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What’s the secret formula for career happiness?

Career coach Sarah Archer examines how we can all feel happy at work

by Psychologies

It’s not surprising there’s a buzz and expectation around career happiness – in your lifetime you will work over 90,000 hours! Who wants to spend that amount of time being miserable? It’s not that we haven’t been concerned about being happy at work before, it’s just never been on the mainstream agenda. Now, employers are waking up to the fact that contented employees are linked to productivity and performance. More importantly though, we are seeing the connection for ourselves between our career and our mental health.

There are huge benefits to being happy at work, but do you believe it’s within your control? Many people wait passively for happiness to arrive, or not. They let fate decide whether they have a good boss, colleagues that they like or work that they enjoy. The good news is that you can be proactive about creating your own career happiness.

Firstly, you need to be intentional. You need to be focused on creating the right conditions to achieve career happiness and be prepared to make changes if you can’t get it in your current job or company. You must be 100% in control of seeking it.

What’s the secret formula?

There is a formula to guide you, created through years of work with career changers - understanding why people are unhappy at work and what they seek in order to change that:

CAREER HAPPINESS = (Freedom + challenge + balance – stress) x meaning

Let's break it down:

  • Freedom: How much choice do you have, and do you want, in how you do your job? Autonomy over the nature of the work you do or your style of working is so important. And not having the routine of a 9-5 or working in an office setup can also play its part. Look for a supportive manager who trusts you and gives you freedom of choice.
  • Challenge: Too little challenge leads to boredom, and your job can become mundane and dull. Too much challenge leads to stress. But the right amount of challenge, combined with a sense of competence allows you to perform at your best. Imagine how it would feel to have that sense of ‘flow’ everyday! Look for opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Balance: There are never enough hours in a day but if you’re spending too many of them working then you can feel out of kilter. Having time to think or reflect boosts your wellbeing. Make time outside work to be with people you love, engage in creative pursuits or do some exercise.
  • Stress: Some stress helps us to perform well, but pressure, overwhelm and overload delivers negative stress. High stress levels on an ongoing basis leads to anxiety and burnout, and this can wipe out career happiness in one fell swoop.
  • Meaning: We all want to feel what we do is meaningful. Meaning can be opportunities to learn and grow or seeing a tangible result to what we do. It can be working for an organisation having a positive impact in the world, or working in a role that directly makes a difference. This is a key component of the formula and, without meaning happiness can be hard to find.

What about money? Money of course is important - we have to live but money in itself does not bring happiness. If you’ve had a job where you’ve chased money over meaning then you’ll know this is tough to sustain for a long period.

We need to move away from a model that suggests money = success = happiness because we never reach the happiness bit – we’re always striving to be more successful before we can focus on happiness. We have to achieve happiness in the present – in the here and now.

How can you increase your career happiness?

  • Do a review – use the formula to be specific about what’s missing and work out how to increase each area or minimise the stress component. Make a plan – remember you are taking control of your happiness at work.
  • Talk to your boss about what you need to change at work, or be prepared to move jobs if there’s no prospect of achieving career happiness in your current role.
  • Build in regular checks to keep an eye on the formula and adjust things if you need to.
  • Develop a positive mind set – the way you see the world influences your happiness levels. Look for ways you can be curious, learn from or help other people.
  • Spread the love – emotions are contagious, particularly negative ones, so surround yourself with positive people and focus on the good things you can share.

Sarah Archer is a career coach and founder of CareerTree. She’s passionate about helping people discover work they love. She specialises in career change and confidence, and has written a book ‘Developing your Inner Coach’.

Image: iStock