New year’s Eve, when we start thinking about what we’re going to do to be better people, starting tomorrow. Well, soon, anyway. As soon as we’ve finished up the last of the mince pies and other Christmas goodies.
Lose weight or get fit are typically up there with the most popular resolutions. But get a new job or improve my career prospects are also up there. We often start thinking about where we’re going with our careers as we think about getting back to work after the holidays.
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a top ten of my favourite personal development books, focusing on work, productivity, happiness, habits and change.
3. Nine Lies
Why work life balance is a myth and we should learn to fall in love with work. Busts other common beliefs about work too.
5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
An astonishing account from a survivor of a WW2 concentration camp that has much to teach us about our response when we’re in a situation we don’t like.
6. The 12 Week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington
A practical strategy for getting things done
9. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
Compares the approach to mistakes and failure in the aviation industry with the healthcare industry. Shows us how a healthy approach to failure is better for everyone, with some things we can learn and take away as individuals
Happy new year!
Can you really learn to be happier at work? Without changing your job? Even if you have a difficult boss?
You hate Mondays....
You're enjoying life at the weekends, but then Sunday afternoon comes around, the evening approaches, and you start to think about Monday. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you can't sleep. Monday morning, you don't want to get out of bed, you start to work out if you can come up with a good excuse not to go in. But you threw a sickie only last week. Perhaps you can say the kids are sick and you’ll work from home? But you know the boss doesn’t like you working from home, so even that’s not without its stresses.
You're bored when you get there...
The work is unfulfilling, you have no control over what you do, you just have to do as you're told. The boss is a control freak and micromanages even the simplest task. She seems to constantly worry that you don’t know how to do your work properly or seems afraid that you might use some initiative and not to the job exactly how she wants. So you feel there’s no point in showing any initiative anyway.
Maybe you're overworked and stressed, and can never get on top of what you have to do. Always firefighting, dealing with the most pressing problem and never planning ahead. So you always feel like there’s things outstanding, no sense of achievement or a job completed well.
You don't like your boss or your colleagues...
Your boss doesn’t have your back, he never gives you any help, just keeps piling it on. He expects you to get through it all and doesn't care if you have to stay late. Then there's your colleagues. Always bitching and gossiping. No-one works as a team, there's no sense of a shared purpose.
How on earth can you learn to be happier in these circumstances?
Mindset. Not ‘think positive’, but mindset.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with positive thinking self help books; that skill of always putting a positive spin on things? Sometimes it’s really hard. But by making small adjustments to the way I think about myself, my skills and my situation, I’ve learned so much about mindset and how important it is. Viktor Frankl in a concentration camp experienced at first hand how much difference this makes to survival. Buckingham and Goodall in Nine Lies about Work encourage us to find the ‘red threads’ in our daily lives, and weave more of them into the fabric of our work. Zig Ziglar tells of the woman who complained about how awful her place of work was, but by getting her to focus on gratitude showed how ‘everyone else’ had changed. (It can be found on YouTube, but most have foreign captions. Search for Zig Ziglar and gratitude if you want to watch him.)
I was talking with Michael, who worked for a local authority office. He had hated the work and didn’t get on with his managers. Public expenditure cuts meant the working environment was very negative. One day, in a flash of personal insight, he decided to stop complaining about it and see what he could do to make things better. To look for solutions instead of expecting others to change. He said it took some time, but after a while he found he was enjoying his work more. He discovered a growing respect for his managers, who also started to show him more respect. His managers started to come to him for help, which led to him getting more interesting work, and they started to show him more appreciation.
It’s kind of like when two people fall out, who is going to apologise first? Do you hold on to a grudge and expect the other party to make the first move? If they’re doing exactly the same, no-one does it, and the rift grows. If you want to be shown some appreciation and respect at work, show some to your bosses and your colleagues first. If you want interesting work, demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the simple things well, without complaint, on time. Change your approach, and people will change their behaviour in response.
I’m not saying this will work 100% in every situation. There are some work situations that need more. A bullying manager. A severe micro manager. A ‘rules are rules’ approach. But even in severe situations, acceptance of the situation puts you in a stronger position to act. If you have a bullying manager you do need support, but accepting the situation and not embracing victimhood will mean that you can consider your options – go to HR, go to another manager, look for another job, leave.
In most cases though, it’s not a bullying manager, it’s more that you don’t see eye to eye, you don’t get on, you don’t respect or trust each other. Those things can all be worked on.
And the bottom line is, you can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but you can control your own. You can learn to control your responses and your emotions. If you want to know where to start, download seven things you can do today to be happier at work. These seven simple things can be implemented easily. Make a start on your new habits and new behaviour at work.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these out, and how you get on.
Friday afternoon! Yay!
How has your #WeekofHappinessatWork been?
That makes it sound as though that’s it, no more happiness at work. Obviously, that is so not the intention of this week. We want every week to be a week of happiness at work. This may seem unattainable to some, but there are things you can do.
And in all honesty, even at the happiest of workplaces, there are bound to be days where things don’t go your way. So what then? How do you deal with that?
It’s all about resilience, dealing with your emotions, emotional intelligence.
This week started very badly for me. I started tired, got up late on Monday, and a personal disappointment that day put me in a bad mood. A very early start on Tuesday made me even more tired and my exercise regime suffered. Alright, I did none on Monday or Tuesday. Healthy eating went out of the window. And work productivity slowed right down. Just goes to show how much being tired screws things up.
But I rescued my week. Want to know how? Here’s my top five tips on how to get out of this kind of funk. Using one or more of these at work can help you to feel happier in a very short time.
On Monday I missed my walk. On Tuesday I missed the gym, although I did manage about 5k steps getting to a meeting and back. By Wednesday I was thoroughly fed up. So I made myself go to the gym. I did half an hour of weights and then some intervals on the rower. Big tick for feeling happier.
If you’re not a regular exerciser, just take a 10 – 15 minute walk, after lunch is good. In a park or green area is helpful, but even if you’re in a busy street, the movement will lift your mood.
Reading is my favourite thing when I need to recharge, but relaxation – sitting in a park if the weather is kind, meditation, get a manicure in your lunch break….
Eat your favourite healthy meal. Or sometimes, your favourite treat. Cake, chocolate, bread, cheese, whatever it is. (Not alcohol, not in the workday anyway). If you go for the healthy option, feel the virtue of this. If you go for something else, be mindful as you eat it. Don’t stuff it down. For Friends fans, like Phoebe’s psychiatrist boyfriend Roger said to Monica about the cookies, ‘Remember, they’re just food, they’re not love.’ Sit down, make an occasion of it. Enjoy every mouthful.
Take a short break from what you’re doing and have some social interaction with someone whose company you like.
Sometimes, giving yourself permission to slow down means you get more done.
By Wednesday, I‘d decided that getting to the gym was enough for that day. But if I look back over this week, I’ve
Another friend did the same – decided she was going to stop and take the afternoon off. And in doing so had a new idea for a business project, which she made a start on. Sometimes the space to slow down leaves room for other great things.
How about you? What’s your favourite thing to do to lift your mood at work when it’s not going well?
Who loves being told what to do? Not many of us, I’m willing to bet. I was talking to my daughter earlier, and she mentioned she’d been looking for new glasses with a friend. The friend said her husband has the last word on her new glasses – he would say if she could have them or not. My daughter was horrified – and said if her husband tolde her she couldn’t have them, those are the ones she’d buy, even if she didn’t like them herself. Just to make the point he couldn’t tell her what to do. (He doesn’t, just to be clear. Which is possibly one reason she was horrified that someone else’s husband would.)
It’s one thing for husbands and wives, but does your boss have the power to tell you what to do? Certainly some bosses act as though they do, and I guess if you push it, there is an expectation that they can. I remember years ago a colleague recounting a conversation with one of her team members
Jane: Are you telling me to do it?
Sue: No, I’m asking you
Jane: If I say no?
Sue: Then I’m telling you
Daniel Pink says that autonomy is one of our most important drivers, so what do you do if your boss is always telling you what to do? It's a key aspect of happiness at work.
It can feel stifling if we feel powerless at work, and certainly some work environments drain the life out of people because of this. But there is always something you can do. Job crafting means thinking about the purpose of your work, what is important to you, what you enjoy, and crafting more of those things into your work every day.
Even if you have the most micromanaging manager of all time (I’ve met one or two of them) you can take control of how you feel about your work. As Viktor Frankl said in Man's Search for Meaning,
'...the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.'
Both books are an inspiring read, and you can watch my reviews of them here.
I've written more on this subject here
What will you do to take control and gain a little autonomy for yourself? Taking even the smallest of steps will help you to feel happier at work. Let me know in the comments below what change you will make to be happier at work.
Maybe I should have written this on Monday, because I have an irresistable urge to continue..tell me why....I don't like Mondays. It's kind of relevant, because this is all about purpose at work, why do you do what you do? And what has that got to do with the #WeekofHappinessatWork?
From Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, via Daniel Pink’s Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, to Kevin Murray’s People with purpose, authors and researchers are showing us how purpose makes a difference with our motivation and productivity at work. According to Murray, your job as a leader is to give everyone in your team or organisation a greater sense of purpose. It delivers better performance and faster growth. Employees live longer, have fewer illnesses (less sickness absence) happier lives and feel fulfilled
I wrote that in February last year. The problem often is, what if your manager isn’t delivering on his job of creating a sense of purpose in the team? The solution is to take control yourself. This article in Forbes said
'People often attribute their sense of purpose to three elements: feeling connected to something bigger than themselves, knowing their work matters and, perhaps most importantly, understanding how their work affects other people—not just the organization's bottom line.'
If you’re finding it difficult to be happy at work, maybe reconnecting with why you’re doing the job you’re doing will improve your mood. Think further than ‘because I need the money.’ Take a notebook and make some notes on what it is about your work that is bigger than you. Who does your work matter to? And how does it affect other people? Whether that’s the people in your life, or the people you’re serving with your work.
I'd love to see what you discovered, let me know in the comments below.
For more thoughts on purpose you can also watch my review of How to be Happy at Work by Annie McKee here
One of the key indicators of a good workplace is whether you have friendships at work. And one thing that can foster friendships is shared activities. The simplest and most obvious one in the workplace, especially if you work a roughly 9-5 work day, is lunch. What happens at lunchtime? Do you work through and eat a sandwich at your desk? I hope not, because there are so many benefits to taking a break.
If you have a dedicated space in your workplace to get away from your desk and eat lunch, make a point of doing that for the rest of this week. If you don’t have a dedicated space, suggest to a co worker or three that you get out of the office and go somewhere for lunch. Use it as an opportunity to get to know someone a little better.
Let me know what you’re doing for lunch for the rest of this week.
If you want more ideas for how to be happy at work, start here.
Today marks the beginning of the International Week of Happiness at Work. Hmm, if you need this, I guess you’re in trouble. My view is that every week should be happy at work. But too many people don’t feel like that about it.
To mark the week, I’m going to post a new article every day looking at the issues. If you want to join the conversation, you can find me on twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, You Tube and my website.
What are your initial thoughts about a week of happiness at work? Post in the comments below, or on any of the social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook and Linked In links are below in About the Author.
Instagram is new ish, but I can be found here
If you want to make a start, get my seven things you can do today to be happier at work
This cautionary tale tells the story of Dawn, who worked for a large customer service organisation. During one of those team building awaydays, they were asked to write some anonymous feedback for someone they worked with, who they wished didn’t behave the way they did.
Dawn wrote a lengthy letter, writing what she thought of Gemma, a younger manager she worked with. Dawn thought Gemma was too abrasive, and not considerate enough of others in the team. She didn’t hold back in the letter – after all, it was anonymous.
Only, it wasn’t. The trainers pulled a sneaky trick on the delegates. They were then asked to sit opposite the person for whom they had written this no holds barred feedback and read it out to them. My desktop won’t play along and let me post an emoji for this, but it would be the shocked one. I was horrified for Dawn.
I cannot see what is to be gained from this. I’m a big advocate of feedback. It is one of the best ways of learning and improving relationships with others. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to deliver it. This was definitely the wrong way. There are three obvious problems with the approach taken here.
What's the problem?
Is there a better way?
Yes. Yes there is.
On a day to day, informal basis, make sure the only uninvited feedback you give is positive. Make sure it is to help someone feel good. Make it as specific as you can. And genuine. And work related. As often as you can, not just ‘good job on that presentation’ but ‘I can see you were really thorough in your research for that presentation, I can see how hard you worked. I especially like the point about.....because.....’
If you’re invited to give feedback (by the actual person, not by a trainer who lies about it!) then you can give honest feedback about where they could improve. There’s still a sensitive way to do this though. We’ve all heard of the sandwich technique. Sometimes known as the shit sandwich; quite possibly because it’s often uninvited feedback, and done in a clumsy fashion. ‘I’m saying something nice about you as a cover for the criticism I really want to give you, then I suppose I have to say something else nice.’ The nice things somehow don’t seem sincere.
But if you are asked to give feedback, keep to the same rules of making it specific and genuine. And yes, you do need to find actual positives to share, even when you’re also delivering a point where someone can improve. You still need to ensure they feel good about your feedback, and you can only do this by being genuine about wanting to help them. The sandwich technique comes from a good place, and if you bear this in mind, that you want the person to feel good, then you can deliver feedback that will actually help.
What I think this trainer should have done is acknowledge that the delegates may not have had the skills, or be in the right place with a working relationship, to deliver effective feedback on 'areas for improvement'. The task then, was to help them gain the skills. Or alternatively, spend some time on looking at why relationships may not be as good as they could be at that workplace. Maybe both.
And if you’re ever in a position where you’re asked to do this, here’s my advice; call the trainer out on it. Ask them what the purpose is, what is the exercise meant to achieve? If they have an answer, but you don’t think the objective will be achieved, say so. And I'll be very surprised if they do have an effective answer. Lead a mutiny and refuse to just read out a letter that you didn’t intend the other party to hear. Although, seriously, I hope team building has progressed past this kind of nonsense. To be fair, this did happen some time ago, and we’ve learned so much more about how people learn, how the brain responds to threatening situations, and how to foster good working relationships since then.
As a counterpoint, I once went to a team building away day that did something like this far more effectively. We were split into small groups, and had to do a round robin type of exercise. We had puzzles to solve, one I remember was to build something in lego. There were other types of practical tasks too. After a given amount of time, we moved to the next table, and had to work on a different task. I remember being really confused about what we should be doing, should we undo the previous team’s work and start again, or carry on where they left off? The trainers refused to answer, telling us it was up to us. By the end of the exercise, I’d twigged. I realised the point was, we’re all supposed to be on the same team, we’re all working towards the same aims, our communication needed to improve so that we could build on what the previous group had done. Not undo it all and start again, destroying what they had achieved, wasting everyone’s time and the organisation's resources.
Many years later, this lesson remains imprinted on my brain. This was before I understood about purpose at work. Before I understood how fundamental it is to feel valued at work. At least before I understood it at an intellectual level, because those things had long been important to me on a visceral level. But this is a much better memory than being coerced into sharing some negative feedback to a antagonist at work.
Do we need feedback at all?
Let’s take the concept of negative feedback and examine it a little more closely. I was going to conclude that feedback is good, but negative feedback should be handled carefully. But then I remembered something I read just recently. In Nine Lies about Work, Buckingham and Goodall’s lie #5 is ‘people need feedback’. Should we even give negative feedback at all? Parenting guides talk about ignoring bad behaviour in your children and praise the good. (Easier said than done, I know!) Does this apply to the workplace too?
Looking back over workplace experiments and citing some research by Gallup, the engagement at work people, Buckingham and Goodall conclude that what people need is not feedback, but attention. The Gallup research found that the worst scenario for workplace engagement was where managers paid no attention whatsoever to their team. Even negative feedback is attention, and this achieved forty times more effectiveness in engaging the team. So it looks like a win. But as the point of engagement is to achieve more effective performance, is this still the best way to get this result? You might not be surprised to learn that positive feedback is more effective still, but you may be surprised to learn that it is thirty times more powerful again than negative feedback.
Buckingham and Goodall also borrow from the research on personal relationships; it has been found that a happy marriage has a positive to negative ratio of between three to one or five to one – so for each negative experience, you need to give positive attention three to five times. You can watch my review of Nine Lies about Work
here. If you want to explore these ideas further, or if you still need convincing of the merits, I highly recommend a read of the book.
So what are the takeaways from this?
If you’re a manager and want to get the best out of your people, give them positive attention – catch them doing something right, and feed that back to them, help them see what was working.
If you’re a team member and wish you got on better with colleagues and managers, give them some positive feedback. As often as you can. It counts just as much whatever your place in the team.
If you’re a trainer, help your students to understand this concept.
If you'd like more ideas on how to be happier at work, you can get a free download here
What is your experience? Do you have any other tips for improving working relationships that have helped you? Let me know in the comments below.
Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley, 2019 Nine Lies about Work, Harvard Business Review Press Boston, Massachusetts
A wise old man living in the Himalayas once said there are three types of work. The first is bad, and only has a negative effect on the world and the people. The second is neutral, and does no harm, but has no impact for good either. The third is positive, and is a force for good in the world, helping society or the world in some way.
Ok, it was my friend’s dad, and he said it about two days ago. He does live in the Himalayas though, and is clearly wise. I’m not so sure about old; he can’t be much older than me. Although a wise middle aged man living in the Himalayas doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.
I love this though. I’ve talked much about meaningful work, and finding the red threads in what you do. But this puts another perspective on it.
Let me ask you, which type of work do you do?
Are you in a corporate role, creating consumer goods no one needs? Or worse, things like cigarettes, or maybe unhealthy food that you feel isn’t a good thing. Or in promoting gambling? It’s subjective, of course. For many of these things, we could argue that they aren’t all bad – unhealthy food is good for an infrequent treat. Who doesn’t love cake, or ice cream, or chocolate, now and again? Or a drink? Or a flutter on the Grand National? But then there are those who become addicted, or promote them to children and get them hooked into bad habits. If you are involved in work in a field like this, and you feel it’s intrinsically bad, then yes, you should quit. If you can’t find a purpose in the work that meets your values, then you are selling your soul. Leave as soon as you can.
A neutral job
But my job is to persuade you that your job isn’t that bad, so let’s look at some neutral ones. Even that is subjective. The friend I was talking to – let’s call her Suki – said her job fell into the neutral category, and she wanted something that has a positive effect on the world. Her job though, is in the leisure industry, and she provides a service to young people where they can take part in a fun event with their friends. I’d call that more than neutral. I think that has a positive effect on the world. It’s not doing any harm, and it’s enabling people to enjoy themselves. Yes, it’s a business making a profit, but it’s not ripping people off or conning them out of money, it’s providing a service for a fee. Suki wants more and wants to work somewhere that is helping people more directly than just having fun, and that’s fine. But she shouldn’t downplay the role she has now.
It’s easier to see the value in charitable work, in education, health or social care, in teaching. But just because you’re in a business that makes a profit, that doesn’t mean it has no social or environmental impact on the world. I don’t want to get into the whole capitalism argument, and there is much going on currently that I personally abhor. But the profit motive doesn’t automatically mean something is negative.
So should you quit?
So I’ll ask again, what type of work do you do, and should you quit your job?
If you have job with a positive effect on the world, I’d say don’t quit. You might want to quit if the work culture is rubbish or you don’t have a good manager. They say people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. But before you do, there are things you can try to learn to fall back in love with work. Try these seven things you can do to feel happier. You might also want to quit if you’re bored. But if that’s the only problem try this red threads exercise to discover what you love.
If you’re in a neutral job, that might be enough for you. We all have different wants and needs from our work. Advice is the same as above. With the added suggestion that you think differently about the purpose of your work. If, like Suki, you work somewhere you consider neutral, consider whether you bring joy and happiness, or even something that makes life easier in some way for someone, maybe it’s not so neutral after all. Focus on that.
If you’re in job that you consider has a negative effect on the world, then yes, I’d be looking for something with more purpose. Obviously just quitting isn’t a sensible option for most people most of the time. I can’t tell you what to do of course, and we all have different things to consider. If you have personal circumstances that mean you can’t, if your purpose is to provide for your family, then focus on that. It’s an important purpose. But maybe think about what you can change in the future, and start planning for more meaningful work as your next step. What would be a positive work situation for you, and can you work towards that?
I kinda wanted to do a flow chart thingy, but it’s beyond my technological skills Feel free to let me know what you think of this concept, and how it plays out for you, in the comments below.
I was described as a 40 something the other day. I’ll take that, thanks . If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I left my 40s behind a good while ago.
We were talking about work, and it got me thinking about where I was working in my 40s. It wasn’t a bad job – there were plenty of interesting things to do, I got on well with the boss, and there were only the two of us for most of the time. But there were no prospects, and to be honest I wasn’t using my best skills all that much. The wider organisation – head office, the charity’s trustees – didn’t really know me or my best skills and had no interest in helping me use them or develop and grow. So I got bored. I needed more.
They say 40 is the new 30
50 is the new 40, 60 is… well, you get the idea. And while it’s fun to bask in the glow of being taken for younger than you are, the reality is that we are living longer, are fitter, healthier, have more energy than our grandparents did. We have active brains and expect more from life.
If you’re a 40 or 50 something – you have at least 10 years of your working life in front of you. With pensions the way they are in the UK, it’s probably going to be longer than that.
How does that make you feel? If you’re living your life just counting the clock down until you can retire, you’re doing it wrong. If the thought of another 10, 20 or hell, even more years of turning up for this job fills you with horror, ask yourself, why are you choosing to live like this?
You might be taking issue with me now.
‘I’m not choosing to live this way! I have no choice! I have bills, commitments, family to support!’
There’s always a choice
You might feel trapped in you job. You need the pay, you don’t have the skills, or the confidence to look for something else. You’ve looked, without success. Work sucks anyway, a new job will likely turn out just as bad as this one. Or even worse, and then what?
We may be stuck in a given situation for a time, but we can always choose our response to what happens, how we deal with it.
Even if you haven’t read his account, you’ve probably heard of Viktor Frankl, who wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz, and how those who gave up on life were the first to die. He says
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Man's Search for Meaning
Are you just waiting to be happy?
Your job may be bad, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as bad as Auschwitz. This is such an uplifting read, despite its subject, it gives a great perspective on the resilience of people. (I made a video with my thoughts on the account, you can watch it here.)
Do you want to be one of those people who waits to be happy, waits till a retirement that you might not be able to take, or won’t be able to enjoy because you have no disposable income? Is that what it would take for you to be happy – an absence of work? We hear so much these days about the importance of purpose and meaning in our lives, But Frankl was saying it after the war, after a harrowing experience, and how much it helped those who survived.
Are you asking yourself if there’s more to life than this?
There is. If you want to make a start now and feel happier at work today, I have put together my best tips for making a change. It’s free to download. If you want to find out seven things you can do today to feel happier at work, get it here.