By Kate Taylor
Anyone who’s spent weekday mornings on public transportation or in gridlock has witnessed the signs. The unhappy blank stares over briefcases. The weary sighs. The air, heavy with resignation.
Many people don’t like their jobs – no surprise there. But here’s startling figure: a 2013 Gallup study showed that a mere 13 percent of employees worldwide are “happily engaged” in their work. The rest, in the study’s wording, are “actively disengaged.”
In other words, pretty dang unhappy. And those miserable employees (in the study’s 142 included countries) outnumber happy ones by roughly two to one.
Misery, it seems, has become a regular feature of working life.
But it sure doesn’t have to be.
Turn an unhappy work situation around
There are plenty of ways to turn an unhappy work situation around or use it as a launch pad for a great new job or career, says China Gorman, spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resource Management. Though in a challenging economy, that change can take a lot of time, effort and will power.
A good place to begin, she says, is acceptance.
“Accept that this job is not where you want to be, even if you can’t make a change today,” she advises. Then “begin taking steps to change things.”
Catherine McCarthy, a clinical psychologist, advises “Practicing radical acceptance. Tell yourself, ‘This is where I am. This is where I’m going to be for a certain amount of time.’”
After that, you’ll be on to bigger and better things.
In the meantime, boost your happiness and job satisfaction with these 16 great expert tips:
- Have a Sense of Meaning
In 1983 Steve Jobs convinced future Apple CEO John Sculley to leave his job at PepsiCo by asking him one question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
Why was this so effective? Besides sparking his curiosity and imagination, it gave Scully the chance to do meaningful work. This has been backed by research from Wharton management professor Adam Grant, who found that “employees who know how their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others are not just happier than those who don’t; they are vastly more productive, too.” Additional research from Harvard professor Teresa Amabile has discovered that no matter the size of a goal–whether curing cancer or helping a colleague–having a sense of meaning can contribute to happiness in the workplace.
- Create an ‘Office Nest’
Jennifer Star, a founding partner of the Balance Team, notes on Monster that people spend a good deal of their lives at work. That’s a great reason, she says, to boost your own happiness by making “your space your own. Decorate your area as much as your company policy permits, and make yourself as comfortable and relaxed as you can be in your office.”
- Find a Work Best Friend
Research from the free hosting startup Hostt finds “that having a best friend at work can turn a moderately engaged worker into a highly engaged worker.” When workers engage in friendships they contribute more to the company.
Employees who “have friends at work perceive their job as more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying,” says Christine Riordan of the Harvard Business Review. Friends at work create support systems, camaraderie and loyalty.
Something as simple as smiling can improve your happiness at work. Smiling tells your brain to be happier, thanks to the release of neuropeptides. Smiling is also contagious and will make your co-workers smile as well.
- Leave Personal Problems at Home
“When your personal life is in tumult, a lot of emotional hijacking goes on. Emotions consume you and stress exhausts you,” says
Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out. When you’re stressed, work feels never-ending, which can prompt employee clock-watching. That distraction alone cuts productivity. You’ll be happier if your deal with home problems at home before you come to work.
- Be Future Oriented
Keep your own goals and plans at the forefront of your mind when you’re at work. It will add meaning to otherwise dull tasks.
Say ‘Thank You’
Based on experiments from Professor Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School and Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School, “receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people that are around us, too.”
In fact, their experiments have discovered that 66% of students helped a fellow student named “Eric” because he thanked them in advance for reviewing his cover letter.
Instead of just saying “thank you” to your peers–and even receptionists and maintenance–you can be proactive and ask for feedback to receive some much-deserved gratitude. Definitely don’t ask again if a person you have previously asked is determined to make you feel unappreciated, or if they are continually condemning you or your team.
- Take a Breather
It’s incredibly easy to get burned out during the workday. That’s why you need to take a minute and breath before moving on to your next task. Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work, informs Business Insider that “without some breathing space in the face of constant demands, we won’t be creative, competent, or cheerful.” She also adds that by not taking a break, “we won’t get along with others as well, and we won’t take criticism without the possibility of imploding. It is a must to control the level of our daily stress.”
My friend and marketing expert Liv Longley states that employees also need to take time off to recharge from the stress of work. In fact, taking a vacation not only relieves stress and recharges us, it can also improve our overall health and make us more productive at work.
- Eat Healthy and Stay Hydrated
According to Shirly Weiss, a certified holistic health and nutritional counselor and consulting expert for the Balance Team, “maintaining a good diet and keeping yourself properly hydrated throughout your workday can really make a big difference in your energy level and attitude.”
Instead of hitting the vending machine for lunch, have meals that involve yogurt, asparagus, honey, cherry tomatoes. Eating foods that keep your blood sugar within a normal range will stop headaches and fatigue, as well as help you concentrate better.
- Get Organized
Chrystal Doucette suggests on Chron.com that having an organized workplace will help you be better prepared and work more efficiently. It can also improve your happiness since a “clean desk makes the work environment seem less hectic and stressful.” In short, you have enough stress with work, so avoid the additional stress that clutter and scrambling for lost items will cause.
- Don’t Multitask
Despite the myth, multitasking isn’t effective. Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University claims that multitasking “wastes more time than it saves.” He also states that it decreases concentration and creativity.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by the amount of work you’re trying to juggle through multitasking, focus on one task at a time. Many do well with a simple checklist to accomplish this.
- Accept People for Who They Are
You can’t change who people are. Instead of letting their personalities or actions affect you, take a step back. You could try techniques like counting to 10 before responding to them, avoiding finger-pointing, and maintaining a professional attitude. There are many fantastic books on this subject as well.
- Move Around
Whether it’s finding the time to take a walk outside, run up and down the stairs on your break, stretch, or do a 10-minute exercise, moving around throughout the workday has a number of beneficial effects–even if you already exercise and eat healthy.
As Lifehacker points out, sitting all day and working on a computer can lead to health concerns like weight gain, heart disease, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
In short, when you feel better, you’ll be in a better place mood-wise as well.
- Reward Yourself
Whether it’s by going out to dinner with your significant other, purchasing a new gadget, enjoying a piece of candy, or giving yourself a pat on the back, (the politician applause), find the time to reward yourself after you’ve completed a project or had a fruitful day.
You can even take that a step further and prime yourself to be happy. Research has found that doctors who prepared themselves to be happy were able to reach a diagnosis twice as fast as their colleagues.
- Reflect on the Day
Why are you working so hard? You can answer that question by reflecting on the day and recalling something that was positive. When you record these moments in your notebook, smartphone, tablet, etc., you’ll have a reminder of why your work matters to you. You can refer to these statements of positive reflection whenever you need a boost.
- 16. Control Your Personal Space
You wouldn’t buy a car without a heater and A/C, so don’t try to work without the basics either. Get a small fan and personal space heater to improve and control your own personal space and make it comfortable.
Prepare Your Desk
Your space is either in disarray (unhappy) or organized (happy). It’s on you to take 2-3 minutes each day and bring back the happy. Stack up those loose papers, file the filing and organize your stuff. It’s these little things that you can fix so easily that detract from your happiness.
Fix Your Chair
Getting the right chair really matters. It does not have to be an expensive one, but it needs to have enough support and adjustability to fit your body. Old chair padding wears out and your human resource management needs to know about it if your chair is not comfortable.
Ditch the Fluorescents
Fluorescent lighting flickers at an unhealthy frequency which is proven to cause anxiety and exacerbate other disorders. It’s the worst lighting of all. LED lights are getting inexpensive enough, they save money and there’s no reason to wait–make the switch.