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Happiness at Work

March 10, 2019


Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.

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I recently contributed to a Seattle Times article on happiness at work. The article was in response to the CNBC Workplace Happiness Index research. You can find out more about the original research here. In a nutshell, the CNBC researchers asked 8,664 professionals a series of questions about their satisfaction at work. The researchers looked at five different categories of satisfaction: meaning, autonomy, recognition, opportunity, and pay; and they combined them into a single factor called the Workplace Happiness Index. They concluded that happiness at work is a multi-dimensional and complex outcome. In addition to my contribution that was quoted in the article, I want to add a few more thoughts in this blog post about workplace happiness in general and about this study in particular. ​

What Contributes to Happiness at Work?

According to career theorists, these five categories (meaning, autonomy, recognition, opportunity, and pay) represent different human needs that can lead to satisfaction, happiness, and motivation. If you feel satisfied in some of these categories but not in others, that may still lead to overall dissatisfaction with your job. The categories that contributed most to happiness at work are not the same categories that are related to whether a person has considered quitting. The CNBC researchers suggested that meaning, recognition, and autonomy contributed most to the Workplace Happiness Index, while the lack of opportunities for advancement and inadequate pay were related to workers thinking about quitting their jobs. 

Signs of Distress at Work

As much of your time and identity can be tied to your work, work-related stress and struggle can negatively impact many other areas of your life including: sleep, exercise, eating, self-care, physical health, mental health, finances, relationships, and self-esteem. Work related stress and negativity can bleed into your family and social life and create conflict, distance, and isolation. You may struggle with setting good physical and emotional boundaries with work, which can lead to burnout, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression. Some work experiences can be so toxic, traumatic, or chronically stressful that it can lead to symptoms of PTSD. ​

You may begin to cope with work-related stress using unhelpful strategies such as avoidance, people-pleasing, anger outbursts, numbing/escaping through TV, video games, emotional eating, shopping, sex, or substances. The unhelpful coping can then lead to further negative emotions, poor work performance, and decreased work satisfaction. The negative cycle can escalate quickly. It is important to recognize work-related stress and struggle early, address them right away, and prevent them from getting worse and spreading into the rest of your life. 

Therapy Can Help Address Work-Related Stress

Therapy can be a safe space to can explore work-related issues. In therapy, you can dive deep into personal and professional struggles. Counseling can help you gain clarity around your passions, values, strengths, and vision. Last, but not least, you can learn effective coping strategies and secure the tools to help you build a career and a life of true fulfillment.

When you seek therapy during a crisis, or when you are struggling with the intense emotions of the experience, therapy will focus on crisis management and reducing symptoms. When you seek therapy before a crisis, you can maximize self-reflection, insight gathering, and problem solving. In therapy, you can work on emotion management, relationship building, goal-setting, optimizing efficiency, and increasing motivation. This type of skill development works wonders for burnout prevention and stress endurance. Working with a trusted therapist will help you recover and heal from challenges at work so you can reach your full potential and thrive in your career. 

In my experience as a psychologist, each person who seeks therapy for work-related issues has a unique story. The work-related issues on the surface are diverse and the core issues underneath the surface are also diverse. 

Work Related Issues Can Include:

  • Lack of passion or clear career direction
  • Feeling stuck in the job or the field
  • Conflicts with colleagues or supervisors
  • Feeling undervalued, under-compensated and powerless
  • Termination from a job
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of job security
  • Stress and overwhelm
  • Sexual harassment, bullying or abuse 
  • Systemic oppression 
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of work/life balance 
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Overworking
  • Burnout​

All of these issues, and so many more, are wonderful reasons to seek support through therapy. Your therapist can help you better manage and problem solve these surface issues as well as explore the deeper issues of identity, trauma, relationships, purpose, meaning, etc. The core issues depend on your unique identities and experiences as well as your historical, societal, political, community, family, and relationship context. 

Workplace Community, Relationship, and Belonging

An area that was not addressed in the CNBC research is relationship, community, and belonging. One of the struggles that I often address with clients is loneliness and isolation. Having meaningful relationships, a strong support network, and a sense of community and belonging are important protective factors for physical and mental health and well-being. The booming Seattle economy is attracting workers from out of the state and out of the country who are from diverse racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, ability, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, language, and immigration backgrounds. 

Given our rapidly changing and growing Seattle population, as well as our current political climate, I wonder whether workers in Seattle feel deeply connected to social, familial, religious, or ethnic communities? How does a sense of community and belonging impact satisfaction at work? I would love to see a future study that addresses these questions. 

Counseling in Ballard

Are you struggling with feeling happy and satisfied at work? Are you looking for extra support to thrive in your career and reach your full potential? One of our talented therapists can help you explore the things that are holding you back and help you find fulfillment in your career. We look forward to hearing from you. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or contact us for more information.

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