(This article is adapted from Happy Hour is 9 to 5: How to Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work.)
Last year, while giving a speech in the U.S., I met George. He was 55 at the time, vice president of an IT company and had achieved every conventional measure of career success. Besides the impressive title, he had a shiny new company car, a huge corner office and a very nice salary.
He also told me that he absolutely hated his job and had been miserable at work for years.
How could it be that George had spent his entire worklife achieving major career goals and was still unhappy?
The answer is simple: He'd been chasing the wrong things.
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Unhappy at Work, Unhappy in Life
Studies show that we spend more of our lives at work than on anything else except sleep — and for some of us, even sleep takes a back seat to hours logged in the office. So logically, if you're unhappy at work, you'll spend the majority of your waking hours being miserable.
This not only makes you unhappy in life, but studies show that hating your job can lead to be bad for your health and lead to serious illness, including heart disease, cancer and depression.
George’s entire focus for years had been on advancing his career to the next level, and he'd been ruthless in getting there, gaining him many enemies in the company and in his industry in general. He'd also sacrificed his private life, having burned the midnight oil at the office on a regular basis. Now his health was failing, his family life was in shambles and he was struggling with alcoholism.
So if raises, bonuses, perks and promotions aren't the key to a happy work life, what is?
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This has been the subject of extensive research over the last few decades, and it seems it comes down to two things: results and relationships.
One Key to Work Happiness: Results
Results is about making a difference at work, knowing that your job is important, getting appreciation and doing work that you can be proud of.
Results comes from having all the resources, skills, training and time to do a really good job. But it also comes from your own attitude. Do you actually care about the quality of your work or are you just putting in the hours?
Three great ways to get that feeling of results:
Offer and receive praise and recognition Great workplaces have a culture of recognition, where people who do good work are acknowledged and praised.
Celebrate success In many companies, a project that goes well is never mentioned again and a lot of time is spent finding and fixing mistakes. I say: We should turn that around and be sure to celebrate the results we achieve.
Help others One hallmark of a toxic workplace is that everyone is in it for themselves. In great workplaces, people freely help each other whenever they can, boosting everyone's performance.
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Another Key to Work Happiness: Relationships
Relationships are about liking the people you work with, having a good manager and feeling like you belong.
In short, we are happy at work when we do great work together with great people. Three great ways to create good workplace relationships:
Say “good morning” It seems banal (and honestly it is), but actually saying a friendly cheerful “good morning” to your co-workers helps create better relationships.
Take breaks together More and more people feel so busy at work that they skip coffee breaks and eat lunch alone at their desk. That's a shame.
Make sure to take breaks with your co-workers and use them as a chance to connect.
Offer random acts of workplace kindness Do little things to surprise and delight co-workers, like bringing someone a cup of coffee out of the blue.
These two keys to happiness are what George should have been focusing on all those years.
My advice to you: Instead of choosing the job with the fanciest office or the loftiest title, pick the one where you can have great results and relationships. That will ultimately lead to a much better worklife and homelife.
Please note, however, that this I’m not talking about choosing between happiness and career success. Research shows that people who like their jobs, do much better jobs. They're more productive, more creative, more motivated and more likely to reach their goals.
So while miserable workers like George can absolutely make it far, it actually turns out that people who are happy at work, on average, achieve more career success and have higher lifetime incomes then those who hate their jobs.
Why? Happy people do a better job, and therefore become more successful.