Are work and happiness compatible?

The end of summer can be a good time to reflect on the frustrations of work life. Some studies highlight practices that make the office a happier place

Psychology Hapiness
In the United States, it is estimated that two-thirds of the working population are satisfied with their jobs.Del Hambre

Two and a half millennia ago, Confucius said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It was probably already a utopian idea even then to enjoy something that, in the vast majority of cases, is done out of necessity and obligation. If we look at today’s statistics, however, the situation is broadly more positive than one might imagine. In the United States, it is estimated that two-thirds of the working population are satisfied with their jobs. This contrasts with Spain, where a recent survey by the National Institute of Statistics found that six out of 10 workers said they were unhappy in their working day.

These figures have a relative value, but they also serve to make us realize that millions of people do not enjoy the activity that takes up a large part of their week. Is there anything that can be done to remedy this? A number of studies provide clues to help shape the conditions that can help people feel happier when performing professional tasks.

— A friendly and positive work environment is key, regardless of the activity. On the contrary, work environments with constant stress, tension and harassment are factories of unhappiness. Feeling loved and valued in the workplace — the so-called emotional wage — is a psychological necessity.

— Work that has a beneficial purpose for society contributes to one’s greater pleasure in the activity, says social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, who has a TED talk about how helping others makes us happier.

— A sense of personal growth helps work become a motivating space. Feeling that we are learning and developing our capabilities is a very valuable stimulus, which is why many Silicon Valley companies offer their employees all kinds of training and activities.

— We could add the necessary personal conciliation, which makes it possible to clearly separate private and work life, although it is also true that the more passionate we are about an activity, the more hours we tend to invest in it. Thus, people who are “married to their work” end up neglecting other areas of their lives, making their profession their only refuge.

The professional dissatisfaction suffered by a large part of the population has recently generated the emergence of a figure known as a “happiness manager,” as a complement or alternative to “human resources.” The person who holds this position works on the assumption that investing in the well-being of the workforce will reduce sick leave and high turnover, which requires constant training of new employees, resulting in a loss of resources and productivity.

The following are some of the measures suggested by Andrés Pascual, author of the book Wellness Leader, to increase physical, emotional, and social well-being at work:

Promote self-awareness. You cannot lead others without first leading yourself. The personal work of those who lead a team, therefore, benefits everyone. Knowing where everyone can shine best is a good starting point for effectiveness and good relationships.

Listen actively. We can only detect problems early if we pay real attention to what is going on around us. In this sense, Alberto Cabezas-Castellanos, CEO of Barcelona-based search engine marketing firm Gauss & Neumann, begins every working day asking his employees three questions: “How are you, what are you doing, and how can I help you?”

Trust and recognition. The freedom to take initiative and feel that our contributions are appreciated is another key ingredient for well-being and motivation at work.

Promote passion. Taking up Confucius’ phrase, making the workday an exciting experience is the best way to attract and retain talent. To achieve this, managers must transmit enthusiasm for what the company does, how it does it, and make it a place where we feel proud to belong.

The importance of a pleasant space

In her book The Home Office, biologist Elisabet Silvestre discusses the challenges of teleworking. She advises separating the workspace from the rest of the home, establishing a strict schedule, having indoor plants, and ensuring adequate lighting and sound insulation. Taking active breaks, getting out of the chair, and getting some fresh air is also important to maintain the health of both body and mind.

Francesc Miralles is a writer and journalist and an expert in psychology.

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