6 ways to be happier at work

Given how much time most of us spend at work, it’s worth doing whatever you can to make sure you’re as happy as possible there. The basics are probably obvious – find work you like, with coworkers you enjoy and a manager who does her job. But there are less obvious ways to be happier at work that you might not have thought of.

1. Don’t let resentments simmer. Often people become resentful of expectations that they assume their colleagues or managers have of them, when in fact those expectations are all internal. For instance, you might be frustrated that your boss regularly emails you late in the evening, making you feel like you have to respond to work emails from home. But if you talked to her, you might learn that she doesn’t expect an immediate response at all – she just prefers to work when the office is quiet and empty.

If something is bothering you, don’t stew in silence – ask about it. Whatever the issue, it’s worth communicating and making sure that your assumptions are correct before letting yourself get bothered.

2. Don’t attribute to malice what might be a mistake. For instance, if your coworker routinely ignores your emails, you might get angry at what seems like disregard or disrespect. But if you approach him from that stance, the conversation is likely to be adversarial. You’ll generally get better results if you approach him with the assumption that there’s been a mistake instead – maybe your emails are getting caught in his spam filter or there’s some other technological glitch. Even when people really are at fault, starting with the assumption that they’re not to blame will make most conversations go better.

3. Don’t fight other people’s battles. It can be tempting to get involved in other people’s grievances at work, but you can end up taking on the emotional burden of battles that aren’t yours. For instance, if Joe hates your manager and complains about her all the time, you might find over time that you’ve come to dislike her too – even though you got along with her perfectly well before. This can lead you to make bad decisions for yourself, like becoming unhappy with a job or manager you otherwise liked, or even leaving your job over it. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be sympathetic to coworkers’ troubles or that you shouldn’t speak up about serious workplace problems, but for routine complaints, keep in mind that you don’t know the full story and try to stay out of it.

4. Use your benefits. When you think about your benefits package, you probably think about health insurance and vacation time. However, many employers offer tons of other benefits as well – fitness memberships, employee assistance programs, credit unions, and more. Lots of employees don’t even realize they have these benefits, let alone use them. But these are part of your compensation, and you should take advantage of them if they might make your life better.

5. Thank people. If someone made your life at work easier, connected you with a helpful contact, or simply has been a pleasant person to interact with, tell them! Openly appreciating your colleagues can strengthen your workplace relationships, improve the way people see you, and make you genuinely more appreciative of where you work and the people you work with.

6. Know your bottom line. Yes, your job has frustrations. But before you get too focused on them, it’s helpful to get really clear in your own mind on what your bottom line is: what things matter most to you and what trade-offs you are and aren’t willing to make. For instance, maybe you hate your manager but love having a short commute and you’d rather keep that commute, even if it means your manager is part of the deal. Or maybe you’re willing to put up with a lower salary because you get to do work that fascinates you – or will tolerate less interesting work because you get paid generously. Getting really clear about what matters most to you will help keep you focused on what you care most about, and prevent you from getting sidetracked on things that don’t ultimately matter as much to you.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    If somebody was particularly great and they’re in a different department, you can email their supervisor and commend them, too. It’s surprisingly empowering to do that, because you realize what a difference you can make to somebody just by telling somebody the truth about their merits.

      1. JM in England*

        +1 Alison!

        I have been on the receiving end of this and it does wonders to boost your self esteem!

        To provide some context, myself and a coworker worked extremely hard to complete a project for an important client over the course of a weekend. The project manger was impressed and he emailed our supervisor to say so. We were both forwarded copies of said email.

        I now use this in interviews as an example of going above and beyond my job description to meet department and company goals.

        1. JM in England*

          Agreed Jessa!

          In some of my other jobs, when you did your work correctly, it was invisible. It was only when the one time in 100 that you got it wrong that people noticed.

      2. tcookson*

        We had a couple of architects who taught a studio in our school for a semester, traveling from several states away about 6 – 8 times. When their teaching gig was up, they wrote a really nice letter to my boss, praising specific things about the students, the home professor, and the admins who assisted them. He read it to the rest of the faculty and staff at a meeting, and it was such a positive boost to all of us mentioned in the letter.

    1. Lily*

      I’ve done this twice and gotten the reply “you should have spoken to the employee” cc’d to the employee as well. In both cases, I already thanked the employee personally and I can’t say I appreciate the aggravation of getting scolded in front of the employee I had complimented. What’s a gracious way for a manager to answer if he doesn’t know for sure that the complimenter has spoken to the complimentee?

      1. LJL*

        I’ve always said “thank you for bringing this to my attention. I agree that my employee is doing great (or something similar), and I’m glad to hear it from others. I’ll be sure to pass along your kind words to him/her.”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s ridiculous. They should just say, “That’s great to hear” and if they’re not sure if you’ve told the employee, they could add “I hope you’ll tell Jane directly as well!”

        1. Jessa*

          First if the person emailed, they might not have had the email for the employee to do this. Second they might be shy or nervous of telling the employee directly. Third, they told the IMPORTANT person. I agree with Alison that it’s ridiculous that someone would say anything that might de-incentivise a customer from sending in a COMPLIMENT rather than a complaint.

      3. Jessa*

        “Thank you so much for letting us know, I will pass this on to Employee.” And maybe even if you reward employees you may or may not say “And we’ve entered Employee in our employee Kudos lunch drawing for the month.” Or whatever.

        I know one company that has a monthly pizza party/lunch brought in for people who got customer back pats.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        After the thanks to the employee in person, I go the other way: send a followup thank you email to the employee, and cc their boss. That way, they get the thanks and the boss knows about it too.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      For work from a coworker that really helps me, I am generous in thanks via email with a cc to their boss. I wish sometimes that some of those people would see my example and perhaps do the same to me. Or maybe, I’m not as helpful as I think.

  2. AdminAnon*

    #3 has been the hardest for me. My office is very small and most of my co-workers have a problem with our boss.

    The thing is, she is actually a great manager–she just works differently than the previous manager, who was with the company for 20+ years. The organizational changes have been hard for some of my co-workers to deal with and when I first started, I let their toxic attitudes impact my own opinion of my manager.

    Then I realized that I actually really like and respect her, so now I just stay out of it and try to spread goodwill on her behalf whenever I can. A lot of the great things she does are behind the scenes, so sometimes my co-workers don’t realize what a great boss she is.

    At any rate, I’ve been a million times happier with my job since I stopped getting involved in their battles. Now I either turn the tide of the conversation or walk away when I hear the negative comments.

  3. BausLady*

    Number 6 really resonates with me right now. I’m in a situation where I’m getting paid a little bit more than I probably should at my level, and I’m getting to do work beyond what the position would generally encompass.

    My new boss started right in the middle of a buyout of the company. She’s had trouble adjusting with the changes and, to be perfectly honest, is one of those managers who is not used to doing much herself. I don’t think she quite realized what her job was when she took it.

    It’s frustrating because I can’t count on her for anything, and am doing most of her day-to-day work. I’m getting paid decently, but not what I should be if this work was actually in my job description. On the other hand, I’m learning a ton and performing duties that I wouldn’t get to do if she were competent. Plus, I’m becoming well known in my organization (which is now HUGE with this buyout) for being a high performer and a hard worker.

    It’s all just give and take.

  4. A Teacher*

    Resentment is one I hear right now. Last week we had 6 emails within 2 hours of “expectations” some of them were from the main boss and some of them were reiterating the same thing the main boss had said. Since Friday, we’ve received 4 of almost the exact same email about our open house night. I’m at the point where I feel like they are not treating us as professionals but rather as children. Instead of resenting it thought, I’ve decided to take the approach I see on here a lot: accept that it is how they are and either move on or learn to live with it. I’m living with it and foucsing on the aspects of my job I do like instead.

  5. Sandrine*

    I would add one, that kinda meshes with some of the points in the article.

    Do NOT “rant gossip” with coworkers and don’t let yourself get sucked in. I mean “rant gossip” as in all gathering and complaining about how the job sucks, and everything.

    Because all it does is spread the negativity and lower morale. If the company is bad, morale will lower “on its own” and it’s much healthier if you can go out with your head high (should you need to) .

  6. Lily*

    #1 Someone once told me she thought I had been giving her the silent treatment – when I was out sick!

    If your assumptions end up correct, “forgive and forget” doesn’t seem appropriate, because it leaves people open to getting clobbered with the same problem again. Maybe “forgive and remember” is better?

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