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Is it unrealistic to expect to find joy or happiness at work – particularly in a pandemic?

“Happiness is not just rainbows and butterflies,” Tracy Brower, a principal at Steelcase and author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, says in an interview.

“Happiness can also involve challenges and flaws. There is research that when we have a challenge over time we can become stronger. It’s like being vaccinated. We can be positive and resilient and happy afterward.”

Happiness can be situational at work. “It’s okay if things are not happy all the time at work. You want to get the proportion right,” she says. She suggests evaluating your job on two elements: Things you love to do and things you have to do. Some of what you have to do you will enjoy, but other aspects may be disheartening. Finding work that is the best fit involves having a good percentage of things you love to do and not so much of things you don’t enjoy.

In her book, she suggests considering whether the things you dislike are core to your job or peripheral; if the latter, see if you can talk your boss into changing the situation. Another perspective is the amount of time spent on things you enjoy versus those you don’t. A 50 per cent threshold can be a good guideline. If the majority of time is spent on tasks you dislike, a career change may be wise.

But keep in mind your career path. You may be in a job with a high proportion of less-than-enjoyable work but are on your way to bigger and better things. In that case, perhaps you need to pay your dues and hold on. On the other hand, what does the unfulfilling work take from you? If it unduly saps your energy or runs counter to your values, perhaps it’s time to move on or at least advise your boss. She recalls years ago when a superstar on her team asked never to work with a certain type of company because its values were antithetical to her. Ms. Brower assigned those consulting roles to others in the team who didn’t have the same concerns.

She recommends performing brilliantly in those aspects of the job you dislike. Your credibility with your managers will increase when you can be counted on to get even the most mundane tasks done efficiently.

“Overall, the solution is to be conscious and intentional about your work so you can make choices and empower yourself about your short- and long-term opportunities. When you’re realistic about the mix of your job – and the less exciting tasks it may include – you’ll find that doing work you love is 100 per cent possible and it will help you cultivate joy,” she writes.

Relationships are key to joy at work. Connections with co-workers and colleagues create joy. So foster those opportunities, and don’t be seduced by the faux friendships of social media. “We may have 800 friends on Facebook but they are not people we know well or whom we might call if we have a flat tire,” she writes.

Bringing a playful attitude to work can also increase joy. Play lets us bring more of ourselves to work. It fosters innovation and unites team members. “Play doesn’t mean you have to wear a silly hat or play practical jokes,” she stresses in the interview. “It’s about looking for happiness and surprise.” Take yourself less seriously. Make it a point to laugh and smile. Make the ordinary more creative – try using images rather than words in a brainstorming, or seeking a metaphor to describe that brainstorming session when finished.

“Joy is within your grasp. You can create it, cultivate it, and choose it,” she insists.

Quick hits

  • Today is the most important day of your life, argues consultant Steve Keating. That’s because you have some control over today. You can’t change yesterday or the days that came before it and the best you can do about tomorrow is develop a plan. But you can act today on today.
  • Executive coach Dan Rockwell compares a promotion to a dog chasing a car – when you catch it, what do you do? One thing is to ask about future success, with words like these: “Imagine a year has passed and I’ve failed at this new role. Beyond not delivering results, what three things did I leave undone?”
  • Set limits on how many times you are going to respond to a buyer’s objections to a sale, warns Ottawa sales consultant Colleen Francis. If you don’t, the buyer will only become further entrenched in their beliefs, even if those objections aren’t based on facts. So consider limiting yourself to making the case just twice, and moving on if that doesn’t work.
  • Don’t make a big deal on your resume about skills that every job seekers has, advises writer Ashley Jones.
  • Decency is not to be sacrificed in tough times, says management guru Tom Peters. Decency is more important than ever in difficult times.

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