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For happiness at work, look beyond the money

These work-hacking strategies can help you create professional satisfaction.

For happiness at work, look beyond the money
[Source Photo: Jason Strull/Unsplash, Ales Krivec/Unsplash]
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You’ve made it. You’ve secured a corner office, a nice title, and a handsome salary. You have achieved professional success.

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But what about professional satisfaction?

You will probably spend at least one-third of your life working. Work plays an outsized role in life satisfaction. It’s mighty hard to be happy in life if we’re unhappy at work. Yet there’s an abundance of workplace unhappiness. According to Gallop, 76% of workers have experienced burnout, and CNBC reports that a quarter of all workers are considering quitting their jobs after the pandemic.

These work-hacking strategies can help you create professional satisfaction.

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AT WORK, DON’T FOCUS ON THE MONEY

Do you enjoy your job so much that you would voluntarily sacrifice 20% of your salary?

If the answer is no, then you may be in the job for the wrong reasons. Shift your focus away from extrinsic rewards (like money and title) and toward intrinsic rewards such as the warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishing something meaningful.

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The work management platform Wrike studied the disparity between happy and unhappy employees. Unhappy employees prioritize compensation. However, job content prevails with happy employees.

To improve job and career satisfaction, focus on the content and impact of your work, the personal growth you gain through work, and the nontangible benefits of your work.

Taking money out of the work equation runs counter to both instinct and conventional wisdom. They certainly don’t teach this in business school. Remove money from career decisions by concentrating on:

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• The longer-term career opportunity.

• The potential impact the company can have on society.

• The impact and value add you can deliver to the company.

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• Your fit with the company culture.

By spotlighting the opportunity rather than the reward, you can maximize professional and personal satisfaction.

WORK FEWER HOURS

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Would you be happier if you worked less?

Such a concept seems to undercut everything we think about succeeding in the workplace.

In August 2019, Microsoft implemented a four-day workweek in Japan, a country with an intense work culture. Guess what happened. Productivity increased by 40%—even though employees worked 20% less.

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We spend so much time at work not working—chatting with colleagues, checking social media, attending useless meetings. The fewer hours we have to do our job, the more focused, productive, and efficient we become. The key is quality hours, not quantity.

Consider this: A small reduction in the number of work hours likely yields a disproportionate improvement in your quality of life. Resist the natural temptation to add more work hours to the day. Do the opposite.

LEVERAGE YOUR STRENGTHS

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To excel at work and in life, capitalize on what you’re best at. Identify where you can add the most value, and deliver that value. You’ll be rewarded for value add.

Management guru Peter Drucker authored a seminal article titled “Managing Oneself.” First written in 1999, Drucker says, “Concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results … Do not try to change yourself—you are unlikely to succeed.”

INNOVATE YOUR CAREER ARC

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Most careers occupy 40 or more years of prime adulthood. This can feel like a punishing ultra marathon. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, why not run a series of half marathons, or even 10Ks, with plenty of recovery time in between? For example:

• Take a sabbatical. I’ve twice enjoyed sabbaticals while climbing the corporate ladder and enthusiastically attest to the benefits of a chunk of time off to do your thing.

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• Retire early-ish instead of early. Work a bit longer, but still retire years ahead of schedule.

• Adopt a portfolio career, such as consulting, to craft the optimal mix of responsibility and flexibility.

‘HELP ME HELP YOU’

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The perfect job rarely exists. You may need to customize a role to maximize job satisfaction and engagement. In the organizations I have run, we often accommodated valued employees by customizing their roles. Think about how you can craft your job—including leveraging your strengths and working fewer hours.

When you speak with your boss, position your request from the company’s point of view. Don’t tell the company what’s in it for you. Instead, tell them what this does for them. Outline the benefits of your proposal, especially how this request helps your boss (such as helping to train younger employees). To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, tell your company how they can help you help them.

A natural hurdle is fear of the downside: What if the company says no to your request? Is there any downside? In many cases, there is no downside to asking (especially when you position it from the company’s point of view), and the potential upside usually outweighs any downside.

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CREATE OPTIONALITY 

If you could do anything in the world right now, what would you do? Most importantly, would you continue doing what you currently do?

Most people would choose to do something else but they don’t because of a perceived lack of options.They feel stuck, and being stuck is never a happy situation.

The solution is to create optionality. When work becomes a choice and not an obligation, it changes everything about the work itself.

Financial security mitigates dependence on a paycheck and provides confidence and resources to live and work on your terms. It is the ultimate work hack.

PROFESSIONAL SATISFACTION

Would you make better or different career decisions if you took money out of the equation at work? Would you be more satisfied professionally and personally if you could work less?

These work-hacking methods may appear radical. That makes them powerful. Embrace these strategies and enrich your career—and your life.


Todd Miller is the author of ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning