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Are you happy at work?

Categories: Career Talk

8 comments

Yesterday was Labor Day, which I think is funny because it’s a day most of us spend not doing any work (hopefully!) But I did read something about work in the New York Times that I wanted to share. In this article, the authors highlight a study which “shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.”

Yikes.

I don’t think you have to love your job all the time — and sometimes loving what you for work comes with consequences. But if you spend so much of your life working I do think you should get more out of it than just money and benefits. Plus, if you’re unhappy at work, it seeps into other parts of your life, a lesson I’ve learned first-hand, several times over.

So are you happy at work? If yes, then you’re probably feeling like your work is meaningful and you’re making progress, which, according to the authors of the article I mentioned, is the single largest contributor to work satisfaction. I manage a team at work and as I was reading the article I immediately started to run through my team members, thinking about whether I do a good job keeping them engaged and how they’d answer the question of whether they are happy at work. But that’s for another post.

But what if you’re not happy at work? If you have a terrible boss, or difficult colleagues, or work you don’t care much about? Do you just suck it up and focus on the positives — you know, the not-so-small things like salary and benefits — or do you try to change how things are?

I’m an optimizer by nature so if I’m unhappy I try to change things. This is probably why my resume is a page longer than it should be but it’s also why I do fee like I know what to look for in a job. And I don’t think job hopping is the only — or best — way to find happiness at work. For me, I find that not letting the daily stress overshadow the positives makes a big difference. Sometimes the positives have to do with the work itself but sometimes I think you have to appreciate things that are easy to take for granted: Being able to interact with nice/interesting/fun colleagues, learning new/interesting/challenging things or skills, or hey, putting on non-pajama clothes, grabbing your favorite latte and having 30 minutes just to yourself during your commute. The small things do count.

Are you happy at work? What is it about your work that you think makes you happy or unhappy?



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8 comments so far...

  • I’m not happy at my day job (I LOVE freelance), but I’ve been keeping my eyes open for other day job opportunities. :)

    Angella  |  September 6th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  • I have an odd situation. Mostly my “work environment” is the table next to my bed. Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m stressed out. I do recognize that most of my stress is caused by my own lack of discipline.

    As for the overall results of the study - maybe it’s because people don’t feel like they can easily switch jobs, like they could in good times, and also, this could be the result of long-term stress over possible job loss. It’s hard to fully enjoy even the good times if you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I’m not sure there is anything employers can do about this problem, as long as the economy is this way.

    I think that if this continues, it could have a good side effect. It could force people to change their mindset about how important money is, and maybe increase the relative importance of inexpensive things such as time with family, kind gestures, deep thinking, and self-improvement.

    After all, the pursuit of happiness is instinctive. Maybe we can suppress it for a while, but it doesn’t go away, any more than hunger does. If we aren’t finding happiness in what we do most of the day, we’re going to change what we do.

    SKL  |  September 7th, 2011 at 9:45 am

  • I LOVE my job!! I’ve been at it for just over 2 years now, and left my job of 15 years to come to this job. I wasn’t really unhappy at my previous job - I just felt under-utilized and bored - I wasn’t challenged anymore. So - I began looking elsewhere, and ended up doing something I love even more!

    Both at my old job and my current job I see people who absolutely hate their job and are very unhappy - and the parallel I see between these very different people - is that they are afraid to speak up for themselves for fear of “rocking the boat” so they stew over things - and even imagine sleights that aren’t there (My former colleague, who is very unhappy, and whom I supervised at one point - was extremely grumpy after an out-of-town trip that her, I and a junior person had taken - after a week of her moodiness, I finally confronted her to find out what the problem was - her response? “You were laughing at me” - I was like “What? When?” Apparently while on the out-of-town road trip, on the way back, she sat in the back seat and couldn’t hear the conversation from the front seat very well - and “imagined” that we were laughing at her in the front seat - WTH???!!!) By being afraid or unable to stick up for themselves, I’ve noticed they vent to those around them in the hopes that it gets back to the boss… and, depending upon the boss, some will take the “high road” and act on it, while others will state “not going to do anything about it until they come talk to me themselves” - when I was no longer this person’s supervisor, I used to get calls from our boss, saying “What’s up with so-and-so?” and I used to say “you need to talk to her and find out” and he refused - unless she came to him - had lots of arguments over that!!

    My hubby actually falls into the “don’t want to rock the boat” camp - and is VERY unhappy with his job - he loves what he does and the people he works with - but management is dragging him down - and I’m not stating that saying anything always changes things - (and I doubt it would at his work, as we suspect the “big cheese” can be classified as a psychopath… read this month’s Reader’s Digest article!! Yikes!) - but at least you’ve had your say!

    So - I’m a big advocate of you make your own happiness… I can’t choose how someone manages or treats me - but I CAN choose how to react and choose to either let it get to me, or let it slide.

    It’s taken me many years to have this approach - and most of the time it works for me - I try really hard not to take it personally - and if I’m really upset about something, I go to my boss and make my opinion known - and I’m good to go!!

    Darlene  |  September 7th, 2011 at 11:53 am

  • I’m glad to have found this blog. Feeling pessimistic today (generally an optimist). I’m back to being the family breadwinner (by a mile) after 5 years of part time freelance work while the kids were little. And, sadly, I am finding I hate it. I miss the flexibility, I miss the kids terribly, and I resent having absolutely zero time for myself. I’ve already switched jobs once in 2 years, and while my new employer is far better in some respects, I just find myself wholly uncommitted to the organization. I’m upper-middle on the totem pole, with no desire - ever - to be a VP. I just want to do good work and make it home to my kids… no crazy hours, no flinging myself enthusiastically at whatever goal the CEO sets up. I wish we could downsize or find better balance. I worked hard to get to a place in my career where I pull a good salary and can (pretty easily) have my pick of jobs… why am I so totally miserable?? At least I’m not alone in juggling work & home. And nice to have found your blog. I’ll try not to be so cranky in future comments.

    sls  |  September 7th, 2011 at 7:50 pm

  • I’m not happy at all. I’m on my 4th “real” job in 10 years since college. By real I mean with a regular paycheck, benefits, and schedule. I’ve had countless other freelance, contract and temp jobs over the years, so I guess you could call me a job hopper.

    I’m stuck somewhere between the work philosophies of my parents’ generation and my generation. My parent’s attitudes on work were that it might suck, but you stay put and do your best every day until you retire. It was their responsibility to go to their job every single day to provide for their family. Their personal fulfillment was always second to this.

    My generation on the other hand is quite different. We have been told that we will not make anyone happy unless we are happy ourselves. We must put ourselves first, and if we don’t like our situation, we must take action and change it. We should not be content with the status quo. We are not really living if our jobs are not so meaningful we would do them for free.

    Having kids has only complicated the matter further for me. A successful career was never a question for me. I just always knew I would go to college and have an enviable career, but now all I can think about is how badly I want to be home with my little boy.

    Right now I am trying to stick it out because we need my income just to pay the bills. However, in the last 9 months I’ve been working here full-time, I’ve had about 5 mental breakdowns. The last one was about a week ago, and I gave my husband an ultimatum- that he had to find a new, BETTER job in the next year because I want to have another baby and stay at home.

    I think I would be happier if I felt like I had a choice, but I don’t. I have no control over my situation right now.

    MJ  |  September 8th, 2011 at 11:27 am

  • Oh, I also wanted to add that a lot of people I know, myself included, are miserable at their jobs because they’ve been forced in this economy to take any job they can get, even if it falls way below their paygrade, skill level or education level.

    There’s nothing more frustrating than working your tail off and getting into loan debt to get education, training and experience only to find yourself at an entry-level, meager hourly wage job you could do in your sleep. UGH!

    MJ  |  September 8th, 2011 at 11:34 am

  • I really do love what I do…and I feel like what I do is appreciated. that’s because I make it a point to really interact with management and invest in my relationships with them. This paid off recently as I was promoted to a new position. I work for a very large company with 220,000 employees, and I am the first person to be placed in this role. I am also learning by fire, because my manager is on a leave of absence due to her spouse’s illness. I’m excited about what I am learning and I know that in about 3-5 years I want to be at the next level and that is where I would want to remain.

    To SLS, I think that is where you are running into to conflict within yourself. You are upper-middle management and some part of you is feeling that if you are in that position you should be doing more than taking up space, that you SHOULD want to be a VP. That is not really true. All you SHOULD do is be the best you can in the role you are in. Not with the intention to move up, but just the intention to be happy an committed to the here and now.

    I think I am happy at my spot and will be satisfied at the next level, at least until my children are much older. I know that beyond the next level, my work will require more of me than I can commit. To me, my girls are number one…I strive to do well where I am so I can earn well to support them and I can keep myself at top of mind with the uppers. I cannot put in all that would be needed beyond that next level for several years to come. When I thought about my career path, I faced that fact. I DON’T feel that every job outside the home can allow balance for everyone, but where I am right now can. I’m ok with that!

    I think if you evaluate where you are in your career, with your family as a priority you will be able to to figure what works for you. Where you are may NOT be right for you RIGHT now!

    MomofTwoPreciousGirls  |  September 11th, 2011 at 8:16 pm

  • Thanks MomofTwo… you’re insightful and I appreciate your thoughts. I think you’re right, there’s a certain amount of guilt about not currently being in the “striver” category. (I’m used to working very hard and putting my job above all else. Now that I have two young kids, I refuse to do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty!!) Good for you for not only creating positive relationships on your way up, but for being smart enough to recognize that a career can (and should) grow at a pace that makes sense for you. I think my discontent stems from the fact that I hit this level before kids…. and now am in league with a bunch of high-performers when I feel more like a mid-performer. Oh well. I’m lucky to enjoy what I do, and have warm and wonderful people in my dept. As my husband’s business continues to grow, there will be more opportunity to recast my role as sole breadwinner over the next couple years too.

    MJ, I sympathize entirely with your plight. The feeling of “no control” over the job situation (we should all just be grateful to be employed) adds to the frustration. I cannot imagine trying to work your way *up* in this economy.

    SLS  |  September 12th, 2011 at 7:21 am

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