How to Be Happier at Work
Real Simple polled readers on what they need to make their jobs more likable, even fun. Here's a strategy session you'll want to attend.
What You Want: A Flexible Schedule
How to get it: According to a 2012 survey by the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of organizations allowed at least some employees
to work from home occasionally, compared with 34 percent in 2005. And 77 percent now permit at least some people to have a
flexible schedule (such as shorter weeks with longer days). Certain fields are more open to this than others, with some of
the biggest opportunities in health care, information technology, education, the nonprofit sector, sales, and marketing. Whichever
your field, do your research before you request a schedule shift. Seek a mentor in your workplace who has flex time. "Ask
how she got it and if there are any implications to it," says Olivia O'Neill, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management
at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. For example, "your advancement opportunities might move more slowly because
you may be perceived as less committed or less valuable than someone who is on site full-time," says Lorra Brown, an assistant
professor of communication at William Paterson University, in Wayne, New Jersey, who has researched the relationship between
motherhood and career opportunities. You may also need to give up something—whether it's a portion of your clients or a portion
of your paycheck. If you're still up for making the change, your best bet for getting it is to outline a formal schedule,
detailing when and how you plan to fulfill your responsibilities and why it might be beneficial to the company (for instance,
you would be working for an extra hour instead of driving for an hour).
What You Want: A Friendlier Office
How to get it: Just because you work in a cold, competitive environment doesn't mean that you can't uncover its warm-and-fuzzy
side, at least a little. "No matter your position in the work hierarchy, you can influence those around you," says Shawn Achor,
the author of Before Happiness ($26, amazon.com) and the founder of GoodThinkInc., a consulting firm focusing on how positive psychology can improve work performance. He
suggests doing as Marriott hotel employees do: If you're walking within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile; if
you're within five feet, say hello. "Positive interactions are contagious, so when people see you acting collegial, they are
positively affected," says Achor. Altruistic actions (bringing bagels to a meeting, arriving early to help a colleague prepare
for a lecture) have additional benefits. Achor's research found that those who are generous to their cubicle mates are 40
percent more likely to receive a promotion than are their colleagues, probably because supervisors tend to reward employees
who help fellow coworkers. Adam Grant, Ph.D., a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of
Give and Take ($16, amazon.com), adds, "Research shows that salespeople who are givers—people who help others without strings attached—bring in 68 percent
higher annual sales revenue than those who aren't."
What You Want: More Creativity
How to get it: Experts suggest that employees are often happier when their work feels creative. So "highlight the skills that you're hoping
to utilize or hone," says Grant. "Then ask a mentor or boss for advice on how to expand your contribution." Say, for instance,
"I've always been interested in event planning, so I would love to help organize the gala fund-raiser next month." Or, if
you want to put your accounting chops to good use, draw up a memo on ways that the company can save. If your boss doesn't
see the value of challenging you (or simply doesn't have additional work to give you), find innovative ways to streamline
your current tasks. Even devising a new filing system can give a boost of creativity and happiness at work, says David Burkus,
Ph.D., a professor of management at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, and the author of The Myths of Creativity ($26, amazon.com).
What You Want: Less Stress
How to get it: If stress is stemming from your workload, figure out what you need to make it more manageable, perhaps by delegating tasks or pushing back deadlines. Then present your plan to your boss, says Marilyn Puder-York, Ph.D., a New York City–based psychologist and the author of The Office Survival Guide ($17, amazon.com). Remind her that you would be even more productive with more resources. "This demonstrates that you're focused solely on performing at a high level and not just looking to leave the office earlier each day," says Puder-York. If you're in an office that's just tense in general, sign up for a regular yet flexible after-hours activity that you find relaxing, she says, whether that's a vigorous tennis game or a yoga session.