Happiness at Work: You’ve Got to be Joking! (or not?)

Four smiling employees standing around their manager

I ran a workshop recently on Pricing for Fees and Charges, for a group of managers. An icebreaking exercise I do is for participants to introduce themselves, indicate their workshop objective, and share one interesting thing about themselves. One manager shared that she really loves her work. The others seemed incredulous that someone would actually love their work. I then asked everyone how many loved their work, and no hands went up! I can honestly say that with all the challenges and stresses inherent in my job, I do love my work – I was surprised at that outcome.

Why does happiness at work appear to be elusive, and what factors create (un)happiness for workers? Some recent research has shown that people typically leave their organisations primarily because of poor relationships – in particular with their immediate manager, but also with their colleagues and with the organisational culture.  The old saying, “People leave their managers, not their company” has some real truth in it, and contains an important message for all those in leadership roles.  While remuneration is important, it is usually not the key reason for staff turnover.

Happiness at work has been linked  to the degree of autonomy and freedom (e.g. to progress, gain knowledge and have some control over working hours and conditions).  The existence of mobiles, email and internet can be both a blessing and a curse. It is hard to imagine life without them. Yet they can add to stress levels, because they blur the line between work and non-work hours and can dramatically impact on work-life balance.

So much for external work factors, and their influence on our happiness. What about internal factors – our attitudes, willingness to take responsibility for our situations, and recognising that we have choices? According to Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work, the biggest obstacle to happiness is simply the belief that we are the prisoner of circumstances, powerless before the things that happen to us. We create our own experience, he adds.

The Mayo Clinic states that only 10 % of variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. Most of what determines happiness is our personality and our thoughts and behaviours. It also states that how to be happy is the sum of our life choices. People who are happy seem to intuitively know this, and their lives are built on five key areas:

  • Devoting time to family and friends
  • Appreciating what they have
  • Maintaining an optimistic outlook
  • Feeling a sense of purpose
  • Living in the moment

The above findings are echoed by the Dalai Lama’s comments: “Happiness is determined more by the state of one’s mind than by one’s external conditions. Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook. The key to happiness is in our own hands!”

How do you rate on the happiness scale?  If low, do you see this as being caused more by external events or your own attitude?  What do you need to do to become happier at work?

Narayan van de Graaff

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