as how you look at the situation, how you react to it, and how often you expose yourself to it. But if you’ve exhausted all possible options and the toxicity is something you do not need in your life, no matter how good the pay is or how much you like the job, quitting amicably (it is best not to burn bridges) is always an option.

Your boss sucks

Most of the time, employees don’t quit their jobs. They quit because of bad bosses. When your employer or boss is nasty, manipulative, and abusive, and you’ve done your best to address the issue, it is understandable.

There are other, more covert ways that managers can prove impossible to stand against, too. 

Does your boss consistently fail to give you instructions? Do they fail to recognize your contributions, fail to involve the team in decision-making, or assist you in realizing your full potential and developing your talents?

Try talking to your manager about your concerns. They would appreciate you shedding light on these effects because sometimes they are simply unaware of the strength of their actions and the influence of their position. Of course, some bosses just don’t care.

Talk to HR or your manager on ways to fix the situation—whether that be accountability and transparency or a team or department transfer.

Maybe this is your boss, or worse, maybe the boss is you.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to show up for our people in a way that serves them and the organization’s purpose. It is also our responsibility to grow and be better leaders.

Happiness, in life or at work, is what we make it. But it is worth reflecting on how we can be better, kinder people and spread happiness to others wherever we meet them.

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”