Thursday, June 10, 2010

If You're Not Happy at Work, Will You Be Miserable Overall?

I've known Tom Rath for many years, and the one thing I always say is it's so nice to see a nice guy on the bestseller lists ("How Full is Your Bucket" and "Strengthsfinder 2.0"). I spent some time talking to him about his latest book, and here's the column for Gannett/

You may think that a job matters because it enables you to bring home a paycheck.

But new research suggests it may be much more than that. A job you enjoy is a key element to your overall well-being.

"Some people don't expect much from their workdays and don't think they should be getting much more out of it than a paycheck," says Tom Rath, head of The Gallup Organization's, Workplace Research and Leadership Consulting practice. "But the truth is we spend a majority of our time at work. People underestimate how their careers impact their overall well-being."

Rath has co-authored Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Gallup Press, $25.95) with Jim Harter, based on international research about what it takes to achieve well-being in life. While many people believe the keys to satisfaction and happiness are good health and financial success, the researchers found that having meaningful and enjoyable careers are the most critical elements to a well-lived life.

That means if you're happy in happy in your job — you look forward to going to work every day — then you're much more likely to be healthy and have better relationships.

What happens if you don't like what you do every day? Then you're more likely to risk depression and anxiety — and damage your relationships outside of work — the research found.

"We measured people who didn't like their jobs, and it was like their energy fell off a cliff at 9 a.m. and didn't pick up until they were ready to go home," Rath says. "The people who were engaged in their work go into work and don't really have any drop-off. There's just a nice curve of involvement throughout the day."

Rath also points out that good bosses are the foundation of our happiness.

While hating the boss is not a systemic problem with employees and a lot of good managers do exist in the workplace, research says that often the worst part of our day is when we have to talk to the boss — judged to be even worse than cleaning house.

The worst boss? Not the one who yells — but the one who isn't paying attention, researchers found. Specifically, if a manager ignores you, there is 40% chance that you will be "actively disengaged" or "filled with hostility about your job," Rath says.

"That's why it's important that you really check out what a manager is like before you take a job," Rath says. "Managers are key to your overall well-being."

Rath says the scariest finding from the research involved sustained unemployment.

"We found that there was nothing more detrimental to your well-being than being unemployed for more than a year. Being employed shapes your identity," Rath says. "Our well-being actually recovers more rapidly from the death of spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment."

Further, while the lack of income takes its toll, the boredom and lack of social interaction from being jobless "might be even more detrimental," he says.

That's why it's critical that those who are unemployed fill their time with something they believe is worthwhile. Rath points out that you don't have to earn a paycheck to feel good. Simply feeling as if "you make a contribution every day and do something that's meaningful to you" is crucial.

Finally, Rath says research shows it's vital that we find work that uses our strengths — skills that help us be successful. When using your strengths, working a 40-hour week is enjoyable. If you're not using your strengths, you're likely to get burned out after 20 hours.

By having a job you look forward to every day, you actually take more time to enjoy life, he says.

Have you ever had a job you didn't like? How did it impact your life?

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