5 easy ways to find happiness at work

  • The former surgeon general recently claimed that smoking, secondhand smoke and sitting are no longer the biggest health risks facing our country. It's isolation and loneliness. And technology just makes us lonelier.
  • The key to finding happiness at work is to honor relationships — with our colleagues, our customers, ourselves and the world.
  • And leadership teams must not just talk about these values but actually be seen living them.
Stressed man in front of a computer
Image Source | Getty Images
Stressed man in front of a computer

Here's what we know for sure: Only a third of us are really into our jobs. Seventy-one percent of employees are looking for a new job. The former surgeon general recently found that the biggest health risk facing our country is not smoking, secondhand smoke or sitting. It's isolation and loneliness. And technology just makes us lonelier.

Let's face it. Left to our own devices (excuse the pun) we're not connecting — especially at work. The key to finding happiness at work is to honor relationships — with our colleagues, our customers, ourselves and the world.

But how?

1. Go on a values-driven mission.

The first thing to do when looking for a company that values relationships is to seek out one that values its values. While most companies have a mission statement and a set of values, they are often just platitudes hanging on the wall. Find a company whose values are alive in the halls.

The very cool, fast-growing luggage start-up Away uses a Slack channel called "Team Love" to share stories about their values. On Team Love, employees can recognize someone for living the Away values by sharing a story about how an employee brought one of their values to life. To scale the values even more, a survey goes out each week in advance of the All-Hands meeting, asking for examples of "core values in action," and each week five or six examples are shared with the whole company.

During the interview process, ask directly about values. Do employees know what they are and what they mean? Does the leadership team just talk about the values, or are they seen actually living them? Ask for stories of employees living the values. If they are collecting them, you're in the right place.

2. Connect. Connect. Connect.

In Harvard's famous 80-year longitudinal study on health, the authors' "biggest revelation" was that "how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health."

In other words, honoring relationships makes us happy.

Honoring relationships isn't rocket science, but that doesn't mean it's easy. We have to be very intentional because, well, we know why. We live in a world that calls us 24/7 with its promises of digital dopamine hits. So if we don't set our phones down with intention, our relationships will pass us by.

At 3 p.m. every day at the Slack HQ in San Francisco, a gong goes off. It's kind of like the 7th-inning stretch in a baseball game — it's a time to get up, walk around and instead of singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the folks at Slack take a coffee break. It's time to connect.

Ask your employer how they build connections into the day.

Taking a coffee break with your colleagues every day at a set time helps instill a connection.
Peopleimages.com | Getty Images
Taking a coffee break with your colleagues every day at a set time helps instill a connection.

3. Give back.

The only thing better than being engaged at work is being inspired at work. A recent study by Bain & Co. showed that "inspired" employees are 225 percent more productive than "engaged" ones and three times more productive than those who are "disengaged."

Research from Deloitte discovered that "creating a culture of volunteerism may boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception." So if you'd like to feel a little more inspired, join your company's volunteer program, and if they don't have one, build one. Not only will you get the pleasure of volunteering for a cause you believe in, you'll get the added perk of having been the employee smart enough to create it.

Zendesk, a customer service and engagement platform, asks its employees to volunteer six hours a year, which totals 12,000 hours of giving back as a company. In the San Francisco office all the volunteer programs are within a seven-minute walk of the office, and there are four options available each week. Employees can sign up for an hourlong slot, then walk back to work.

Everybody wins.

4. Play the long game.

Anyone who has ever had a job and a life at the same time knows this is true. Between kids, aging parents, holidays, emergencies and all the pesky appointments required to keep these human bodies healthy, life happens when we're at work. That's why smart companies are honoring relationships through what I call "intentional work practices," that will proactively provide intentional space within a person's schedule to take care of themselves and their family. While this might feel risky in the short-term, when it comes to running a human workplace, the long game is the only game in town.

I love the way online foodie-heaven, Food52, folds intentional flexibility into their workplace. The co-founders and CEOs know how important it is for their employees to be in the office to connect with each other, but they also understand the importance of taking care of life's business. To achieve this important balance, they choose to be concrete and intentional about how and when employees work from home. They call it Workday Wednesday, and it's so important, it's included in the employee handbook:

Food52 team members have the option to work from home on Wednesdays when needed. This way, people who really must work from home can do so, and there will be fewer days that people miss each other. And, of course, we know there are occasional emergencies, like having to take delivery of your great aunt Bessie's grand piano, and we're happy to be flexible when these occasions arise.

As Marne Levine, COO of Instagram, put it, "Pursuing a sustainability agenda is a natural extension of our mission, because it means making sure that the communities we serve are healthy and resilient."

Playing the long game is the path to true sustainability, which is how we honor everyone — by keeping us alive, healthy and employed.

5. Take professional development personally.

Taking professional development personally is one of my favorite surefire ways to be happy at work. So what does it mean?

Professional development — courses, conferences, credits — has traditionally been a totally top-down transaction. The employer or manager offers certain types of opportunities for an employee, depending on what she or thinks will benefit the company, or maybe keep an A-player happy.

Well, those days are over.

"Every company can and should be a truly sustainable, human company. And as a potential employee, you have every right to put an employee to the test: Do they honor relationships in everything they do? Are they a company that's really bringing their human to work? If so, that job's a keeper."

Today employees are on the lookout for real growth, more so than a stable job that pays the bills. They, themselves, are demanding professional development opportunities that are important to them. They are insisting that they be honored! And smart employers are catching on: Evolving humans are happy humans. And happy people make things happen.

So when looking for a job, be sure to ask about the company's policy on professional development and whether or not they take it personally.

Tiffany Pham is the CEO of the digital powerhouse platform Mogul, reaching 18 million millennial women in 196 countries every week with engaging content. One of Mogul's values is education, and she takes professional development very seriously, and personally, and asks her employees to do the same.

Pham says, "I regularly walk around the office and ask employees in each department how I can support them. ... In this way, education flows throughout our organization as I further connect and bond with everyone, from our executives to our interns." Pham also meets with her leadership team each week to "gain a sense of what further tools and software might enhance their professional skill sets for their current roles and beyond." Again, this open communication alerts Pham to who needs what, when they need it, and why.

Valuing education means that Pham is always learning, too—about the business and about her employees. At a recent meeting, Pham discovered that one of Mogul's Content and Community team members loves improv. Instead of just nodding and smiling, she figured out a way to incorporate it into Mogul's future content, which I, for one, can't wait to see.

Every company can and should be a truly sustainable, human company. And as a potential employee, you have every right to put an employee to the test: Do they honor relationships in everything they do? Are they a company that's really bringing their human to work? If so, that job's a keeper; they're doing something right. Something that's good for people, great for business, and just might change the world.