Ah, the deep joy of bounding back to work after the Christmas break. Breathless with enthusiasm, a spring in our step, we fire up our computers, thrilled at the prospect of the to-do lists and meetings that await us…
Yeah, right. There’s nothing like the first week of January for inducing major job dissatisfaction and a mood as black as the 5pm sky. A survey this time last year by Investors In People showed that nearly half of UK workers (a cool 15 million people) planned to seek a new job in 2016. It’s precisely now that jacking it all in, jumping on a plane and running a beach bar in Mexico seems like the best idea ever.
Yet, of course, flouncing out in a huff simply isn’t an option for the vast majority of us. However, there are ways of enhancing your happiness at work without upsetting the applecart. Apparently, you can fine-tune your existing role to make it more bearable – a practice known as “job crafting”. “It means taking the initiative to redefine the focus of your job, within your existing job description,” says Caroline Webb, a management consultant and economist whose book, How To Have A Good Day, is a doozy. “It’s about adapting your responsibilities to match your personal strengths, interests and values. Subtle tweaks can make the difference and will add to your daily job satisfaction.”
A good place to start is writing down exactly what you do in a working day. Look at the tasks you’re best at and value most, and start planning a way to do more of that stuff and less of the stuff that you find less rewarding. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve a tricky conversation with your manager – it could be as simple as reorganising your time, delegating more cleverly and becoming better at negotiating with colleagues.
We tend to think of our job as a defined, fixed behemoth that we can but moan about, but we actually have more control than we think. So, if you get the biggest buzz from creative tasks, always be the first to volunteer for those projects and thus shape your role as your firm’s go-to woman for creative thinking.
You could also consider your approach to work – or, as my grandma put it, enough of that attitude right now, missy. It’s easy to constantly whinge about work to the point where that becomes your default setting.
Apparently, you can fine-tune your existing role to make it more bearable – a practice known as ‘job crafting’. It means taking the initiative to redefine the focus of your job, within your existing job description
Caroline Webb urges us instead to deliberately set our intentions for the day. Imagine a scenario where you wake up late and grumpy, and then dash out of the house only to be sardined into a delayed train. This makes you late and flustered for an important meeting, in which you underperform. “Everything has gone wrong – today is a disaster,” you fume – and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Instead, Caroline suggests that, after the train fiasco, you should pause to regroup before you enter that meeting room. In that moment, you mentally make a break between the start of your day and the rest of it to follow. You tell yourself: “My journey was crap, but I’m not going to let that set the tone. This is a fresh start. I will approach this meeting in a positive way.” It sounds ridiculously, obviously, but reframing your thinking can hugely improve job satisfaction. One study of hospital cleaners showed increased happiness levels when they mentally rebranded their roles as not merely people who mopped floors, but an essential part of the patient-care team.
It’s also worth setting aside 10 minutes to ponder your working relationships. To put it very simply: working more with the people you like and less with the people you don’t think will make for a happier day. While you can’t do much about an awful boss who sits right next to you, if there are colleagues within your organisation who are inspiring and fun, find ways of collaborating more with them – for example, ask for their input on a project you’re working on. Or, if there’s someone senior who you don’t know very well, but you like the cut of her jib, you could ask her to mentor you.
Relationships are important too if you’re self-employed, but freelancers often don’t dwell on this aspect of their work – we’re all about saying yes to every job. But your clients are your colleagues and, if they drive you nuts on a daily basis, do something about it.
I once talked at length to a workplace psychologist about a client who always stressed me out, thanks to their unclear briefs and late payments. “Um, don’t work for them any more. Find a new client,” he said, as if talking to an imbecile (which, to be fair, he was). So, I did and instead concentrated on working for the people I actually like.
It may not always feel like it, but you do have more control than you think over your working life. And it turns out you don’t have to be a blissed-out yoga teacher in Ibiza to be happy.
How To Have A Good Day by Caroline Webb is published on January 14 by Macmillan.