I agree that money is an important part of any job and up until a certain point it undeniably increases work happiness. It’s fairly naive to suggest otherwise. You can say that freely and not feel like a capitalistic arsehole because money heavily affects your life.
Less money means less freedom.
It’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s true. You can reduce your outgoings, buy assets not liabilities, create and not consume but it’s a fact of life that money, is the currency of life.
We know that — and that’s not anything ground breaking.
However, past a certain amount of money we don’t become incrementally happier. As we earn more are happiness grows in line with that until it doesn’t. There is a golden figure, somewhere between $60,000 — $80,000 that puts the brakes on the happiness. It’s this idea that at this amount, life isn’t going to change a great deal if you x10 / x100 your income. Sure you can drive a fancier car, get a bigger house, take first class over economy but those gains are tiny. They are the 0.2% improvements which is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. The difference between a nice car and a really nice car is fairly negligible.
So what does make us happy then? I recently ask this question on my LinkedIn and it yielded some surprising results.
1. Co-workers That Get You
It’s nice that someone else in the world is experiencing the exact same circumstances as you are. Same job, same boss, same everything. It gives you a bond like no other. It means you’ve always got stuff you can talk about, there is always some topic of conversation. You’ve got someone who you can lend an ear to and vice versa.
Its even nicer when those people feel like your people. You know that they get you, they understand how you work, get your mindset and are wonderful to have around. It makes a real difference to have coworkers that you can have a decent conversation with and that you wouldn’t hesitate to go out for drinks with.
Coworkers that don’t offer much conversation over and above:
“How was your weekend?”
“Yeah, fine thanks, yours?”
Makes us feel little isolated. We want to feel like we’ve found our place in the world. One of the things I think we all struggle with at work is identity and knowing that this role is the right fit for you. Often we look to our colleagues to valid that thinking. If you’re colleagues have the same sense of human or make you feel welcomed and safe — then it makes for increase work happiness. The opposite is a fairly miserable existence. (Side note, it’s very important you try to be just as good a coworker – it’s a two-way street!)
2. A Commute That Doesn’t Increase Your Weekly Hours by 20%
I used to commute 1 hour and 15 minutes each way per day. A total of 2.5 hours commuting, 5 days a week made up 12.5 hours on top of my day job. A whopping 33% increase on my weekly hours. It is pretty exhausting to drive so much each day and after a while it becomes tiresome. Added to that the fact that in the winter everything freezes and therefore you need to add an extra 15 minutes onto your journey to defrost the car (and yourself), you soon find yourself wondering why you just don’t sleep at work.
Tiring days plus a long commute can lead to disastrous consequences if you’re not careful. Especially if you’re driving to work, the worst that can happen on the train is that you fall asleep and miss your stop. If you fall asleep behind the wheel you might not ever wake up. It’s really serious stuff.
It turns I’m not alone with hating a long commute. As a lot of us have moved to working from home for the foreseeable it’s easy to see in real time the hours you get back from not commuting at all. The hours gained are extraordinary. It makes you question how you managed to juggle life before with the long commute.
Time in the car is time you can’t spend getting the house in order, looking after the kids, working on your side hustle, pursuing your hobbies. You can optimise your commute but if you are in the car you are pretty limited to podcasts and audiobooks. Which are fine but it’s probably not what you’d choose to do if you had a spare hour. A shorter commute, in general, leads to increased work happiness.
3. Achievement — Feeling Competent and Capable
Having the tools to do your job is one thing. Having the confidence in your capabilities is something completely different. When I think about it, it makes total sense. Whatever you are good at you tend to enjoy. It’s why if you’re good at Monopoly, you are eager to get the board out and play it at Christmas time.
You like it because you know your chances of winning are pretty high.
It’s the same at work. If you know you are good at it and you have evidence of that (people’s comments, pay rises etc) then you enjoy work more. I’m not quite sure if it’s the confidence making you good or you being good making you confident but nonetheless feeling competent and capable is definitely on the list of how to increase work happiness.
We’ve probably all experience a time where we’ve felt the opposite. Maybe we’ve felt we don’t quite fit. It’s awful. You feel like a failure.
4. Autonomy — Not having someone breathing down your neck
Autonomy is feeling like you are steering the ship. You are given the freedom to make decisions and are entrusted with the outcomes. Autonomy is feeling that you are trusted and in charge of doing your job and doing it well.
The opposite is a truly woeful thought. Someone breathing down your neck, checking in on what you’re doing, making sure you’re not doing things wrong, giving their opinion every 7 seconds. If you’re saying to yourself:
“Is there any me point in me doing my job because ‘x’ person makes all my decisions anyway” then you’re probably experiencing a bout of micromanagement and you haven’t got much autonomy.
It’s important to have autonomy because it makes us feel empowered. It makes us feel like we are in charge. And that, leads to increased work happiness.
5. Hours, Reasonable Hours
Work seeping into our home life is not good. It’s not good for our partners, our kids, our friends and importantly, it’s not good for us. We can’t work all day and expect to not feel fatigued at the end of the day. There is a limit to how much you can work in a day and I think it’s a lot less than we think. Good work, I mean really good, quality work, is created when you are focused. When we feel energised and sharp. It’s not after 3 coffees and four pointless meetings.
Meetings come in to this too. I wrote an article about what makes a good meeting — I think as a society we need to be stricter on what makes a good meeting. If you don’t need to be there, you should feel free to get up and leave. It’s not bad, it’s not rude (make sure you tell people why you’re leaving), it’s basics. You don’t need to be there. If you stay in a 4 hour meeting because you feel rude leaving, it means that’s 4 hours of your day you’ll be behind. That time spent in the meeting adding no value could have been time spent on working behind your desk adding value.
Working reasonable hours is one way to increase work happiness.
6. A View of Where You Are Going
One of the things I think is really important is this idea that you can see where you are going. You understand what the progression in your role is and you know how to get there. It’s difficult to get motivated to do more and better if you know that by doing that you will remain exactly where you are. Having a view of what’s next gives you an idea of what you need to improve to get there.
One of the reasons people might stagnate in roles and get frustrated is because of the same old, same old. There is no view of where to go so people get good at what they are doing and then end up getting bored and boredom leads to destruction and frustration. We, as humans, need stimulating. When anything is new and novel we feel excited by the prospect mostly because we’ve got a lot to learn.
When things are new to us and we are the novices we spend time getting things wrong, going back and forth trying to understand things. Perhaps most importantly, when we start to get things right we get that sense of achievement. Before it was complicated and now it makes sense and you begin to master it. That is fulfilling in itself. To see yourself progress from novice to mastery makes us feel alive and like we are moving forwards.
When you haven’t got anything to learn, you get bored and that leads to job dissatisfaction.
In school we are taught to think about the next step all the time. The next school year, the next round of tests. Every step in school is designed to prepare you for the next ‘something’. When we get to work, if we don’t have the structure of what’s next, we feel lost. Making sure we know what’s next and how we move to the next level is another way to increase work happiness.
Having worked from home for the last three months, it’s easy to see how doable it is. It makes sense to work from home. If you don’t need to be in the office, it would make most sense to work from home. Flexibility is important in our lives because well, life can slap you in the face sometimes. You probably don’t want to have to take a day’s annual leave so you can be in for a delivery. That seems quite unfair.
We want to be able to feel like we are entrusted to make decisions and to get our work done. Flexibility is quite an underestimated perk in the working world. Being able to go to a doctor’s appointment midday and then work from home in the afternoon just makes life easier. If you have kids I’m guessing it’s borderline vital that you have some flex in your schedule. How else can you drop the kids off at 8am and pick them up at 3pm? 9–5 just doesn’t suit. Hell, maybe this a shown you that’s time to quit that altogether, and make your own flexibility.
Having some confidence that you can adapt your schedule if you get your work done takes some unnecessary stress away from your week and increases work happiness.
8. Appreciation, Someone Saying Thank you
I’m always surprised by how much of a difference it makes to people when you say thankyou. You can take it a step further tell them how great you think they are and that also works but just a simple thank you goes a long way.
Work can be a dog fight. People steal your ideas, play politics against you, make you feel about 2 inches tall. It’s the modern day natural selection and sometimes it can, quite frankly, piss you off.
Work is hard. It can be cut throat, you can feel demotivated, undervalued. It’s probably one of the main reasons people want to get out of the ‘rat-race’, in fact it’s probably one of the main reasons it was named the ‘rat-race’. Unfortunately, there are always going to be bad days, days that make you question why on Earth you decided to pursue this career in the first place.
Appreciating people and feeling appreciated can make a huge difference. Having a boss that compliments you on your work or just gives you feedback in general is helpful. A company culture that is kind to one an another and is polite and appreciative of each other’s work just makes for a nicer environment. It also encourages us to work harder. You are hardly going to go the extra mile if you know you won’t get thanked for it. Where is the personal gain in working 4 hours extra on an evening, if you know no one will say thank you? There is none.
Having a culture that rewards good work and makes you feel appreciated is one easy way to increase work happiness.
Surprisingly, there is a lot ways that we can increase work happiness that requires no money whatsoever. Feeling appreciated, being flexibility, working reasonable hours and understanding the progression are just a few of the ways I think we can increase work happiness.