Pursuing happiness in work

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. One of the main ways people try to pursue happiness is through work.

Tiffin University Associate Professor of Psychology Matt Bereza said not only is it reasonable to have work contribute to happiness, it actually benefits employees. “People find satisfaction in their job when recognized and included in decision-making processes.”

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Annie McKee suggests many sabotage their own happiness on the job, whether working for themselves or someone else. People fall into some combination of three traps: the ambition trap, the “should” trap and the overwork trap.

Ambition can lead to chasing goals for the sake of hitting targets and work can lose its meaning. Most people at least at times fall into the “should” trap, where people do what is expected at work versus what they would like to do. Pressure to conform is high in most organizations.

Finally is the overwork trap. American culture rewards hard work, including long hours. This is especially true for entrepreneurs. Research on this topic consistently points to overwork resulting in reductions in creativity and productivity.

To overcome these traps, people need to find meaning in their work. Studies suggest meaning can be found in even the most menial jobs. Second, people need hope that the work fits their personal vision in life and has meaning beyond just collecting a paycheck.

Finally, people need to develop good relationships with the people with whom they work. Studies constantly point to the fact most people leave jobs because they do not get along with their boss, subordinates or other colleagues. People who don’t have close friendships have worse health, less brain function in middle age and die sooner than people who are less lonely.

“Self-reflecting and asking ourselves what we expect and are the expectations reasonable is the first step in being able to find happiness within our jobs,” according to Corri Miller, instructor of human resource management at Tiffin University. “Once we understand what it is, we can move to make or at least attempt to make changes in order to find work happiness.”

Entrepreneurs generally are found to be happier than those who work for someone else. The freedom to make choices about work and life always is at or near the top of lists of reasons why individuals start their own businesses.

Starting a business or other entrepreneurial venture is done in pursuit of happiness. Other reasons people start new businesses include wanting to pursue a passion, controlling their own destiny and wanting to express themselves. Having a successful business can bring a feeling of accomplishment.

Business owners and all managers have a responsibility to help their employees to be happier at work. They can implement the three suggestions made by McKee. Explaining the importance and value of the work they are performing helps employees see the meaning in their jobs and connect the work to the personal goals of the employees.

Owners also should provide opportunities for employees to socialize with each other. Simple activities such as holiday parties or sports league teams can create those friendships among employees. Research also shows these social activities can improve the overall performance of the organization.

“My suggestion for happiness at work centers on being of service. I do not love all aspects of my job — someone once told me that is why it is called work,” Bereza said. “However, I once read that some of the most inspirational people in human history have listed service to others as the greatest contributor to happiness.”

Miller agreed, saying employees can be happier by engagement in activities outside of their normal day-to-day tasks. They can work on a committee on the job or do volunteer work in the community that is sponsored by their company.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.