“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ― Confucius
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ” ― William James
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ― Alan Watts
So, how do we find happiness at work? This is a very relevant topic, and question, for most people since I am sure we have all had a job or contract where we questioned the value of that working/contract relationship, or we are just plain unhappy in our current job. Often, particularly if the position or contract is financially lucrative, it is easy to justify maintaining the status-quo and “tough it out”, even when the environment becomes dissatisfying, stressful, unfulfilling or even toxic. But there is a heavy price to pay, both for you and your family, for putting aside your psychological or emotional well-being, or in some cases your integrity or principles, by remaining in a less-than-fulfilling, or dysfunctional work relationship, regardless of the financial benefits. This is an important topic I would like to try and cover more in-depth in the future, but let me see if I can offer up a few insights, starting with my own experiences with less-than-satisfying work environments.
From my own perspective, over the past 25 years or so I have had the privilege of holding many management/leadership positions or contracts in government, business and various academic/research environments. Recently I returned to graduate school and so in order to reduce my psychological load and ensure a consistent schedule to accommodate the demands of school, I have taken on low-level, almost entry-level positions with minimal responsibility. This has created a new situation for me where I no longer having the authority, or responsibility to directly effect positive changes in my own working environment – either for myself or co-workers. Therefore, having to (powerlessly) witness less-than-capable or even incompetent management which negatively effects business operations or worse, employee morale and motivation, is a unique personal challenge for me and has me reconsidering this question of happiness and satisfaction at work. In the past, I have been fortunate since I could pick and choose contracts or accept leadership roles where I felt I was able to demonstrate the greatest value and find the greatest satisfaction and happiness by participating in, or leading/managing effective, successful, healthy, constructive, collaborative and respectful team/project environments. Since I no longer have this level of authority or responsibility, helplessly witnessing ineffective or even destructive management practices, is a significant personal struggle. But I have decided to try and turn this situation around and transform it into a learning and growth opportunity by broadening my own academic interests and goals to now include transformational and mindful (transpersonal) leadership practices. Time will tell I suppose if I can be of any value in this area. I suppose the first point I am trying to make here is that we all have choices, and although we may not have control over all aspects of a work environment which is no longer providing satisfaction or happiness, we can still decide how to respond to those situations. Even if we decide not to leave, we may be able to find some way to transform a negative experience or environment into something positive. That being said, I firmly believe the greater responsibility for creating a satisfying and enjoyable work environment rests with the managers and leaders.
“Your employer needs people who have a desire for and want to do the job to its fullest, otherwise your work will become shoddy and the end result is like a domino effect within an organization.” (Kara Spain)
Although some of the responsibility for finding satisfaction and happiness at work certainly rests with each of us (our attitudes, motivations, how we respond etc), the greater responsibility, IMHO, rests with the business leaders and managers. Leaders/managers need to be able to put aside self-interest, they need to be able to look beyond personal goals, personal motivations and most certainly ego. They need to be transpersonal leaders (beyond the personal), they need to be mindful, transformational and inspirational. Leaders/managers need to be aware of the emotional, psychological, motivational, even moral and spiritual needs of their employees. And of course they need to be able to function in such a way that they not only provide their employer with consistent, evidence-based business leadership that propels the company towards meeting its fiscal and other goals, leaders/managers need to create an atmosphere and relationship with their staff which instils confidence, trust, inspiration and encourages and rewards input and innovation. Fortunately there is a growing trend in the business, leadership and psychology fields demonstrating the long-term business and personal value of these mindful (transpersonal) leadership practices and the benefits of integrating personal and spiritual development, with professional development. The Master’s program in Professional Development: Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology with ITA Professional (which is accredited by Middlesex University in the UK), is one example of the increasing trend towards recognizing that personal and professional development are fundamentally intertwined.
When you find yourself in the company of , or employed by, these inspirational and transpersonal leaders, most employees will find themselves in an environment which fosters creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, trust, respect and of course a sense of purpose and value by being able to make contributions to the company which are recognized, encouraged and valued. A great deal of job satisfaction and happiness comes from feeling like you can trust your boss and have faith in the company; feeling like your opinions and input are valued and recognized; feeling like your contributions are valued and encouraged; feeling like you are a participant in the success of the company and not just a drone taking orders; feeling like your boss and your employer are as much concerned about your happiness and well-being, as they are for their own fiscal success.
“The employer also, the management, the organization, all play a role in setting the tone of the workplace environment, and have an impact on the happiness of the employees, and of course if we are to discuss wider issues of ethics in business, the economy, and so on, that is another thing…” (HHDL – Art of Happiness at Work)
Although these are the sorts of environments and management/staff interactions which often lead to high levels of job satisfaction, in my experience these types of inspirational and transpersonal leaders are very rare. Far too often I have witnessed people elevated to management level positions not for their demonstrated skills at effective leadership, but simply because they were next in line (attrition), or had been with the company long enough that someone felt they had “earned” the right to be moved to a management level position. There is also a bigger question. Since we are talking about leadership (personality) attributes like egolessness, compassion and empathy, values, principles and integrity, can these traits actually be learned and developed sincerely and not simply presented inauthentically as just another trendy “learned management skill”? Some psychologists would likely say no – these are personality traits that one acquires over a lifetime of moral and emotional development and not everyone has the capacity to develop morally beyond a certain point – the Donald Sterling story may be one example. However, I would like to believe that at least some of these effective leadership skills based around personality traits like compassion, honesty, empathy, egolessness and morality can be learned to a degree by sincerely motivated managers. If your only motivation to develop these traits is so that you can earn more money, elevate your status in the company, or provide more opportunities for yourself, then your days will be numbered as a manager (or should be).
I also don’t think there are any simple or generalizable suggestions that can be made when trying to advise someone who may be in a less-than-satisfying, stressful or destructive work relationship which is not bringing you any happiness. Each of us develops our own set of internal values and so the choice, the weighing of the pros and cons of staying where you are, or accepting a bit of instability by leaving, always comes down to a personal choice. However, if you find yourself constantly frustrated, constantly angry, constantly rehashing work events or situations which never seem to improve, then you should at least begin to consider if the psychological, emotional or physical harm this stress is creating for you and your family, is an acceptable price to pay for remaining where you are.
Although I do opine that it is the managers and leaders responsibility to create a productive, enjoyable and happy work environment for their staff, there is still a role for one’s own attitude and responses to a stressful or unsatisfying job. There is no shortage of great books and articles on the topic of finding happiness and satisfaction at work, but one that I would recommend is the The Art of Happiness at Work by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler (psychiatrist) – it is a secular (non-religious) and very practical approach to the topic.
So, if you are not happy at work, if you have already tried hard to improve the situation, worked harder, or tried to engage your managers or co-workers in improving the environment but have not been able to succeed, then maybe its time to move on. Life is short, and studies have shown that three out of the top five regrets people express on their death-bed are:
- Not being true to one’s self
- Working too hard
- Not allowing yourself to be happy
Regardless of who you are, we all have the capacity, the free will, to make our own decisions. Sure some of those decisions come with consequences, but if you are miserable at work, and you have tried hard to improve the situation with no success, then maybe its time for a new adventure. The short-term financial instability and anxiety may be less of a price than you are paying for the stress and unhappiness your current job is bringing to your life and your family. We can all choose to be the hero’s of our own lives, our own happiness.
Life is an adventure, go find it, you might be surprised what, and who, you will find.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson)
The Art of Happiness at Work (recommended!)