Job Happiness

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Even when coming in for couples counseling, I always want to know about my clients’ work lives — what job they do, how they “occupy” themselves, how happy with their work or connected to their purpose do they feel. I believe passionately that how fulfilled we our in our work, especially the extent we feel in line with our values and calling, is paramount not only to our emotional and spiritual well being, but most definitely to the quality of our relationships. I would even go so far to say that if we don’t feel fulfilled with how we professionally “occupy” ourselves, then we haven’t really tried everything to make the most of (or save) our marriages.  Job happiness is undoubtedly worth exploring.

Robert Half, a human resource firm in the UK, recently conducted a study of 2000 employees and found that 1 in 6 professionals age 35 and older reported being unhappy at work, double the number of those under 35.  What is that about?  Results showed that 34% of the unhappy older employees attributed their unhappiness to the stress of balancing family and work life and 25% complained about not feeling appreciated by their employer.

Job and personal happiness are an individual’s responsibility, and what fulfills each of us naturally varies. I have seen in my counseling office good and responsible people fall to severe depression because they were unhappy at work and not sure why. Unpacking the discontent can become a vital learning process for understanding yourself and your calling, to clarify your values and what matters most, and oftentimes, for inspiring needed changes — whether that mean leaving where you are or initiating other kinds of changes.

While we are all unique, some *researchers have done a beautiful job of summarizing what most of us need to feel happy at work. Take a look at the following 8 factors and explore where you stand, with your own work and in the environment you are responsible for creating:

  1. A good fit between the person and the job/company vibe
  2. A sense of empowerment, having a voice and input
  3. Feeling appreciated and sincerely valued for specific effort made
  4. Meaningful work with a clear sense of progress made and how your contribution makes a difference to the whole organization. A sense of soul in the organization, meaningful opportunities to care about the community through giving and philanthropy.
  5. Challenging work with room for growth and space to get “in the zone,” that is, engage in uninterrupted in-depth work or projects. A sense of progress and meaning is particularly important to millennials.
  6. Fairness regarding compensation and support for work-life balance
  7. Autonomy including control over your work and flexibility with your time and place.
  8. Belonging and Good Relationships with your coworkers and your boss.  Gallup’s research found that those with a best friend at work were more engaged and productive. We need a sense of belonging like we need food and sleep.

If you’re an employer or a leader …
Reflect on these factors above and ask yourself, “What can I do to help create an environment where my team (and I) could be happier?”  Do some research on how other companies are empowering their teams and showing their gratitude, how they are inspiring people to feel empowered and challenged, appreciated and belonging.  Perhaps you can hold a “town hall meeting” to gain ideas from your associates?

One CEO I know takes the time to write personal notes with specific efforts that are most appreciated, and goes all out for each birthday or baby shower, death in the family or personal hardship.  I heard of a fabulous idea from Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., a psychiatrist and professional hospital consultant. She gathered a hospice team into a circle, ranging from the administrators to the cleaning crew to the front line doulas for the dying. They were to each bring in an object that represents what their job means to them.  In the sharing around the circle, the heartfelt and vulnerable sharing not only touched everyone in the room but helped each one see that they are part of the same mission.  This might be too intense for many organizations, but a modified version could go a long way in helping create unity, meaning and belonging.

If you yourself are not happy with your job or where you are in your career, here are a few suggestions to start the process of finding greater joy and fulfillment:

  1. Remember that you are responsible for your own happiness and that you possess everything you need to make that happen in your life. And just as important to remember is well said from the quote on each email I send, “Every person has a unique Light that they MUST reveal that no one else can.” Michael Berg
  2. Explore within why you're not happy. Ask yourself questions like: What's missing, what would I like to be doing more of, is discontent a theme in other areas of my life, do I know my passion, what excites and challenges me, and am I able to express this in my current job, am I growing, am I in the right environment for me? Allow time for soul searching about what you feel your purpose is and take actions to test that out. Journal, recall any quiet whispers from your childhood or earlier days.
  3. Express proactively to your employer what you are struggling with and see if you can create solutions together to empower you. Come from a proactive place ready to offer solutions.
  4. Don't be afraid to look elsewhere - either within the organization or another profession or place of employment all together. Choosing our environment carefully is one of our greatest and most influential powers.  Sometimes just the process of taking action can shift things and make us feel less stuck or unhappy.
  5. Focus on what you can add not what you can take. Fulfillment comes from the adding of value and from being a force of creativity and contribution in our life. Be a force of kindness to those around you, see how you can grow stronger unity with those around you.
  6. If you feel stuck and alone, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. A counselor, coach or spiritual teacher can provide a great resource for helping you feel supported in taking steps you need to take for your own greater happiness and can help you see blind spots.

*Research reports on Job Happiness:
Fortune magazine article and
Robert Half Happiness Matters Report