The Pursuit Of Professional Happiness: 3 Ways To Be Happier In Your Job

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A mere 30 percent of the American workforce is “engaged” at work — which sadly means that less than a third of workers experience “passion and feel a profound connection to their company.”

What’s worse is what that means for the remaining 70 percent of workers.

According to Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace survey, half of U.S. employees are “not engaged,” and worse, about 20 percent are “actively disengaged.”

Gallup chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, says sometimes these disengaged employees “have bosses from hell that make them miserable,” and they “roam the halls spreading discontent.”

According to Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace survey, half of U.S. employees are “not engaged,” and worse, about 20 percent are “actively disengaged.”

With over 135 million workers in the U.S., that’s a lot of misery and discontent.

The Gallup report was written for business leaders and appropriately focuses on what management can do to improve their employees’ engagement since that is a major determinant of economic success as well as quality and workplace safety. Clifton reports that employees’ active disengagement is costing the U.S. more than an estimated $450 billion annually. He recommends that companies focus on ridding themselves of those “managers from hell” and doubling the number of great managers to drive employee engagement.

Great advice, but this is clearly a long-term strategy. Gallup’s employee engagement statistics have not changed much over the past decade despite these exhortations.


Of the actively disengaged employees, a full 47 percent of Millennials said they would look for a job in a different organization if the job market improves in the next 12 months. Same answer for 44 percent of Gen Xers and 36 percent of Baby Boomers.

But what are they to do in the meantime? And what if the economy does not improve? Here are some things unhappy workers can do immediately to improve their day-to-day experience:

Try Some Self-Management

We can't always control what assignments we accept at work. But regardless of our position, the choice of how we approach our work is up to us. You have likely seen this principle in action. Do you have a favorite checkout clerk in your local grocery store? You know, the one who recognizes you and offers a warm hello, or who comments on how delicious one of your selections is bound to taste on tonight’s dinner table? Doubtless, you’ve come across the surly cashier who barely glances at you until he barks at you to “Hit OK” on the credit card machine so you can hurry up and get out of his line. Same job, same manager, different attitude. Who’s having a better day at work? Who’s providing a better customer experience? We have more power than we recognize.

Use Your Gifts

American psychologist Abraham Maslow showed in his famous hierarchy of needs that self-actualization is the highest driver of human motivation. According to his well-regarded theory, people who fulfill their potential, experience moments of profound happiness and harmony. To that end, if we can find a job that makes regular use of our gifts, we optimize our chances of enjoying our work. That may be a very big “if” in the current economy, so the trick is to find ways to use your talents wherever you are right now. The grocery cashier with cooking talents can enjoy giving recipe advice, even if his main job is to collect the cash.

Find A Friend And Then Give As Good As You Get

It has long been understood that one of the greatest predictors of happiness on the job is having a friend or colleague with whom you can share your triumphs and trials. And, of course, it never hurts to share a laugh or two. Research confirms this understanding. A recent study of 1,648 students at Harvard revealed that social support was the greatest predictor of happiness during periods of high stress. That study looked at how much social support individuals received. A follow-up study, by the same researchers, showed the amount of support the students provided was even more important to sustained happiness and engagement. So, find some friends and be supportive every chance you get. It will make you feel good.

It would be nice if our managers paid close attention to how we feel at work and did everything they could to make sure we are happy. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Fortunately, we are grownups and can manage ourselves. So pay attention to how you feel at work and do everything in your power to find joy no matter your circumstances.

I’ve provided a few strategies for you to try. In the comments, I’d love to hear your ideas. Or, if you’d prefer, you can always share a great recipe for all those blueberries on sale this week instead.

This program aired on July 23, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.