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How to be Happy at Work

Is it your workplace that makes you happy, or is being happy at work an attitude you bring to any employment? Jobsite finds out.

What makes the difference between a happy employee and an unhappy employee? Surveys suggest good communication between management and staff, and working with friendly colleagues are key to being happy at work. But individual attitude is also likely to play a role, and by adopting a happy, positive attitude employees may get much more out of their job.

According to the recent Happiness at Work Index commissioned by Chiumento, only four out of five UK employees are happy at work. People under 55 are less happy at work than those over 55, and part-time employees (perhaps understandably) are happier than their full-time colleagues. What do employees say are the key things that make them happy at work?

“When we carried out our Happiness at Work survey, the reasons people gave us for their happiness or unhappiness were surprising,” says James Underwood, Commercial Director at Chiumento. “The most common reasons for being happy at work weren’t things you might expect, such as a good salary or being well-suited to the work you do. The most important factors were friendly, supportive colleagues and a good line manager, whereas the primary factor making people unhappy at work was lack of communication from the top. So for people to feel happy at work it seems they need a sense of community and to feel that they’re working in an open, friendly environment where people communicate with each other.” According to Underwood, employees who are happy at work are likely to work for a company that fosters a spirit of inclusion and communication. If there are no communal areas and notice boards, few office parties or trips and management rarely talk to employees, staff are unlikely to feel happy at work.

“I used to work for an organisation that had a very high turnover of staff,” says James Meadway, who works as a government statistician in London and is now very happy at work. “Nobody stayed long, and I think looking back it was because you couldn’t really communicate with the people around you on a social level. There was nowhere staff could go to eat together, and the office layout was crowded, but isolating at the same time as we all had dividers around our desks. Talking to management certainly wasn’t encouraged. I was unhappy there probably for that reason, as I didn’t mind the work and I was well paid.”

However, according to Dr Laurel Edmunds, Head of Research at iOpener, happiness can be a state of mind that you bring to any environment. “What most people don’t realise is that people who have good things happen to them tend to be happy to begin with,” says Dr Edmunds. “You have to start with a positive outlook, no matter what your circumstances, and then good things will come to you. It’s a bottom-up process.” iOpener carries out academic research into the factors that determine happiness and unhappiness, and Dr Edmunds believes their findings show a large percentage of a person’s overall happiness can be achieved no matter what job they’re in. “Our research suggests only around 15% of your happiness is determined by your job,” she says. “50% you’re born with, but around 35% of your happiness can be changed no matter where you work. The key is to focus on what makes you happy, rather than unhappy.” Apparently, people find it very easy to explain what makes them unhappy at work and jobhunt for something ‘better’, but less easy to pinpoint the key factors that make them happy. Focusing on the good things about work, rather than considering looking for a new job, should help any employee enjoy their job more, feel happy at work and get more out of their employment.

Having said that, Dr Edmunds acknowledges there are certain factors that go hand-in-hand with unhappy workplaces. “Employees do tell us they want a sense of progression and feeling in control at work, and they want acknowledgement for what they do.”

This suggests good communication – particularly top-down communication that recognises hard work – is key to a happy workplace, as well as personal attitude. “If you’re working for a company that doesn’t support the idea of a holistic sense of wellbeing and community,” says Underwood, “you’ll probably feel unhappy at work and you should seriously consider moving to an organisation that values employees and regularly acknowledges and praises hard work.”

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