I was recently listening to a podcast on bull$h*t jobs and how a lack of meaning at work affects us. Surprisingly, this is common. There are constant reports of people being unhappy or disengaged at work. One recent statistic from a 2018 ADP survey shows that 84% of employees globally are “not fully engaged”. How can we spend so much of our time in life like this – unhappy?
To begin, happiness isn’t well defined. It’s an abstract idea, often measured through our emotions, and the definition varies by category (e.g. work, love life, fitness, etc). So how can we achieve it without a definition?
My definition is that I’m happy when I am productive and fulfilled. That means my time and effort are used well (i.e. a good ROI) and fulfilled by the problem I’m solving and whom I am working with.
So how do we find that at work? I use a framework that is conceptually applicable throughout time allowing me to judge if I’m hitting my happiness target and measure where it’s off.
The conceptual framework leaves space for your career to manifest differently over time, but still provides a structure for evaluating happiness.
The idea is that you’re achieving satisfactory levels across all dimensions and if you’re not then something needs to change. Each person needs to know what their minimum satisfaction level is in each category and should reflect on it regularly. I do an evaluation every six months and any category below satisfaction I flag and come up with ideas for improving it. Then I give myself six months to implement improvements and take stock again. I know I need to make significant changes at work if more than one category is at a painful level in two consecutive reviews and it doesn’t get above the minimum (i.e. if after a year the role and people dimensions are at a 4 then I need to make a change at work). Change doesn’t always mean leave work; it could mean changing your boss, role, division, etc. My goal over time is to increase the accuracy at which I hit the happiness target and to maximize scores across each dimension.
It’s a fairly simple yet powerful framework that can be used when searching for a job to evaluate the odds you’ll be happy in the job. Do a spot check during a tough week. Or spend an hour every six months tracking your scores and designing improvements to make your life better.
The So What: Being happy at work is hard. In order to improve it we need to know what it looks like and not over-index on the material manifestation of it (i.e. money, property, power, prestige, etc). By having a clear definition and ways of measuring it we can reflect regularly on our happiness and take action to improve it. If we consistently are unhappy more significant changes are needed. If it is working we’ll see the accuracy of hitting our happiness target at work increase over time.