How to Boost Your On-the-Job Happiness

A recent study found that on-the-job happiness starts looking dire at age 35. One in six workers aged 35-54 said they were unhappy at work. Understandably, that set off a lot of alarm bells about employee happiness and satisfaction. Especially considering employees on the younger side of that demographic may have 30+ years of work left ahead of them.

Putting Happiness In Perspective

Don’t stress out trying to force yourself to be happy at work. There is evidence that obsessing too much over on-the-job happiness can actually decrease well-being, and the link between happiness and productivity is tenuous. But if you’re facing every workday in the middle of an existential crisis, it’s time to take action.

“There comes a time when either you haven’t achieved success, work has burned you out, or lived experience tells you family is more important,” Workplace researcher Cary Cooper of Manchester Business School told Bloomberg. “You ask yourself: ‘What am I doing this for?’”

Don’t make the mistake employers often do and spin yourself in circles trying to find creative ways to assess your happiness. The approaches range from straightforward surveys to gimmicky buckets of tennis balls. Instead, focus on your ability to think constructively about your work and workplace. Cut to the chase and consider this exercise.

You have a chance to provide candid, open-ended feedback, or to answer the question “if you could change anything here, what would you change?”

Would your answer be constructive and actionable, or sarcastic and negative?

Your answer tells you a lot about how happy you are on the job.

You Have Options

One thing is certain. Waiting around won’t help, because older workers have even less satisfaction on the job. Only about one-third of older workers are classified as “engaged” by their work, according to a Gallup poll reported by TheAtlantic.com.

Take steps. Asking for a raise might feel like a logical first step, but more money might not actually change your mind. More money may feel better in the short run, but studies show that legal professionals in lower-paying positions actually report more satisfaction and happiness. That may be because having a sense of purpose is a top contributor to on-the-job satisfaction.

So instead of merely asking for a raise, seek opportunities to be more self-directed. Being in control of your own destiny is crucial to on-the-job satisfaction, according to study author Lawrence S. Krieger, writing in The George Washington Law Review. “Research has shown that providing autonomy support to subordinates enhances their ability to perform maximally, fulfill their psychological needs, and experience well-being,” he said.

Asking to change teams, work on larger projects, or to shadow a colleague you rarely have contact with can also refresh your perspective and recharge your satisfaction. If not, know that you have options beyond your current position. Reach out to a recruiter to learn how a new role in a new environment might revitalize your workday.

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