Do you feel you are thriving at work, or just surviving? As I mentioned in my article How to Find a Career You Love, you will spend approximately 80,000 hours at work over your career. That’s a lot of time to spend doing something you don’t enjoy or that makes you feel unwell.
The Ill-Effects of Workplace Stress
Research of 30,000 Australian employees conducted by the Workplace Health Association of Australia shows 65 percent of those surveyed experience moderate to high stress, and 41 percent were considered ‘at risk’ of serious health issues such as:
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
- Mental health concerns
Dr John Lang, CEO of the Workplace Health Association of Australia, says the findings are concerning.
“This is an alarming insight into the poor levels of health experienced by most Australian workers. It highlights the urgency to deliver preventative actions in the workplace,” said Dr Lang.
But it’s important to remember you are not trapped. There are steps you can take to improve your sense of well-being at work.
What is Well-Being?
Well-being has both a physical and mental component.
The steps you can take to improve your physical health are more obvious, such as:
- Exercise more
- Eat healthy food
- Give up smoking
- Reduce alcohol consumption
But what if you do all these things and still feel unhappy at work? What can you do to feel better?
According to well-being expert, Dr. Martin Seligman, there are five key steps to finding and maintaining your well-being.
Purpose often relates to belonging to and serving something bigger than yourself. Finding your purpose doesn’t mean quitting your job and giving away all your worldly goods. It’s about understanding why you do the work you have chosen. Does it play to your strengths? Do you feel satisfied after a day of work or does it leave you feeling exhausted? If creativity is your strength but you crunch numbers all day, chances are it will leave you feeling drained.
In his TEDX talk, Start with Why, Simon Sinek talks about what makes Apple more successful than other companies. He says it’s because they are clear on their purpose and put it at the centre of everything they do. If you understand your strengths and have a connection to your work, it will contribute to your general sense of well-being at work.
2. Positive Relationships
Humans are inherently social animals who crave love, compassion, kindness, support and approval. Research by Gallup shows that having at least one friend at work can greatly reduce workplace stress and increase a feeling of belonging, trust and support during difficult times.
By contrast, a poor relationship with the boss is one of the main reasons people leave a job. Another study conducted by Gallup suggests 40 percent of employees would sack their boss, given the opportunity. Managing difficult bosses can be tricky but author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Dr Travis Bradbury, provides strategies successful people can use to overcome toxic bosses.
If you are unhappy at work, now might be a good time to revisit workplace relationships and assess what impact they have on your well-being.
A sense of mastery and success in your job will contribute to your well-being at work. It’s impossible to win at every challenge but feeling absorbed by your work and feeling a sense of accomplishment will make your work life more enjoyable.
Think about marathon runners. Running 42km is probably one of the most illogical things you could ever do – it’s exhausting and painful – yet the sense of accomplishment marathon runners feel at the end of a long and challenging race is almost euphoric. Can you bring some of that into your work?
In his book, Flourish, Dr Martin Seligman talks about two different kinds of positive emotion.
Ebbs and Flows of Life
Your mood is a transient emotion that ebbs and flows, often in response to internal and external stimuli. For example, if you’ve had an argument with your partner in the morning, there’s a chance you’ll have a low mood at work that day. But often, a low mood doesn’t last – you kiss and make up and the low mood passes.
Satisfaction with Life
Understanding how you feel about life more broadly requires a more rational and in-depth analysis than the daily highs and lows. Do you generally feel optimistic about your life? Optimism has proven health benefits and like any skill, it can be learned and developed through daily practice. If, in the long-term, you feel pessimistic about work (and life in general) then it’s time to reassess.
Engagement is closely linked to enjoyment, which comes from intellectual stimulation and creativity. Engagement is about being completely absorbed in what you do. You may not instantly recognise that you’re engaged while you are completing a task but on reflection you might think ‘that was good’.
Dr Amanda Allisey of Deakin University says finding out what you really care about is a good way to find a sense of engagement.
“If you ask someone today why they want a particular job, or want to work for a certain organisation, the answer isn’t just “because it pays well”. It’s more about the meaningfulness of the work, or having the opportunity to do something you really love. It’s about tapping into what people care about – and contributing to a sense of well-being,’ said Dr Allisey.
A physical and mental sense of well-being at work is an important factor to a long and happy working life. If you are searching for your purpose or feel disengaged at work, then talk to me about how you can improve your well-being at work and live a more flourishing life.
If you would like to learn more about well-being, I recommend you:
- Flourish by Dr Martin Seligman
- Understanding the importance of workplace well-being
- I have a best friend at work
If your work is causing you stress and anxiety that is impacting on your immediate well-being then we encourage you to ring the Beyondblue Support Services on 1300 22 4636.