Three Ways To Be Happier At Work
Illustration by Mr Paul Reid
In her new book, business advisor Ms Annie McKee explains how to find fulfilment at work.
It’s a sad fact that most of us who don’t happen to be characters from a Ms Nancy Mitford novel have to work for a living. But, according to bestselling author and business advisor Ms Annie McKee, it’s probably sadder that we think it’s sad. In her book How To Be Happy At Work, Ms McKee argues that it’s not only possible to create your own happiness through your professional life, it’s absolutely essential. In fact, she says, though compartmentalising work and life – and the satisfaction we derive from each – may be a common approach in the long term, it doesn’t work. “We are meaning-making creatures,” she writes, “no matter if we’re sitting in an office, giving tours of historical places, hiking Mount Kilimanjaro or eating dinner with our family. We don’t give up the essential human need to do something worthwhile when we start our workday. We want to know that we’re doing something that matters.”
Happiness, therefore, is something you should demand from your employer in the same way you demand a salary, says Ms McKee. But it’s also, she argues, a quality that the individual cultivates in themself by a sort of mental conditioning towards focusing on the positive rather than the negative. In her book, she outlines various ways in which this can be done: developing strong relationships with colleagues, identifying where your values overlap with your work and breaking through common myths, such as the idea that the harder you work, the more satisfied you will be. Throughout, she refers back to the idea of developing emotional intelligence, that is, being able to identify how and why you respond to different professional situations and, through increased awareness, defuse some of the more negative feelings. Below, as a taster, we outline three ways you can start to do this.
01. Define your values
What’s important to your company may not always be what’s important to you, says Ms McKee. Even when higher-ups have a very clear vision of where a business is going and what it’s doing, this may not trickle down to inspire employees on a personal level. Which is why it’s so important for every individual to have a clear idea of the values that matter to them, and where those values might coincide with the values of their employer. It’s only then that work can begin to coincide with your personal mission, which, of course, will make you happier. It’s the distinction, says Ms McKee, between a job and a calling. “It’s become increasingly clear to me that if we are to experience our work as a calling, we’ve got to understand which values matter to us and then act on these values to have positive impact,” she writes.
02. Help people out
An entire chapter of Ms McKee’s book is dedicated to the importance of friendship at work. And not just friendship, but “companionate love” – that is, a feeling of caring about and attachment to our colleagues. But this isn’t just about making sure people are nice to us and that we’re having a good time. It’s about deriving purpose, and therefore happiness, from what we do. One quick way to make yourself (and everyone) happier is to offer to help colleagues tackle their tasks or problems. “The very act of helping or supporting people can counteract the feeling that we’re toiling at a meaningless job,” writes Ms McKee. “Because we’re so rarely working alone, positively engaging with people may be the easiest way to express our values at work. Resonant relationships make us feel good and get more done because we are connected to and respectful of one another.”
03. Chase a vision, not goals
It’s a well-established tenet of the contemporary professional world that you measure success by establishing and ticking off a list of short-term goals. If you achieve them all, you get a promotion, or some similar reward. It might seem like a logical way to measure progress, but Ms McKee believes working towards such goals doesn’t necessarily promote happiness. “In our hypercompetitive, achievement-oriented workplaces,” she writes, “setting and achieving goals has become the main event, not something we do on the road to something bigger and more meaningful.” Instead, she advises that individuals bear in mind an idea of what they would like to do with their work, or how it might come closer to promoting their personal values. This, rather than a limited set of goals, helps to create a target that Ms McKee calls “a hopeful vision of a fulfilling future”.