When I left my job of eleven years at a large multi-national organization, a lot of people thought I was nuts. Over my time with the company, I had made friends, been promoted five times, and had seen my annual earnings almost quadruple. Let’s be clear, it’s not like I was going to be the next CEO, but I was successful, well-liked, and respected within the organization. What threw people even more was that if you had asked me if I liked my job, I would have (most times) said yes. Yet, somewhere in my eleventh year I found myself with my forehead pushed against the passenger window of our car, while my husband and I drove home from work. I was so exhausted I couldn’t even cry. I wasn’t angry, I was just numb. And I thought to myself, “You have to find a way out of this, because if you stay in this job, your life will be over.” At some point, even those of us who are happy in our jobs can find ourselves very unhappy and needing to make a change, fast.
I want to pose to you the same question I asked myself a number of months ago — “What would your life look like if you were happy with your job?” This was not the first time in my career that I’ve asked myself this question, but it was the first time that I had the courage to dig deeper than ever before. The answers I found were different, and they brought me to a new level of honesty within myself. I didn’t just want to pursue happiness, I wanted to be happy. The answers I discovered were, one, I needed to leave my current job, and two, I wanted to work with people to change their lives.
The answers to this question were scary. Not only did it mean I would be leaving the only place I had worked since graduation, it meant that I’d be leaving a good benefit package, and most of all, a steady pay cheque. I grew up in this company; it was all I had known. It was scary to admit that the things I had worked so hard toward achieving, like being accepted in the corporate world, being a “people pleaser”, and even climbing a corporate ladder, were not as important to me as I had thought. It was scary because I had to stand up and say that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s one thing to want to please people and be successful in a large organization– these things mean long hours and hard work. If I fail as part of a HR team, that’s on me, and there is always someone else to take my place. To admit that I wanted to have a positive impact on someone’s life? That is a commitment to another person. This is work with real meaning to me, because of the impact I can have on someone’s life. But, if I fail here, I could hurt them too. Saying I want to make a difference in someone’s life through my work was like saying, “I have faith in myself,” and this was (and still is) a huge step for me.
Massive transformation triggered by a single question? Maybe not exactly, but the question was pivotal — “What would your life look like if you were happy with your job?”
This leads to more questions, “Can we be fulfilled just by being happier in the non-work parts of our lives?” “Why is it so important for us to be happy at work?” And so on. Of course, the answer is complex. The science of happiness is an important, popular and debated topic. It’s discussed in the news media, in books, TV, and movies, and even as university and college curricula. Of course it’s possible to find happiness from fulfillment outside of work, that’s true. But, did you know that according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, in 2016 we spent an average of 46% of our waking hours dedicated to work? If you factor out people who are unemployed the percentage is more like 78%. For many people, this means that finding the time to do something fulfilling outside of working hours is next to impossible.
The research also shows that happiness at work has a massive and lasting impact on your life. I should note here that when we talk about “happy at work,” for the most part, it has to do with being engaged with your job. By being “engaged,” I don’t mean working 90 hours a week. By being “engaged,” I mean that you are connected to the work you do, that it fulfills you, and that it makes you happy.
According to a 2017 article by Forbes, people who consider themselves “happy” at work are 66% less likely to take sick leave (on an annual basis). Additionally, a study by Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work and CEO of iOpener, indicates that engaged workers are 50% more motivated to pursue their goals outside of work, they report 50% greater productivity (meaning they literally have more time in their day), they report having 180% more energy than their unhappy at work counterparts and report 150% more satisfaction with their lives as a whole.
Those stats alone are worth making a change. But if you’re not convinced yet, here’s more. According to Gallup, in 2017, teams comprised of people who are happy at work produce 21% more profits for an organization (which should translate into the employees earning more money) and a study conducted by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Processor of Economics and Strategy at Said Business School and Andrew J. Oswald, Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick, further supports this with strong evidence that happier people do earn a higher income. Also relevant, this same study found that adolescents who scored themselves as “very happy” earned approximately 10% higher incomes than average in their late twenties, while those who scored themselves as “profoundly unhappy” earned approximately 30% less than the average.
All this to say – it’s important that you are happy doing what you spend close to 80% of your waking day doing…. This is your life, yours, and not anyone else’s.
This seems obvious, so why are we discussing it? It may be obvious, but it’s not easy. Many of us have years of negative mindset that we need to shift. This mindset is often rooted from our insecurities. These feelings and beliefs stem from many different things, but some common ones are:
- This is as happy as I can be
- Work is hard, it’s not meant to make me happy
- I have to suffer in order to be successful
- I don’t have the right to expect more money
- I’m not worth more money
- Asking for direction at work means that I don’t know what I’m doing OR I’m not doing my job OR I’m not smart enough
- It’s okay that I don’t really connect with anyone at work; I’m not here to make friends
- You can’t make friends at work and be successful
- Everyone else seems able to cope; I can cope too
These things (among others) are keeping us from being happy at work. They are making us sick, less productive, and stuck in the same unhappy place month after month, year after year. They are leaving us feeling trapped, bored, sad, and frustrated. As a result, we aren’t doing the best work we can, earning as much money as we can, or being as fulfilled as we can be.
The keys to being happier at work involve some combination of:
- Knowing what is expected of you and being given the tools necessary to succeed
- Understanding the value of the work you do and what the future looks like for you in the context of the work (whether within an organization or in your own business)
- Feeling that you are compensated fairly (yes – no one likes to say this, to talk about money, but it’s so true)
- Making connections at work so that you feel supported, respected, and part of a community.
There is no way to define what will be a large shift versus a small shift. Mindset is funny like that. Sometimes asking a coworker to stop walking to the printer in her barefeet feels as difficult as becoming the leader you want to be or applying for a for a new job. Freeing yourself to take action is making a shift, and this shift takes courage! No one can say how big or small the effort on your part will be.
I believe that achieving greater happiness is about the courage to really listen to yourself, and to set aside fears and negative beliefs. Achieving greater happiness is about consistently making choices based on knowing what you want, what and who is available to help, and finding the strength (and support) to express your true self.
I speak with a lot of passion and a lot of confidence about this. And it’s not because I have my life (or even my work life) completely figured out.These things are still growing and evolving for me, and I hope they will always be growing and evolving. This is what I know for sure: once you open yourself up to possibility, what you want becomes clearer and clearer, once you get clear on what you want, taking action becomes easier, and once you take one action, the next action is easier, and so on. The minute you fully accept the challenge of making a change, you embark on an amazing journey of transformation. The feeling of joy and happiness that you will achieve/experience from taking your career and life into your own hands is beyond your imagination. Believe me when I say, if I can do this, I know you can too.
So, who is feeling brave?! Let’s do it! Let’s make a change and get happier at work. Click here to get my free one week challenge!