A New Study Reveals Why You Should Stop Trying To Be Happy At Work
There are so many people who hate their jobs. Every day from nine to five you have to sit in a building and be miserable for a good chunk of the day just so you can make money to do stupid stuff, like live. You have to get up in the morning, cram yourself into uncomfortable work clothes (seriously, who even invented the neck tie?) just so you can sit in a cubicle next to a group of other people who sit in cubicles who you also hate, but still have to pretend like you’re friends with them. And when companies try to make the work experience fun, it’s even worse. They should just let employees wallow in their misery. It’s better that way.
And it turns out, science thinks that the best thing to do, too. You might actually be happier if you’re not trying to make yourself happy.
By The Numbers
The average person spends 900,000 hours at work during their lifetime. But they’re not necessarily enjoying the time that they’re there.
According to Gallup, 85% of employees aren’t engaged, but not only that, they don’t know how to become engaged.
But it turns out that trying to be happy on the job actually might be counter productive. If you’re trying to seek out happiness while also trying to do your job, you might be trying to do too much.
Happiness Is Fleeting
According to author Emily Esfahani Smith, it’s actually stronger to focus on meaning rather than happiness.
Happiness isn’t a permanent state, but focusing on achieving your goals can actually give you a greater sense of well-being.
Focusing on trying to give your professional and personal life meaning is the better choice and better for you. Happiness will come as a by-product from trying to achieve your goals, both in your work life and outside of your work life.
It turns out that research has shown that making work more meaningful is actually a great way to increase productivity, engagement, and performance, but it’s been underutilized.
A survey of 12,000 employees found that 50% said they didn’t get a feeling of meaning and significance from their work.
However, the employees who did have a feeling of meaning with their work had 1.7 times greater job satisfaction, and were 1.4 times more engaged. They were also more likely to stay with their employer.
People will pay a lot to have meaning in their life, or in some cases, they’re willing to take a pay cut.
A researcher found that nine in 10 people were willing to swap a percentage of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work.
You would think that when people go to work, they’re in it just for the money. But this isn’t the case. Sometimes, they’re in it to feel good about what they do instead.
How Low Would You Go?
It turns out, people are willing to pay a pretty penny to have a job that offers them meaning.
According to a Harvard Business Review survey, an average of the respondents were”willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful.”
This doesn’t mean that employers should necessarily pay in “meaning” instead. Employees do need to still eat after all. But it does show just how important it is.
The Meaning Of Happiness
In the 1974 book Working, written by Studs Terkel, the author said that meaning motivates the American worker just as much as money does.
“[Work] is about a search…for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor,” he wrote.
Terkel found that the “happy” few who actually enjoyed their jobs had one thing in common. They had “a meaning to their work over and beyond the reward of the paycheck.”
Terkel’s book was published over 40 years ago, but it’s taken a long time for employers to take note of his findings and implement them.
There has been study upon study showing that people are happier when their work has meaning.
But it has really only been since 2005 that people have been trying to find jobs with more meaning. “Meaning is the new money,” said an article published in the Harvard Business Review in 2011.
Why In The Why?
There is actually a good reason as to why the concept of working for meaning instead of working for money has taken a while to catch on.
It’s been hard for businesses to put a dollar value on meaningful work. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “Just how much is meaningful work actually worth?”
You can assign a dollar value to how many hours someone works, but you can’t do that with how meaningful they find those hours.
What Do You Mean?
The second reason why it’s taken a while for meaningful work to catch on lies within the company itself.
Companies have been unsure in how they can foster meaning in their employees. Again, it’s a pretty intangible concept, and not everyone finds meaning in the same things.
What might be meaningful for one person might not be meaningful for another and not worth taking the pay cut for. It’s different for everybody, and that’s what makes it hard.
Who's The Boss?
It turns out that people don’t just want meaning at work. They also want to work for someone who cares if they live or die.
According to a survey of the attendees at the Conference for Women, 80% of the respondents would “rather have a boss who cared about them finding meaning and success in work than receive a 20% pay increase.”
To put that number in perspective, Americans spend 21% of their income on their housing.
The Bottom Line
It turns out that having employees who have meaning in their work actually benefits the employer as well.
It has been estimated that an additional $9,078 per employee per year will be generated if the employee is engaged in highly meaningful work.
Even if the employee would be willing to work for less, the employer would be able to afford to pay them more. It’s a little thing, but it goes a long way for a lot of people.
Staying In The Game
If you have a job that gives you meaning, you’re more likely to keep on working there, too. It should be a no brainer, but we needed studies to point that out, too.
According to Harvard Business Review, “employees who find work highly meaningful are 69% less likely to plan on quitting their jobs within the next 6 months.”
They’re also more likely to “have job tenures that are 7.4 months longer on average than employees who find work lacking in meaning.”
Over Turn Turnover
Employers end up saving a lot of money when they have low employee turnover.
It turns out that employers save an average of $6.43 million in annual turnover-related costs for every 10,000 workers if their employees find their jobs to be highly meaningful.
But even though it’s worth it to employers to make sure employees have meaning in their work, too few employers are actually providing this to their workers. This is where a lot of companies are lacking.
Make It Mean Something
Even though employers have historically been slacking when it comes to making sure their employees have meaning in their work, employees can do things to make sure their work has meaning.
For starters, you can make your priorities align with your values and personal identity, both inside and outside of your work.
You can incorporate your values into your daily actions, to make sure that what you are doing is fulfilling you as a person as well.
Friends To The Ends
You can also make your work more meaningful by focusing on building relationships, rather than just focusing on the bottom line.
Contributing to the well-being of others can actually contribute to your own well-being as well.
Taking the time out to extend a helping hand to someone else at your job can make that job seem all the more meaningful because you are doing something to better another person. It’s a little thing that goes a long way.
Live Your Life
In the short term, doing a job that has meaning might not make you immediately happy.
Making sure your life has meaning in it requires some work – and it’s not just the work that you do at your job. It takes self-reflection and some rolling up your sleeves to actually execute your goals.
It might seem a little counter productive if you want to be happy, but at the end of the day, you’ll see a big pay off.
By playing the long game and striving for meaning in your work, you’ll actually end up happier at work without even trying to chase happiness.
So if you want to be happy at your job, it might be strongest to stop trying to be happy and start doing things that make you feel good.
Happiness is a byproduct of living a life that has meaning. If you follow your bliss, then your bliss will follow you, too.