3 warning signs you’re miserable at work, according to a happiness expert

Here's how to be happier and more successful in 2018
Here's how to be happier and more successful in 2018

Life is too short to be unhappy at work, says global Fortune 500 adviser and happiness expert Annie McKee. After all, employed American adults tend to spend most of their days surrounded by their managers and coworkers.

"We spend about one-third of our adult lives working. If we're miserable, frustrated or just generally bored and uneasy in the workplace, then we're not going to be happy in our lives and will bring it home," McKee, who holds a PhD in organization behavior, tells CNBC Make It.

Helping your coworkers might cure your work stress
Helping your coworkers might cure your work stress

"Sometimes in the stress of a busy day, a busy week or a busy year, you can lose sight of how happy or unhappy you are at work, you can forget about your own feelings," McKee says. "[You're] there, but most of the time you're just motoring on."

McKee, who used her decades of executive coaching experience to write her latest book, "How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship," notes that it's important to constantly pay attention to how happy or unhappy you are at work.

"There are three ways to tell if things are not well," McKee says. "There are physical clues that tell us something is wrong, emotional clues based on how we feel on a daily basis over time and clues from the health of our relationships."

Here are the three clues that will help you understand whether or not you're happy at work:


McKee says it's important to check in physically by noticing these habit changes: Are you sleeping well or are you waking up too often at night? Have you given up exercise? Are you eating too much or too little? Are you maybe having that next glass of wine in the evening instead of stopping when you know you should?

If we don't pay attention, we burn up and we burn out.
Annie McKee
Fortune 500 leadership adviser and bestselling author 

"Those are all clues that something is wrong," McKee says. "It might be work, it might be something else, but they're all clues that something is wrong and it's worth paying attention to them early before they become loud wake-up calls."


"There are also emotional clues that things are not particularly good at work," McKee notes.

Perhaps you've become pessimistic even though you know you're usually a glass-half-full kind of person. Maybe you've found yourself gravitating to those cynical, pessimistic people at work. Nowadays, you join in on their conversations you used to avoid because you know they don't make you feel any good. Or you may find yourself feeling down all the time, quick to anger or feeling frustrated.

"We all have bad days, but if we feel this over weeks and months we need to pay attention," McKee says.


When things are bad at work, McKee recommends you ask yourself, "How are relationships at home?"

When things are bad at work, we usually bring it home and express it at home first, she points out.

"We're usually careful not to get angry at people, have a temper tantrum or lose our cool at work because we know we can get in big trouble," McKee says. "But the minute you walk in the door at home, it's not uncommon to let out all the frustration, anger and unhappiness."

If your relationships outside of work are slipping, people might say that "you're different than you used to be." You might also notice you're acting in ways you're not proud of in your personal life, McKee adds.

You should also look at your relationships with people at work. You might find that you're metaphorically closing the door and not letting people in by isolating yourself and avoiding casual conversations.

"If we don't pay attention," McKee says, "we burn up and we burn out."

Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington and 3 other business leaders on how to avoid career burnout
Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington and 3 other business leaders on how to avoid career burnout

While it may take a lot of self-awareness to sustain happiness in your workplace, it's important to constantly check in with yourself physically, emotionally and relationally to make sure you head in the right direction.

For those who do find themselves unhappy, she offers some advice to start feeling better: "Banish the mindset that you don't deserve to be happy and you should just be happy that you have a job," McKee says. "We all deserve to be happy, you deserve to go for it."

Once you understand you aren't happy at work, the first thing McKee recommends that you do is carve out some time for deep reflection and introspection. Ask yourself, "What is causing me to feel sad or unhappy at work?"

"It's far too easy to habitually tell yourself, 'I'm sad because don't like my manager' or 'I'm sad because didn't get promotion,'" McKee says. "And while those things might be true, there's almost always something deeper than that."

She also says to talk to a friend about why you're feeling unhappy. If you feel down, you might tend to go back to your desk and hide out because you're stressed or overwhelmed when you should instead of reach out to people who care about you, McKee notes in her book.

"When we feel cared for — even loved, as one does in a friendship — and when we belong to a group that matters to us, we are generous with our time and talents because we're committed to people, not just the job or company," McKee says.

Your friend can help you decide if you seem to fit in with your current workplace or if the job is not the right fit for you.

"Find someone who you can really talk with, who can really tell you the truth about what they see in you, whether it's the strengths or some developmental areas they see in you," McKee says.

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