We’ve all seen the reports about how much American employees hate their jobs. In April, Gallup released “The State of the American Manager,” which found that just 35% of managers and 30% of employees are engaged in their jobs. The study estimates that managers who are “not engaged” (51%) or “actively disengaged” (14%) cost the U.S. between $400 million and $500 million each year.
But if you spend your Sunday nights dreading your work week, here’s some empowering news: It can be better, and you have the power to make it so.
We tapped a number of experts to give some triage tips to make yourself happier on the job—today.
Srikumar S. Rao, dubbed “the happiness guru,” is founder of The Rao Institute, a consultancy that works with entrepreneurs and executive to help them find deeper meaning and happiness. When he runs his workshops, he has participants complete an “ideal job exercise.” Participants write down their dream job, perfect salary and working conditions, ideal supervisor and colleague attributes, and the like. Then, he tells them to forget it.
“The exact set of parameters you outlined doesn’t exist. And, even if it did, and you were magically plugged into it, it would probably take just a few weeks or months before you’re the same miserable self there,” says Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful—No Matter What.
It’s not that he doesn’t believe in good workplaces, but he says that passion doesn’t come from the job—it comes from within each of us. When you stop thinking that you’re unhappy because you’re not making enough money or because your work isn’t as fulfilling as it could be, you start to take responsibility for making yourself happy, Rao says.
Dig into what’s making you unhappy. Are you annoyed by a coworker? Is the job unpleasant or boring? Keep asking yourself why the source of irritation is bothering you and if there are underlying issues. Perhaps your coworker reminds you of someone you dislike or you feel like your job isn’t allowing you to use your true talents.
Only when you put your finger on the source of the unhappiness can you begin to really do something about it, says organizational psychotherapist Joan Kingsley, author of The Fear-Free Organization: Vital Insights From Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture. Once you face down the root causes, you can work on making changes that will improve your work day, like spending less time with the coworker or approaching your boss to expand or change some of your projects or tasks to be more engaging.
Even if your immediate job isn’t your dream gig, shift your focus to what you’re learning and how that’s helping you build a skill set that will get you your dream job, Kingsley says.
“There is nothing you do in your work life, particularly when you’re young, that is a waste of time. The things that you think are boring are actually building up a skill base over the years,” she says. Seeking out additional learning opportunities or mentors may help you feel better about—and even accelerate—the learning curve.
Chances are, there is some part of your job you do like. It may be a certain responsibility you have or coworkers you like. Focus on adding more of that into your day, says Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. You might try to find a sense of meaning in your job by looking at how you make a difference and focusing on that.
“We call it job-crafting. There are all these things you do around the edges of your work to make it more engaging. They don’t require the permission of your boss or a change in your job description. They’re within the control of the employee,” she says. By actively adding elements that you enjoy into your day, you’re taking a step toward thriving in your work, she says.
A recent study by Horizons Workforce Consulting, a human resources consulting firm, found that employees who take less than 25% of their earned vacation are more likely to feel burned out, have less energy to manage their work responsibilities, and are considerably more likely to feel unable to meet work requirements.
Even the act of planning a vacation can help you feel happier and give you something to anticipate, says Kim Callaway, vice president at Horizons Workforce Consulting. So, start the planning process today.
A 2015 study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice found that giving thanks for the positive aspects of life can improve mental and, ultimately, physical health in patients with heart failure. In addition, a 2011 study published by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that gratitude and empathy decrease aggression. Rao says that simply noticing the good things in your life and in your work, focusing on them and being grateful for them, can make a big difference in your outlook and level of happiness.
Think about what needs to change in your work or in your life to make you happier, and do it. You’ll feel better if you start making plans and taking action to change your situation, whether it’s taking classes to improve your skills or updating your résumé to find a new job, Rao says.
“Sometimes, one of the ways the universe signals that it’s time for you to change is by making you miserable where you are,” he says.