Barbara Markway Ph.D.

Living the Questions

Help, I Hate My Job!

25 ways to grow your happiness at work.

Posted Dec 14, 2015

Source: Canstockphoto/csp19912502

If you hate your job, you’re not alone. Research shows that up to 70% of people dislike their jobs. But there’s hope. Even if you don’t work at your dream job, a few tweaks can help you grow happier, regardless of the situation. Read through this list and try to incorporate some of these ideas into your day.  

1. Find your tribe. A human resource specialist once told me you need at least one good friend at work. We all need someone we can chat with, complain to, and generally count on for moral support. Keep in mind, these don't have to be your best friends. Don’t overlook someone who might be a great work friend just because you might not be friends outside of work.

2. Remember to breathe. You can do anything better if your body and mind are relaxed. It's easy to get tense while sitting at a desk. Even a few deep breaths can help calm the body’s stress response.

3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment with awareness, and without judgment. Consider downloading a 3-minute mindfulness meditation to your phone to use a couple times during the day. My favorite book on this topic is Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace.

4. Realize things pass. One of the main concepts in Buddhist psychology is The Law of Impermanence. Simply stated, everything changes. We all know this intellectually but experiencing it on a gut level can really help you get through the day. For example, if you're feeling bored in the morning, you may feel curious and full of energy in the afternoon.  

5. You're stronger than you think you are. Have you ever found yourself saying, "I can't take this any longer" or “I can’t stand this.” These types of self-statements are actually untrue. The fact is, you’ve had a 100 percent success rate at making it through each day.

6. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking for effectiveness is a myth. Unfortunately, many employers think people who can multi-task are the most effective and valuable employees. When you’re reading e-mail, read e-mail. When you’re talking to a coworker, focus on the conversation.

7. Take frequent breaks. Our brain tires from repeated stress, just like our muscles do. Recent research shows that an ideal work break ratio is working 52 minutes followed by a 17 minute break. This may not be feasible for everyone, but see if you can use this formula to better pace your day.

8. Take your full lunch break. Don't try to prove your dedication by working through lunch. Your brain needs to recuperate.

9. Rethink how you spend your breaks. Too many people surf the Internet or check Facebook during their breaks. Instead, go outside if you can. Move your body.

10. Label feelings. Putting a short label on your emotions helps you to refocus. What does this do? It puts the brakes on the emotional system. For example, if you feel irritated, say "Oh, this is irritation." Also, don’t judge yourself for feeling irritated. We all experience irritation, boredom and a myriad of other feelings during the work day.

11. Avoid judging other people. You never know what someone else is going through. Read this and this.

12. Perform random acts of kindness. Nothing boosts your mood like doing something nice for someone else. Put a card on someone’s desk or write a short e-mail expressing appreciation.

13. Focus on others. When you feel like you're about to bang your head on the table, remember there is probably someone else who feels the same way. Go find someone and say, "Hey, is there anything I can do to help you today?"

14. Keep a humor file. Have a few things in your desk that you can pull out that you're sure will make you laugh. Looking at something funny reduces your stress response improves your mood. 

15. Smile. Fake it if you have to. Research shows that holding a pencil in your mouth to force a smile sends your brain the message that you're happy. Of course, you’ll feel silly putting a pencil in your mouth to force a smile, but give it a try anyway.

16. Practice gratitude. Favorite TED talker and business consultant, Shaun Achor, says gratitude is key.  In every business setting he's worked in, people who write down three things they're grateful for—on a daily basis for 21 days—increase their happiness and their productivity.

17. Get up and move. Go to the water fountain. Go to the bathroom. Walk around the building. Do yoga at your desk.

18. Take the next imperfect action. Perfectionism leads to a lot of workplace unhappiness. Don't get hung up on waiting until you're perfectly prepared or you know everything before you move forward on a project. Entrepreneur Jadah Sellner advises: Ask yourself, what is the next step I can take to move this task along.

19. Incorporate rituals into your day. Whether it's making the perfect cup of tea or coffee or a brief moment of mindfulness, rituals can positively impact the flow of your day. One of my favorite rituals is as simple as cutting up an apple to share with a coworker.

20. Connect with your values. Know what's important to you. Although I now have an analytical desk job, I still look for ways to connect with people (one of my values) and bring them together.

21. Use your strengths. Even if some of your core strengths don't fit into your job description, find ways to utilize them. For example, one person I worked with offered to do extra training programs, as she was really good at teaching. Although this was extra work for her in the short run, it increased her satisfaction.

22. Cope effectively with stress. Stress comes with any job, and not all stress is bad. Some stress can energize you. But know your limits and have some self-care strategies in place to manage excess tension.

23. Recognize your own accomplishments. Don’t wait for someone else to validate your hard work. Make sure to appreciate your contributions. For a while, I kept a little notebook at my desk to jot down every time I felt like I was making a difference at my job.

24. Look for new opportunities. Talk with your supervisor to see if there are other things you can do in your current environment that will make your job better. If this doesn’t work and you really don’t like your job, of course, be on the lookout or actively seek a position that will better suit you. 

25. Remember, it’s all okay. While it’s good to practice tips 1 through 24, it’s also perfectly normal if you don’t like your job. There’s a cultural push to have a job/career you love, but it doesn’t happen that way for everyone.  Be kind and gentle with yourself and do what you can to learn from the situation. In Sharon Salzberg’s book, Real Happiness at Work, she quotes teacher and former executive Michael Carroll, “Maybe problems arise at work not as interruptions or intrusions, but as invitation to gain real wisdom.”

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