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How you can be happy at work

By Veenu Sandhu
Last updated on: February 03, 2015 18:56 IST
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Our job consumes a huge amount of our time. That is why it is important to teach ourselves to be happy at the workplace

How to be happy at work

It is not often that we hear people say they love their job or that they are happy when they are at work.

This should be a matter of concern, given that on an average an individual spends 100,000 hours at work in a lifetime.

That makes working the second biggest human activity after sleeping.

For India, where the proportion of working-age population is likely to increase to more than 64 per cent by 2021, people's happiness at work is an area that simply cannot be ignored.

It's no secret that our state of mind at work affects practically every other aspect of our life -- such as our family and social relationships as well as our mental and physical health. That is why it is important to focus a little bit more on workplace happiness.

There is a reason why some people appear to be happy and motivated in the same work environment, while others don't.

These are people who have chosen to be happy.

"There can be many things that make you unhappy," says Sameer Malhotra, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, Delhi.

"It could be a sadistic or punitive boss or people around you who use offensive language. But it's important to remember that if you introduce something in the atmosphere, you will also be the recipient of that. Introduce positivity and you will receive positivity."

There's another problem. We sometimes compartmentalise happiness.

We look at work as an unavoidable part of our life that we have to somehow brave out, while reserving happiness for the time we are at home or for the weekend or for post-retirement life.

"By doing so we are really missing out on life," says Nic Marks, one of the founding directors of Happiness Works, who has created the 'Happy Planet Index', the first global measure of sustainable well-being.

The reality is that happier people actually end up being more successful.

"They have better social networks, more friends, and are curious and engaged," says Marks. As a result, they have more opportunities.

He lists five common reasons why people feel unhappy at work.

Relationships at work

One instance of this is a boss with whom you don't get along.

"It is rightly said that people don't change their job; they change their boss," says Sharmeen Khalid, executive vice-president, HR, Info Edge, a Noida-based e-commerce and online classifieds company that owns job portal Naukri.com.

"Nowadays, when people are looking for a job, many of them also want to know about the culture of the place -- is it informal and transparent, and do people communicate enough?"

Not being treated fairly

That is, if you feel there is a bias against you or others are being favoured over you.

"Here the role of the seniors is critical," says Atul Sobti, editor of weekly newspaper Friday Gurgaon and former Ranbaxy CEO who has spent 34 years in the corporate world.

"Look two levels below you and try to find out why the person is demotivated, looks unhappy or hasn't been promoted or given a raise. Meet him, talk to him or call for his file. Doing this will also send out a message to the others that their happiness matters."

Feeling over-controlled or micromanaged: If you are not being given an opportunity to do things you are good at or are given things you are not great at. Or else, if there is too much interference in your work.

In such a scenario having an honest talk with the superior who is micromanaging your work might help.

Not learning enough or lack of potential to grow: In this case, first look for an alternative position within the organisation. An honest, open communication with your superiors also helps.

Lack of meaning or purpose

Some people's roles are so undefined and huge that they seldom feel they have done anything worthwhile.

Marks cites the example of an advertising executive who walked out of a high-paying job because she felt that her work had no impact or purpose.

"That's a very strong and difficult choice," says Marks, whose London-based company builds tools that offer organisations insights into people's happiness to help increase productivity. Hairdressers, says Marks, are among the happiest people for precisely this reason. "They get instant feedback from people. So they know their job has made a difference."

Happy people are absent from work less.

They are also more productive and creative and are able to focus on more things.

A happy employee, says Marks, is 10 to 40 per cent more productive than an unhappy and less engaged worker.

Companies are beginning to realise that miserable people do miserable work.

"Happy employees make up a happy organisation which, in turn, has a rub-off effect on all stakeholders, including the customers -- in our case, policyholders and their dependants," says Shailesh Singh, director and chief people officer, Max Life Insurance.

To drive this agenda of 'happy employees', the company as created a 'people's council' comprising business and HR leaders.

Khalid says human resource departments are always on the lookout for people who spread their vibrancy. And that's a full circle -- that happy people are more successful.

How to choose to be happy

  • Focus on the best you can do with what you've been given. "What is on the top (your boss), you cannot control," says Sobti. "Make the best of what is by your side (peers) and below you (subordinates)." Be professional about the job you've been assigned and do it well.
  • Make wise financial choices: Most measurements of happiness show a slight U-shape, or dip, in happiness levels in the age group of 35 to 40 to 50, says Marks. "In the midlife, there is a lot of pressure -- of young children, parents and debt. You feel squeezed from both the top and the bottom." Making it worse is the feeling of being left behind in life as compared to your more successful peers. The solution lies partly in making adjustments to improve the situation and partly in making sensible financial choices so that you don't have to compromise on too many things to pay your debts back.
  • Seek feedback and communicate. Knowing how you are doing will either make you feel good about yourself or help you set a goal to improve.
  • Ask yourself where you want to focus your energies: on what's going well about work or on what's wrong with it?
  • Strike a work-life balance. A lot of people are giving too much time and energy to work at the cost of other things in life, like spending quality time with family and friends or pursuing their interests. If you routinely do this, you are bound to start resenting your work. Learn to manage your time. Do not stretch a task so that it eats into things you want to or enjoy doing.
  • Do not participate in gossip and stay clear of negative people. Practise positivity. It's powerful.
  • Smile. It helps uplift yours and others mood. "Small things, as small as a smile from the manager, can go a long way in making an employee happy," says P V Venkatesan, chief human resources officer, ManpowerGroup India, an HR consultancy.
  • Be positive, resilient and disciplined, adds Venkatesan. Strive to improve performance and take ownership of the job.

Photo: Glen Wright/Creative Commons

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Veenu Sandhu
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