Post No.: 0683
Many of us have come to believe that work is to be endured, not enjoyed. After all, it’s work, not play, right?! But since our time at work during our working years totals about a third of the hours of our lives (which is probably more waking hours than with our family, never mind friends!) – our happiness at work is vital to our overall well-being.
Happiness doesn’t mean feeling euphoric all of the time or forcing oneself to be cheerful. (Sometimes we should even perhaps let go, temporarily, of believing we can make a tough time a good time rather than feeling guilty or stressing over why we’re unhappy, which is of course counterintuitive – meet yourself where you’re at, not where you or others would like you to be.) Happiness means having a relatively easy time experiencing positive emotional states such as contentment, amusement, enthusiasm and curiosity. And if we’re unhappy at work, we’re more stressed, less mentally and physically healthy, less engaged, motivated and productive, more likely to take sick days, be less civil towards our fellow employees and customers, more likely to make poor judgements, decisions and mistakes, and less likely to remain loyal – which leads to vicious cycles in terms of unhappiness at the individual level as well as to the bottom line at the organisational level. Work-related stresses, from either our workplace relationships or the work itself, can spill over into our home lives too and affect our sleep and thus productive capacities the following day, which will increase our work-related stresses further, and so forth…
Like pinning the blame on the supporters for not lifting the players on the pitch, or on the players for not lifting the supporters in the stands; or on the players for not giving their all for their manager, or on the manager for not gaining the respect of his/her players – both employers and employees need to do their bit to make the workplace a happy place. Although this should be led from the top. For example, workers can try reframing their tasks to make them more engaging, such as a barista reframing his/her job from merely brewing coffee to making something that brings people joy and picks them up so that they can start their own days with verve. Bosses can recognise efforts, progress and show gratitude through more than by just assuming that the pay packet at the end of each month is enough motivation. Managers should express to everybody how valuable their work is and avoid cancelling projects as much as possible to avoid the feeling that the work is pointless. The physical work environment can be reshaped to improve staff well-being too.
Home life or private strife can also spill over into our workplace and work hence the problem is bi-directional. So managers should care about the well-being of their staff outside of the workplace too, like ensuring that a family’s childcare needs are always considered.
Do you, as an individual, find meaning (connecting with what you care about) and purpose (knowing that what you do matters) in your work? Or another way of putting it is – does what you’re doing feel like your ‘calling’? Beyond the salary, what does the work give you? Things that will increase your sense of purpose include the alignment of your job with your core values, your impact or contributions to others beyond yourself, the sense of growth, self-realisation, prestige, belonging, agency and the sense of autonomy. Our work can be arduous, even painful, while we’re doing it, but give us a great deal of satisfaction when we look back at what we’ve accomplished.
Engagement, or fulfilling immersion, can be increased by minimising distractions or interruptions (like needless meetings), practising mindfulness, showing that we’re making meaningful progress, making the workplace culture fun-loving and playful, introducing moments of awe and wonder (perhaps in the products that the company designs or manufactures or when sharing new discoveries and developments), creating the conditions that’ll induce the state of flow (like leveraging everyone’s strengths, self-determination, increasing the challenge with the resources to meet them and not multitasking), and working from a place of curiosity rather than fear or obligation. Having a sense of autonomy is a big one, so avoid micromanagement. Ask yourself ‘what can I gain or learn from this task?’ instead of thinking ‘I have to do this simply because I was told to’. Break the work up into clear, well-defined achievable bite-sized chunks with goals. Then celebrate even small accomplishments – don’t just immediately focus on what’s yet to do. Keeping a progress journal might help.
Different people vary in how much they want structure or freedom, routine or variety, and so it can be tricky for organisations to offer flexibility while still ensuring the work gets done. Another concern is that work that’s more engaging can be interpreted as work that’s more addictive, and that ‘engagement-improvement policies’ will become just disguised ways to manipulate workers into putting in more hours at work at the expense of the other important parts of their life, like their family life. So is this about efficiency or exploitation? (Similar to how social media apps or gambling games are designed to keep users hooked on them – users may be having fun while they’re on them, but is it healthy?) Work should be made more engaging and elicit positive emotions but it’ll go too far if it takes from other parts of a worker’s life.
There are related concerns when integrating one’s home life with one’s work life, like when working from home. Would it be better to have ultra-clear boundaries between work and home life so that people can regularly totally switch off from work? Will it become a case of ‘don’t take time off work to do what you have to do – just bring it along into the workplace so that you can carry on working’? On-site childcare allows (primarily) mothers to work and look after their young children simultaneously – but should more fathers simply take more responsibility of the childcare? Will stress-reduction practices like mindfulness meditation programs mean that employees will become trained to put up with, rather than seek to change, unfair pay or poor working conditions? The right balances therefore need to be found or all avenues must be carefully explored.
It’s not just the lack of engagement, the work-life balance, raw workload, deadlines or constant last-minute requests. Some of the social aspects of work cause us dread or headaches, and one of these are disagreements or conflicts…
Disagreements are almost inevitable at work. Yet they’re useful because it shows that multiple ideas or viewpoints are being generated. They can drive improvement and innovation. It shows that groupthink is being avoided (see Post No.: 0392 for more about groupthink). So diverse views need to be considered. Sometimes we need to hear what we don’t want to hear. Even lying in order to not upset someone might create or perpetuate a false sense of reality that the other person will believe, which might come back to haunt you or the organisation one day because it denies them a learning opportunity. Democracy frequently leads to internal dissent, for better and worse.
But conflicts can be handled in ways that make the most of these opportunities rather than stifles them – by us being more considerate and kind, holding ourselves accountable and apologising whenever we’re wrong, being forgiving and ultimately seeking reconciliation instead of moving away from those we disagree with. There are socially-intelligent tactful ways of saying things even for the things that have to be said.
Now it’s nonsensical to begrudge someone for something you’ve not directly clarified to them about. Unless they’re doing something unethical or illegal, they cannot be expected to ‘just know’ from our indirect hints or passive-aggressive resentments or grudges. It’s not fair on them, even though you may believe they’re being unfair on you. You might wish others were simply more empathic and able to essentially read your mind. But your empathy for them should tell you that they cannot read your mind, especially if you are outwardly going along with things. (It’s like if you don’t like particular gifts someone keeps getting you every Christmas then, with tact, tell them so. You should smile and be appreciative if they’ve already gotten you something but you can tell them near Christmas the next year to not stress over getting you anything, to just get you something cheap, or tell them what you do really need or want instead. (I prefer not to receive gifts that are a combination of expensive and unneeded. I’m not materialistic.) Or it’s like if you want the person sitting next to you on the plane to stop trying to converse with you because you need to get some sleep then, with polite tact, gently tell them so in those very words and perhaps suggest talking later.)
You might choose to acquiesce or accommodate the wishes of those you disagree with to avoid external tensions. But suppressed emotions will build up the internal tensions within us. If we’re afraid of direct confrontation hence we passively accept what we don’t want instead of directly voicing our preferences or opinions to those whom it concerns, then we cannot blame others for us not making our own wishes or views explicitly known. We cannot blame others for our own lack of courage to speak up for ourselves. Not being listened to is one thing, but not speaking up is another. Yet we must do so with politeness and tact.
Therefore constructively sharing your opinions with tact and actively managing issues in a collaborative manner – seeking positive-sum outcomes – is better than either trying to ignore them when you can’t, repeatedly acquiescing to your own detriment, or aggressively holding your ground until one person wins and the other loses. Unless you have a particular mental health condition that affects your ability to do so and/or you are facing a coercive power dynamic – tell them, with delicate tact. Otherwise don’t begrudge them with passive-aggression or utterances behind their back with others because of your own, in some cases, lack of a backbone(!) Stand up for those who cannot defend themselves because they’re being spoken ill about behind their backs too – don’t join the rumour mill or bullying. (It’s still bullying even if derogatory judgemental things are said behind the subject’s back.)
Tact involves being considerate and diplomatic. But stress can up the difficulty setting for us to feel like treating others with tact though, and our sense of self-righteousness or pride can get in the way of apologising and making amends. We might not be able to physically escape future encounters with those we’ve clashed heads with at work either. Yet we can forgive even when an apology hasn’t been given because it’s also for our own well-being. The thought of them or what they did will keep you up less at night and you’ll be less distracted at work with ruminations about revenge. It’d be a weight off your own mind. This doesn’t mean condoning toxic behaviours – every workplace should have policies and procedures for dealing with serious transgressions.
Express modesty and find the humour to ease the tensions. Nothing diffuses a conflict more rapidly than a shared laugh (although little escalates a conflict more than a laugh that is perceived to be felt at only one side’s expense). Compliment others and publicise the strengths of especially those who are too shy to self-promote their own talents. Leaders should model these traits and take responsibility for their own mistakes to lead by example. Working on a collaborative task can create new experiences and memories of cooperation and thus rebuild trust. When people witness kind acts around them, they’re more likely to act kindly themselves too.