Several years ago the university where I work redesigned our adult, working student curriculum. Many of these part-time students/full-time employees were returning to school after leaving college decades earlier, others were entering college for the first time, and still others were coming back for a second degree. No matter what their background these students shared a similar struggle: They longed to find happiness and fulfillment at work. Our students are not unique. The workplace is littered with disengaged, dissatisfied employees. There are those who pass the time by counting the minutes until time to clock out, others wishing for a different job, still others regretting decisions made years ago that have created a feeling of being trapped in a dead end job.
The good news is there is a way out. Here are some ways we have addressed these concerns.
1. Find Balance
Finding balance means you set priorities and develop boundaries. People with a strong sense of balance place self-care above boss-pleasing, manage their energy rather than time, and learn to put “first things first.” Tool: Keep track of your schedule for one week. Beside each activity put a ” +” if the activity adds to your level of energy and a “-“ if it zaps you of energy. Categorize your activities to determine where you are spending the majority of your time and energy. Make adjustments to increase the number and times you engage in energy producing activities.
2. Slow Down To Speed Up
Our culture places high emphasis on multi-tasking. In fact, it is seen as a badge of honor to be busy, SuperMom or SuperDad, and to “have it all.” Research, however, strongly indicates multitasking and over-commitment decreases our work performance, our self-esteem, and eventually our happiness. Slowing down and concentrating on one activity at a time keeps us from becoming slaves to our frantic schedules, allowing us to master an activity before moving on to the next. Tool: Use the STING technique. Select one task to do at a time. Time yourself using a clock for no more than one hour. Ignore everything else during that time. No breaks or interruptions should be permitted. Give yourself a reward when the time is up.
3. Play To Your Strengths
Research by the Gallup organization reveals that when employees are able to do what they do best at least once a day, they are more fulfilled and engaged on the job. We spend so much time trying to be well-rounded and fix our weaknesses, we often ignore those things where we are naturally strong. Ironically, our greatest opportunity for personal growth lies in our areas of strength. Tool: Buy the book StrengthFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Take the assessment and begin to develop your strengths.
4. Find Meaning In Your Work
One key to stay motivated on the job is to connect your job with your own personal goals. You do not have to love your job to be happy at work. Some people work to provide for their family, providing them with meaning and purpose. Others find meaning in friendships they build at work. Still others find fulfillment in the realization that effectively doing their job helps others excel. Any job can have meaning if approached with a positive attitude. Tool: List the people who would suffer if you did not show up for work, quit your job, or your position was eliminated.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness means you are living in the moment. When you practice mindfulness you are able to observe the current situation free from the guilt of the past or worry about the future. People who regularly practice mindfulness are happier and more at peace. They don’t try to control or manipulate events. They take action when necessary, but focus only on important, controllable responses. Tool: Draw two intersecting circles. Label one circle “Things that are important” and the other “things within my control.” Hang this Venn diagram where you can easily see it. Before reacting to situations, analyze them through this diagram asking, “Is the situation important enough for me to respond? and “Is the outcome of the situation within my control?” If you cannot answer yes to both these questions, you probably do not want to take action.
6. Show up with gratitude
Although there are many paths to happiness, the most impactful is showing gratitude. Living a life believing the glass is half-full is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your lot in life. I have personally witnessed miserable employees become engaged and fulfilled at work through the simple act of practicing gratitude on a daily basis. Tool: At an intersection you pass everyday on your way to work, list the things in your life for which you are grateful. Think of three new things everyday.
Remember, happiness is a choice and can be gained through intentionality. The above exercises can go a long way to improve your happiness at work and in life.
Dr. Bevalee Vitali
Dr. Bevalee Vitali is an Associate Professor of Business at Christian Brothers University. When not in the classroom, she works as a contract trainer in corporations and non-profit organizations, focusing upon leadership and personal development, employee development, and well-being.