The average American spends about 1,700 hours a year at work. If we count commuting, taking work home, and all those unaccounted hours spent checking email off-hours (even on vacations!), we probably work a lot more than that. Dissatisfaction at work can take a toll on your entire sense of well-being, no matter how diligently you nurture yourself. Unfortunately (but perhaps unsurprisingly) over 2/3 of Americans report feeling dissatisfied at work–though most of them choose not to look for another job.
We cope with work stress in different ways, but cute YouTube videos, calling your bestie to vent, and hitting the local bar after work are temporary solutions akin to putting on a band-aid. They provide temporary relief, but don’t suggest any permanent solution to your dissatisfaction. Here are some strategic, lasting ways to be happier at work.
1. Cultivate relationships: Studies show that close friendships at work can boost employee satisfaction by 50%. If official events like company charity runs get you more jazzed up about being a part of the organization, that’s great! If not, organize informal social get-togethers to bond with your colleagues, like happy hours and summer breakfasts. Little social breaks (or mini-vent sessions) throughout the day will brighten your mood–and genuine friendships will serve you well, even after you move on.
2. “Bookend” your days with personal time: Doing something for yourself is crucial to keep yourself excited at work, not burned out and miserable. What’s more, maintaining your physical and emotional stamina will ultimately make you more productive. Make it a rule to begin and end your days with a few hours of “me” time, when you are not distracted by any thoughts or worries about work. Start your day with a long run or an energizing morning yoga sequence, followed by a healthy breakfast (unaccompanied by work email).
At night, try not to think about work or to-dos last thing before bedtime. If you wish, make this instead a time for free-thinking and dreaming about long-term goals and strategies, since most of us don’t get a chance to think big picture during the day–but make it about “What do I want to do?” and less about “What do I have to do?”
3. Take on a side project or an extracurricular activity: Having an outside passion is important even when you love your job–and doubly crucial if you are unhappy at work. To really have an impact on your overall well-being, make this activity not just about blowing off steam, but also about adding some skill or experience to your professional brand. A new language will be an invaluable asset no matter what your industry; running and working out might just inspire you to earn a certificate in personal training. Even volunteering as a community organizer can boost your resume–just ask President Obama. Your passion project will make you happier even at your job, by reminding you that it isn’t the be-all and end-all.
4. Seek a mentor: A mentor is someone who can advise you on your career and, if appropriate, exert influence within and without your organization to lend you a helping hand. It can feel a bit overwhelming for introverts or networking newbies, but successful people often take great pleasure in mentoring talented young people, so you shouldn’t feel shy about seeking them out. Mentor-mentee relationship, like friendship, takes some chemistry, time, and effort–but well-worth your while. In corporate environments, it is difficult to advance your career without a mentor–but even in smaller offices, having someone with the benefit of experience rooting for you can make a huge difference. At the very least, it will make your work more satisfying, if not on a faster track.
5. Just say no: I once had a revelation while talking to an old friend. I was talking about frustrating work experiences, and he said he would have never accepted such toxic behavior from anyone–saying simply but firmly, “You may have treated other people like this, but you can’t treat me this way.” This was a revelation because I’d never even thought of refusal as an option. High-achieving women are especially prone to saying yes–accepting everything quietly, from requests to work during vacations, to unsavory, rude, or prejudiced remarks, to being passed over unfairly for promotions or a raise. We do this because saying yes has been our default mode for achievement since youth, because we’ve been told (probably more than men) to be kind, polite, and hard-working rather than assertive and justice-seeking. Ultimately, though, if you are truly talented, savvy, and hard-working, there is no real and lasting damage that can come from speaking your mind–and so much peace and emotional satisfaction to be gained.
How happy do you feel at work? and what is your favorite work-satisfaction tip? Do tell!
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Photo: sunshinecity via Flickr