Happiness at Work: Fact Not Fad

I’ll never forget one of my first business meetings. Super keen but very green, I sat down with my new boss and other team members on my first six-month placement at a large financial institution. I was one of 20 graduate trainees and one of only three women to be taken on.

Understanding about 10% of what was actually being said – it sounded like English but made little sense – I was asked a question. What did I think? Did I, the new graduate trainee, have an opinion? My stomach lurched. I was being tested and needed to say something useful.

My reply started with ‘Well, I feel…’ But my boss cut in. ‘We’re paying you to think, not to feel.’ I was crushed. Welcome to the world of work as it was in the 80s, my first taste of a very macho industry. It was a long time before I had the courage to use the word ‘feel’ again in any work place.

[wcm_restrict]As a trainee I’d been relegated to sorting out all the paper that lay at the bottom of everyone’s in-tray. A terrible job, it was the kind of stuff no one knew what to do with. So what chance did I have of dealing with it? Uncertain, unsure and unhappy, I spent six miserable months in that department and couldn’t wait to move on.

Today I’m founder and CEO of iOpener, a consultancy that focuses on productivity by using the science of happiness at work. Our five-year research program clearly shows that people who are happiest at work are the most productive. In fact they do the equivalent of a day and a quarter more work per week than their least happy colleagues and take one third of the sick leave. They also intend to stay twice as long in their jobs. The findings have told us a lot about what makes people tick – and tick better at work.

I can now see why I hated my first placement as a trainee. I wasn’t contributing to the company; I had little motivation and no confidence in what I did. Feeling out of touch with my colleagues who weren’t keen on graduates anyway, I couldn’t wait for it all to end. If you’d asked me about achieving my potential back then I would probably have burst out laughing.

So what would have made me happier at work? Our research shows there are five important things, each the opposite of what I had experienced.

The good news is that everyone wants to contribute, to put in an effort and to think they do well. This means clear goals and objectives, saying how things could be made better and getting feedback into the bargain. Once we’re clear that we’re contributing, we also want to feel a certain level of what we call conviction, or motivation, come what may. On top of that we all want to think we fit in or belong to the place we work, so that matters too. Finally when things are good at work, we’ll experience high levels of commitment and confidence.

And all of this together makes us feel – yes, I can now use that word again – that we’re achieving our potential. That means taking on challenges, dealing with them and learning. And if we don’t find this at work, we’ll look for it elsewhere.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. As a woman I’m more likely to be happier at work than most men. That stands out from our research. And our data has shown some other clear differences. Women experience more positive emotions than men, we like our colleagues and our jobs more, we feel more efficient and effective – and we’re generally more helpful too.

On the other hand men feel more resilient, raise issues more, and feel they can do things better than others. In short they take knock-backs better and have higher levels of self-belief. And of course that results in one important and visible effect: men network more successfully than women.

Networking is an important key to getting on so what’s the answer? The trick is to encourage women to approach it through what they experience best. Networking becomes easier for some if they think about it in terms of helping others – especially the boss or the business. Or understand that they might find new ways of becoming more efficient and effective through who they meet. And it’s worth remembering that meeting new people makes everyone feel good – which women tend to forget. They focus on the downside – the scary bit- rather than the upside that it might bring.

And here’s a further plus. Who you are seen with and whom you know increases the respect you get. Although women know they have less respect at work than men – our research tells us so – they aren’t keen to get that respect by what they see as pushing themselves forward. But if success means climbing the career ladder then networking matters. Because who you know affects what you do.

So whether you are male or female, take a risk, walk into a roomful of people, find the most senior person in the room and have a conversation. Then notice how you feel because I bet you’ll give your confidence a huge boost. And more confidence means more productivity and more happiness at work. That was how I found my way into my second traineeship placement and ultimately into a job I love.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Jessica Pryce-Jones is author of Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, published by Wiley Blackwell. She lives in Oxford. For more information, visit www.iopener.com.

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