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.

Photo by R. Kikuo Johnson

You know the type: the worker bee who waltzes into the office with an eager smile and, perhaps even more impressively, walks out at the end of the day looking just as jolly. But according to a Gallup poll last year, these happy workers are a rare species, outnumbered by discontented types by nearly two to one. With the average employee clocking in for 8.8 hours each day (and probably more if you count the off-hours spent shooting off a "quick" e-mail, then grousing about it), that's a large amount of time spent potentially being unhappy. What's the issue? Our poll suggests that it's a range of things, from salary to stress—all of which, say experts, can in fact be remedied. It may take a bit of maneuvering, a tall order of tenacity, and a change of attitude, but a better work life, and a newfound spring in your step, are within reach.

What You Want: A Fatter Paycheck

How to get it: Watching the Dow tick up and wishing your income would, too? Of course you are. "A raise not only demonstrates that your organization values you; it also motivates you to work harder," says Adrian Granzella Larssen, the editor in chief of the Daily Muse, a career-management website ( So make an action plan: To get a sense of what's a reasonable bump, check what others at your level and in your field are making at and Ask peers in the same industry whether they have received raises. (In a poor economy, raises are among the first things eliminated, so you may have to adjust expectations.) Finally, make a list of your job duties, taking note of how they have changed over the years (say, you may have been hired as a manager but assumed the tasks of the partner above you when she was laid off). Now take your recon, along with a list of your accomplishments (goals met, clients landed, projects completed), to your supervisor. Explain that your research suggests that, based on your responsibilities, your pay should be X, but you're making only Y. State the specific wage that you desire; don't round it off (say $56,250, not $55,000). A 2013 Columbia Business School study reported that, when negotiating, you're more likely to get what you want with a precise amount. And if your boss says no? Find out what you can do to work toward it. If it's a matter of budget, consider nonmonetary perks (such as more vacation time) instead.

What You Want: A Promotion

How to get it: Experts agree that the best way to increase your chances for a work promotion is through self-promotion. No need to wince—there are subtle ways to clue your boss in to your talents. Start by taking credit for your work. When given a compliment, don't say, "I couldn't have done it without X," or "It was luck." Just say "Thanks!" As Corinne Moss-Racusin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York, says, "despite recent gains, many women are still raised to think that sharing our accomplishments is unbecoming. As a result, they often undermine themselves without realizing it."

Be proactive. A 2013 joint study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a market-research firm, and the American Management Association found that 53 percent of senior executives define leaders by their impact, not their job titles. So don't offer to take on just any task. "Pick those that are highly visible to your superiors," says Moss-Racusin. Spearhead new projects (for example, a volunteer initiative); organize events (such as hosting a panel on your area of expertise). When people see you in charge, you earn instant credibility, says Nancy Ancowitz, a business-communication coach and the author of Self-Promotion for Introverts ($19,