February 22, 2016

How to Be Happier at Work

By Brendon Schrader

Can three weird tricks make you happier at work? It may be that simple, says Theresa Glomb.

As the Toro Company-David M. Lilly Chair in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, Glomb studies what makes people happy at work, and how they can take charge of their own satisfaction in the workplace.

Glomb recently gave a TEDx talk about making work better, where she shared three tricks that can make you happier at work. These tips come from her team’s research about our attitudes and ideas about work, and how we can manage them. After surveying workers several times a day over two to three weeks, they found that good things happen at work much more frequently than bad things, but that the bad things have a 5 to 10 times greater effect on people’s moods than good things. To rebalance the effect good things can have, try these tips.

Write Down the Good Things

In one study, Glomb and her team tracked workers over three weeks. At the end of each work day, the workers wrote down three good things that happened that day, and why they happened. The stories were varied: A nurse sprang into action to help a seizure patient as a result of her training. A receptionist had a big laugh at lunch because she has close friends at work. A lab tech took blood from a frightened boy, but was able to soothe him by singing a song.

Glomb says the results were powerful: Workers who recorded and reflected on the good things at work also reported being less stressed, having fewer physical and mental complaints, and in some cases had lower blood pressure as a result. At the end of every day, Glomb recommends taking a moment to pause, reflect, and write down a few good things that happened to you at work, and why they happened. Doing so can keep you focused on the good things about your job.

How I apply this tip: I have used this concept in my daily life by starting a journal. Journaling helps me reflect on the day, record lessons and document daily accomplishments. I also use it to remember the small things in my daily life with my family. Keeping a journal can be very simple --  start by keeping a daily planner and write down three bullets points from the day that you want to reflect on or remember.

Make Progress

Researchers looked at the times when workers reported high moods, and dug into what made those moods so good. They found that a key driver of a good mood at work is making meaningful progress on your work tasks. The problem is, your work environment might not always support that — or it may even block it, Glomb says. And our work culture’s embrace of multitasking actually makes it harder for people to make meaningful progress on tasks.

To create a work environment that feels less fractured, Glomb recommends that workers stay intentional about what they do. Instead of focusing on time management, she recommends focusing on “intention management” by asking yourself how you want to spend your time. Look for ways to get absorbed in your work by dedicating yourself to “unitasking” — focusing on a task for 30 minutes to actually get something done.

And try not to have long, unrealistic lists of “to dos” for each day. Instead, think about the one thing you can accomplish that day and just do it! Then move on. Glomb also recommends “parking downhill” by preparing resources before the start of your workday and planning what will happen. You might get the documents you need from email, or open the proposal you need to review so it’s ready on your computer. Getting everything ready to tackle a task will allow you to get going quickly and pick up momentum. Another tip: Resist email first thing in the morning. Instead, tackle a work task.

How I apply this tip: Every morning, I start my day by setting a plan. I take the time to review the upcoming day and make a short, realistic list of objectives I must get done to feel accomplished. This simple exercise forces me to be intentional about the day, as well as create focused work periods to complete tasks rather than get caught up in busy work.

Help Others

Research shows that helping others repairs a bad mood. Employees who were in a negative mood and then helped someone felt better. While a lot of work activity is about helping others directly or indirectly, workers may not always frame their work as helping others. Whether you’re helping a co-worker or customers, look for ways to recognize how your work either helps others directly or ties into a larger mission.

How I apply this tip: At Antenna, helping others is ingrained in the fabric of our culture. And, we all make a point to share success stories of impact, both as they happen and when we meet as a team. By creating a culture that shares these types of helping stories, and by publicly recognizing team members who help others, we’re all more aware of how our daily work impacts people’s lives. And that helps all of us feel happy about our work.

These tricks can go beyond the workplace, Glomb says. When she was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, these tips helped her stay focused. She uses a variation of them as a mantra for her kids when she drops them off at school for the day. She tells them: “Work hard. Have fun. Choose kind. Be present.” In all cases, Glomb says choosing to be intentional about how you experience your day can make all the difference.

I always find it helpful to learn how others bring more focus and positive energy into their work days. As I work toward productivity and balance, I’ll remember to “Work hard. Have fun. Choose kind. Be present.”  

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