Creating workplace happiness – Part 3
This is our final conversation on creating happiness at work. Remember, you must be intentional about your pursuit of happiness. Often, we wait for our employers, supervisors, or bosses to suggest professional development. If they do not do so, we remain in the same position and do not grow. To be happy at work, take control of your professional development. Set goals for yourself in terms of new skills to master, new roles to try on, or new positions to aspire to. Don’t be passive – be active! Seek out opportunities for new training or education, and enlist your supervisor or manager’s support.
Be willing to develop new skills, and look for opportunities to do so. Create a professional development plan for the next year or even five years for yourself, and actively seek ways to implement it.
Seeking frequent feedback is another way to take control of your career happiness. Being aware of what we are doing well and what we can improve helps us as we set professional goals. Draw on your support team to seek out feedback regularly. Rather than relying on yearly or quarterly reviews, or waiting for a supervisor or colleague to come to you with feedback, ask for feedback on the completion of projects, after presentations, or when collaborating with others. Make an agreement with members of your support team that you will regularly ask for their feedback, and that you will listen carefully to what they have to say. When you receive feedback, listen respectfully rather than preparing to respond. Then decide how best to act on feedback, both developmental and positive.
One of the greatest things you can do for your own professional development and workplace happiness is practice professional courage. Professional courage involves directly and productively addressing conflicts, advocating for yourself and others on your team, and otherwise dealing directly and proactively with potential problems. It can be difficult to practice professional courage, as it involves taking risks – it can seem easier to let a conflict go unaddressed or to accept the status quo.
However, allowing conflict to be unresolved or your needs to go unmet can breed resentment and undermine productivity and happiness. Professional courage helps to promote open communication in the workplace. It also assures that resentments and grudges do not fester. Learning to practice professional courage is a leadership skill, which can help prepare you for, and make you a candidate for, more responsibility or promotions. But even if it does not lead to job advancement, practicing professional courage marks you out as a leader and someone who wants to promote the healthiest workplace.
Mentoring is a key aspect of professional development. When taking charge of your own professional development, seek mentoring. You might choose one mentor or several, depending on your development needs and your goals. Spending time with a mentor and getting his or her feedback can amp up your professional growth. Actively seeking mentoring also demonstrates that you take your professional development seriously. Having a mentor to help guide your professional development also helps create a positive, beneficial relationship. Seeking out opportunities to mentor others is also a way to take charge of your professional development. Seeking out opportunities to mentor others is one way to build leadership skills and share your knowledge and development. Mentors and mentees can be valuable parts of a support team, as well as creating personal connections in the workplace.
A lack of boundaries can be a major contributor to unhappiness in the workplace. When we do not set boundaries, we may find that our time is not our own, our plan for our day gets derailed, or we spend too much time dealing with other people’s problems. We may also take on too much, which can lead to resentments and conflicts. Learning to set good boundaries around your work and your time is a key skill to fostering happiness in the workplace. Strong boundaries can also help alleviate conflicts and other problems, which can undermine everyone’s happiness.
It can be hard to say no, especially to people who we depend on in the workplace. We may feel guilty, or we may fear that the person will refuse us the next time we need help. However, learning to say no is one way of protecting your own work time and downtime. While we all sometimes will have to say yes to something that causes upheaval in our day, learning to say no when we really don’t want to or are not able to do something is a key skill. When we say yes when we really mean no, we may end up resentful of the task and the other person. This can lead to passive aggressive interactions or outright conflict, which undermines everyone’s well being. Trust that saying no will not convey that you are a bad person, not a team player, or otherwise a poor colleague. Learn to say no firmly but kindly, and be very clear about what you can and cannot do in any given situation.
We may be hesitant to say no, but we are sometimes equally hesitant to say yes. We may be afraid to say yes to things that are a stretch of our skill set or which pose a risk. Learning to say yes to things we really want to say yes to be as important as learning to say no! Be willing to change your plan to take advantage of a good opportunity. Based on the professional development plan you create, be willing to say yes to projects or experiences, which take you out of your safe zone and into your development areas. When we are willing to say yes – whether to a new project or to a little time off – we are also setting good boundaries for ourselves. Saying yes allows us to grow and experience new things, even if we may be a little fearful of the risk of trying something new or unexpected.
One of the most important boundaries we can set at work is around our downtime. Often we find ourselves working through lunch, answering emails on weekends, staying late to finish one last thing, or going without a break all day. When we do take a break, we might cut it short to help a coworker or address an issue that could have been handled by someone else. This can breed exhaustion, burnout, and resentment. Learn to protect your downtime. Start simply, if this is hard for you – make yourself take a full lunch, or close your door when you take a five minute break between projects. Let your team members and clients know that you do not check email on the weekend, or that you only check a set number of times. Be firm, clear, and polite about the fact that you are protecting your “you” time so that you can better serve your clients or colleagues’ needs.
In this age of smart phones and tablets, even if we leave the office at our regular time, work can follow us home. It’s important to know when to call it a day! Checking and responding to email late at night (or even just after dinner) extends your workday into your downtime. Set a boundary with yourself that you will not check email or voicemail after a certain time. If you can avoid taking work home with you, do so. And don’t stay late at the office unless it’s a true emergency. When work bleeds into all other aspects of our lives, we can quickly become burned out or overly stressed. While there will always be occasions where work has to intrude on non-work time, making a practice of ending your workday at a regular time can help you avoid overload and burnout.
Positivity is a like a muscle – you have to use it and build it. One way to help foster happiness at work is to practice positivity. There will be days this is easier than others! But with continuous practice you will find yourself in a positive mindset more often than not. When we practice positivity, people respond to us positively – it creates a feedback loop. Taking the time to learn some basic skills for practicing positivity is a worthwhile investment in your own happiness.
By surrounding yourself with positive people and limiting your negative interactions, you are already taking a major step towards practicing positivity. Find ways to keep your interactions positive. Avoid office gossip and rumors, as these feed on negativity. Avoid complaining or participating in “whine fests” as well, as these interactions focus solely on the negative. When you do need to voice your dissatisfaction with something, try to find a positive note. If you are interacting with someone who is negative, suggest a more positive spin on the situation, or simply end the interaction politely. You don’t have to become Pollyanna – simply cultivate a tendency to look on the bright side or find the positive in the situation.
Gratitude is one way to find the positive in every day. Taking the time to practice gratitude helps focus you on your blessings and the positive aspects of your day and your life. A gratitude journal is one tool used by many people as they learn to practice positivity. Take the time each day to list three, five, or ten things you are grateful for. These can be major or minor, large or small. You can share your gratitude journal with others, via a blog or social media, or you can keep it private. Some people like to have a list of things they are thankful for handy, so they can review it on a day when gratitude is harder to come by. The continuous practice of gratitude helps keep you in a positive mindset even when life is challenging.
Nothing can poison the atmosphere in a workplace like unaddressed conflict! But conflict and misunderstandings are a natural part of working with other humans. Even with the best intentions, conflicts and misunderstandings can arise. One way to practice positivity is to address these things directly and positively when they occur. Approach the person or people with whom the conflict or misunderstanding has occurred. Express that you want to find the best solution and clear the air. This may mean apologizing or seeking to make amends. Rather than seeking to place blame, keep the focus on finding a way to resolve the situation and restore the relationship. Directly and positively addressing conflict and misunderstandings prevents them from festering into resentment and grudges.
When we practice positivity, we attempt to find the silver lining in any situation. It can be difficult, but finding the learning opportunity or other positive aspect of even the worst situation can keep us from sliding into negativity. One way to do this is to give people the benefit of the doubt. In a conflict or misunderstanding, assume that the other person has everyone’s best interests at heart. Do not assume that he or she meant to be hurtful or cause problems. This small shift can help us keep the focus on the positive; as well as give us the courage to address problems or conflicts as they arise. When we look for the silver lining, it helps us refocus on the good in a situation rather than fixating on the negative. This is a technique that can be useful when interacting with a negative person and attempting to turn the interaction into a more positive one.
Ultimately, the most important thing we can do to promote happiness at work is to choose to be happy! We will all face difficult days and situations, but we choose how we react to them. We can choose to be miserable or choose to be happy. By practicing positivity and otherwise choosing happiness, we go a long way toward fostering happiness and contentment in our work lives – and our whole lives.
Happiness is a choice. We choose every day whether we will be happy or not. We may have unhappy, angry, or difficult moments, but overall we choose whether we will focus on the positive and stay happy. When we choose to be happy, we focus on the good in our lives, including our work lives. Make a conscious choice that you will be happy in your workplace, and act on it. Decide what you would need to do to be happy – even if that means seeking other work – and do it. Know that from moment to moment you can choose to be happy or choose to be miserable!
One of the things that undermine happiness is stress. We cannot choose whether we will have stress in our lives, though we can limit it. However, we can choose our stress response. We can choose responses like anger or panic, which will make us negative and unhappy. Or we can choose positive responses, such as focusing on solutions, taking a time out, or even sleeping on a stressful decision. Explore different stress responses and choose some that help you stay focused. Not giving in to a negative stress response will help you stay happier and healthier. Learning to navigate stress in a positive way will lead to greater workplace happiness as well. Stressful situations will always arise, but when we choose a positive response, we can emerge from those situations with our happiness intact.
Taking time each day to do one thing you love and enjoy goes a long way toward fostering happiness. Whether you do yoga in the morning, drink a cup of your favorite tea, visit a funny website, or engage in a rewarding hobby, finding something you love and making time to do it is key to your well-being. It is not even necessary to do the thing you love in the context of work – just knowing it will be part of your day fosters happiness. When we don’t take time to do things we love, our lives become a series of obligations. Taking time to engage in something you love and enjoy activates parts of your brain associated with joy and pleasure, and this fosters an overall sense of mental and emotional well-being.
Happiness is a process. Even when we decide to choose happiness, it won’t happen overnight. Seek to continuously make positive changes in your life, and you will find your happiness growing. Whether it’s implementing the suggestions from this course such as a nightly routine or doing something you love each day, or you seek to make wider changes such as eating more healthfully or limiting your interactions with negative people, every step you take towards a more positive life leads to greater happiness. Adopt a continuous improvement mindset and constantly look for ways in which you can make positive changes. Also reward yourself for making changes! Happiness is a journey.
*Akindotun Merino is a professor psychology at the Argosy University, California, United States.
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