As a business advisor, one of the most frustrating things I see is the number of employees who are unhappy at work. Business owners don’t like it, the new generations think promotions will solve it, and productivity levels continue to suffer. According to the polls, only 32 percent of workers are engaged, and the rest spend much of their time wishing they were somewhere else.
Based on my own career with small companies as well as large ones, I assure you that it’s a lot more satisfying for everyone, as well as productive, working in a happy business environment. According to other surveys, there are many leading companies, including Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines, where happy and engaged employees are the norm, not the exception.
In my view, too many people put the total problem and the solution on the company to keep employees happy, when in fact it takes an equal commitment from both sides. Yes, companies have to enable a culture of purpose, employee value, positive feedback, and the tools to do the work, but people have to take ownership of their own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
For me, ownership of the challenge meant developing and honing a set of personal habits that fostered a sense of learning, challenge, and accomplishment, rather than boredom, fear, and negativity. Here are some key recommendations that I espouse:
- Make a habit of initiating a real relationship with peers. It’s hard to stay positive and happy working with people you don’t really know. As an introvert, I initially found it to be difficult to approach new people, but I found it much easier in a work environment, where we had many common subjects. Getting to know the managers also helped engagement.
- Take satisfaction from a couple of simple wins every day. We’ve all hit some tough roadblocks, but don’t ignore the cases where you finished a task ahead of time, the right answer just popped into your head, or your idea made someone else’s day. Make it a habit to tally these up at the end of a day, and share your small successes with a friend.
- Add a positive productivity change that you learned this week. Most people are happiest when they are feeling smarter about their job. Make building new habits a recurring thing, rather than a process that ended when you graduated from school. The world we live in is constantly changing, so not learning means that you are falling behind.
- Focus on improving work habits that have the biggest payback. It’s easy to get discouraged about one bad habit that you know you have, such as not responding to all emails every day. Yet your creativity in solving customer concerns may have far more potential in boosting your career. Highlight your strengths, rather than fear weaknesses.
- Put time in your schedule for improving you. Get in the habit of scheduling some time for you every day – maybe just a few minutes at the beginning of the day before the first crisis hits. Your satisfaction and productivity will both go up for the rest of the day. Pick a relaxing and friendly environment, perhaps with a mentor or friend over a cup of coffee.
- Integrate new habits into a more healthy lifestyle. Positive new habits need to be associated with a healthy lifestyle, that includes the proper rest, exercise and recreation. Don’t believe the old myth of “no pain, no gain.” A more satisfying and happy work environment will propagate into better family, group, and personal relationships.
- Work on old problems incrementally, rather than big bang. If your operational mistakes are making you unhappy, ask for five-minute mentoring every day from one of your peers, rather than trying to carve out two weeks for an in-depth class. You will get the satisfaction of seeing multiple improvements, and make a good friend in the process.
- Use daily repetition to turn improvements into habits. Good habits are made permanent by regular reinforcement. Lead with your strengths, and stop worrying about all the things you could be. Your strengths will lead to successes that make you happier, and your peers will see you as a leader in these areas, giving you even more satisfaction.
In summary, more positive personal habits will raise your self-esteem, your confidence, your productivity, and your happiness. Best of all, these will improve your image and credibility in the eyes of your customers and your employer. That’s what I call a win-win opportunity.
Life is too short to go to work or come home every day unhappy. It’s really up to you, so stop waiting for everyone else and the business to change around you.