Monday Mornings with Madison

Ten Tips to Achieve Greater Professional Happiness and Sense of Purpose

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Estimated Read Time: 7 Min.

Employees are always seeking professional happiness.  Competitive pay and good benefits factor into an employee’s decision to join and stay at a company, but there are many other overlooked desires that are more important than a paycheck.  The 2018 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer revealed what truly makes employees feel fulfilled and happy at work.  The study took a multi-perspective approach and collected input from 800 business executives and 1,800 HR leaders, as well as 5,000-plus employees across 21 industries and 44 countries around the world. They analyzed how employees are reimagining the future of work as it relates to their own satisfaction.  Among the findings, three factors were found to have a deep impact on employee happiness:  permanent workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and well-being and working with a purpose.  But it also requires approaching work with the right attitude.  Here are 10 tips for how to achieve that.

1.  Don’t compare yourself to others.

Thomas Jefferson once said “Comparison is a thief of joy.”  Comparing oneself to others is indeed a formula for misery.  Looking “up” to compare your life to that of people who are wealthier and more successful than you is a surefire way to be unhappy.  Very few people can say that they are as successful, happy and fulfilled as they could ever hope to be.  And when you compare yourself to others, you’ll be inclined to compare your worst self talk to the person’s best public façade, which may not even be real.  It is a comparison of reality to an illusion.  And comparing oneself to those less fortunate also does not bring joy for anyone with compassion.

There is only one person you should compare yourself with… you.   Comparing your current you at work to your past you to determine if you’re making progress on your goals and your growth.  That is a comparison that should be done honestly and often.  When you compare yourself to someone else, you’re measuring against a standard that isn’t realistic because your circumstances are different to those of that person.  You and that person don’t have the same upbringing, amount of money, family dynamics, education, experience, etc.  It is not a fair comparison. There are many factors that make your situation different from anyone else.  However, when you compare yourself to the old you, it’s a healthy comparison.  You’re measuring the same person with the same background and situation, and you know your potential to be a better you is there. It becomes about who you were and where you were—and where you are going.  This is a valuable comparison because you can always find realistic room for improvement while recognizing how far you’ve come.  This is how a good professional becomes a great one.

2.  Assume the best in everyone.

Why should we always assume the best of every colleague’s actions and motives?  Because we need people.   Relationships are the greatest indicators of our own personal happiness and professional success.  Whether personally or professionally, relationships help us feel we belong and are connected.  And no one is perfect.  If you are always assuming the worst about coworkers, bosses or direct reports, you aren’t giving any grace for them to be human.

Give the benefit of the doubt, even if it seems likely that it is undeserved. How?  Slow down and think carefully about the person’s motives.  Human beings have a negativity bias… a bias to assume that negative information is true.  It is hard-wired into our brains for survival.  It is like wearing the opposite of rose-colored glasses.  Because of that, we each need to work hard to fight that bias.  One way to do that is by taking a minute to slow down before accepting an assumption as fact.  Consider if a rational, reasonable person would do something terrible intentionally.   According to Brene Brown, “…Life is better when you work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.”

3.  Don’t complain.  Spend that time working.

There is an old proverb that says, “Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.”  Everyone complains occasionally.  Even the happiest person in the world will still complain about something sometime.   But sometimes complaining becomes a habit that gets in the way of bonding with others.  No one wants to listen to someone griping all the time, even if the complaints are legitimate.  This is especially true at work.

The worst part is that complaining not only improves nothing… it is actually a huge waste of time.  According to the research, “a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining — or listening to others complain — about their bosses or upper management. And, one third of all employees spend 20 hours or more per month complaining.”  What an incredible waste of time.

Besides that, complaining creates a number of dysfunctional side effects, beyond the time wasted.   It creates factions, prevents or delays productive engagement, reinforces and strengthens dissatisfaction, riles up others, breaks trust, and, potentially, makes the complainer appear negative.  By complaining, we become the cancer about which we complain.  The negative influence seeps into the culture.  And complaining amplifies the destructiveness and annoyance of the initial frustration that spurred the complaint in the first place.

Rather than spending so much time complaining, use that time to try to fix what’s wrong and get the work done.  Decide what can be done to improve the situation and then do it.  If there’s time to complain, there’s time to work on the solution.

4.  Count your blessings.

Looking for, listing and acknowledging the good in your lives is not just smart spiritually and emotionally.  It is actually proven scientifically to be good for you.  It can improve your well-being, performance, sleep, relationships, blood pressure, and stress levels.  Taking time to count your blessings can be a vital strategy to maintain your well-being and performance.

While negativity bias may cause your brain to prioritize, seek out, and lock on to negative information in the world, and then process those negative events more fully than positive ones, one way to fight it is to find the good in people, places, and life events. The way to get started is by just taking time to reflect on three good things each week, and then gradually increase to each day.   Consider what things you don’t want to take for granted.  Stop and reflect on what’s good right now.  And, find people to count your blessings with so they can help you hunt the good stuff in your life.  That will help increase your daily joy, which is sure to improve your work life.

5.  Believe in yourself.

If you aren’t willing to bet on you, who will?   You are the only person who is in control of your life and can really make it better. You are the only one who truly knows what you are capable of and what you bring to the table.  People come and go but you will always have yourself, so you need to believe in yourself.  Having confidence in yourself will ensure you do better at work and develop stronger relationships with your coworkers.

6.  Listen to your heart.

That is just another way of saying listen to your conscience.  Even if it is inconvenient or difficult to do the right thing, listen to that still, small voice in you that guides you to do what you know is the right.

7.  Take care of yourself.

You only get one body and one brain.  So eat healthy, exercise and sleep.  Happiness begins with good health.  It’s about quality of life as well as quantity of life.  So prioritize yourself.  Will some things need to be sacrificed so that you can make time to take care of yourself?  Yes. Does it feel impossible right now? Yes, but it’s not.  Here are some ways to start doing that right away at work.

  • Take your lunch break. Leave your desk. Take a break. Go to lunch. Get out of the office. Go for a walk or just sit outside if the weather is nice.
  • Turn off your email notifications after work. Stop the pop-ups and dings.  They’re a distraction and stress-creator… and very annoying.
  • If you’re on vacation or out sick, don’t check your email. Disconnect so that when you go back to work, you are refreshed and ready.
  • Be unavailable. Stop instantaneously responding to texts and emails around the clock.  Not everything is urgent. By treating everything as an emergency that requires an immediate response, no matter the time or what else you’ve got going on, you’re not only training yourself to operate that way but you’re training everyone else to expect it.
  • Take breaks throughout the day.  You’ll be more efficient and effective, and you’ll feel less frazzled.
  • Move your body. Find ways to move around during the day. Get up from your desk and stretch. Take a walk around the office.
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep at night.  When it comes to sleep, more is more.

8.  Invest in your own development.

Learning is not something that stops when you finish college or get a certification or learn a skill.  The world is changing way too fast to ever stop learning.  Even if you don’t need to learn anything else for your work (and I want to know what job that is), keep learning and expanding your knowledge and skills in other areas.  It is by being able to make connections between unique and unrelated matters that one makes startling discoveries.

9.  Admit when you are wrong and apologize.

The sooner, the better.  Apologies are easiest when they happen right away.  The longer you wait to admit wrong-doing, the harder is becomes and the less likely you are to come clean.  With Yom Kippur coming up, it’s a good time as any to admit wrongs and ask forgiveness.

10.  Spend time with those who matter.

You often hear people say “make time for what matters.”  But for real professional happiness and fulfillment, it is important to make time for those who matter.   At work, it means bosses should make time for their direct reports, vendors and clients.  And colleagues should be present and attentive with coworkers.  It means putting phones aside during meetings, and making eye contact and really listening when someone else is speaking.  And it means treating everyone with the same respect and kindness, from the janitor to the CEO. Professional happiness comes not from money earned, awards won, or promotions landed.  It comes from doing work that matters in a place that offers a sense of belonging and teamwork.

Quote of the Week

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie


© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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