4 Secrets To Kicking Ass At Work

Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
What's The Key To Success?
You can probably think of plenty of qualities you need to be successful at work: focus, hard work, good relationships with co-workers, original thinking — the list goes on and on. But, all of those attributes share a common, perhaps surprising, root. In order to become more diligent, influential, innovative, you name it — you first need to lift your spirits.
“Happiness at work matters more than you might think,” says Jessica Pryce-Jones, joint CEO of the iOpener Institute for People and Performance. She points to research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, which found that satisfied employees are better performers than unhappy people in nearly all aspects of the job: decision-making, management, interpersonal skills, creativity, idea generation, cooperation, and more.
The research maintained that upbeat folks are more invested and involved in their jobs, and, as a result, have lower levels of burnout, absenteeism, and turnover. Happy employees also reap rewards from their positive attitudes, netting higher salaries and more support and camaraderie from colleagues. “Our data found that those who are happiest at work are significantly more focused,” she adds. “They are on task 80% of the working week, whereas the least satisfied people were on task only 41% of the time.” That equals a mere two days a week of attentive work.
So, what can you do boost your bliss — and your success — in the workplace? A recent survey of more than 19,000 people in a wide variety of industries and levels performed in conjunction with Harvard Business Review addressed just that issue. “What we discovered is that people feel better and perform better when four basic needs are met: renewal (physical), value (emotional), focus (mental) and purpose (spiritual),” writes survey co-author Tony Schwartz, PhD, president and CEO of The Energy Project. “What’s surprising about our survey’s results is how dramatically and positively getting these needs met correlated with every variable that influences performance.”
We took a close look at how to improve those four happiness pillars and launch your career into the stratosphere.
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Take Time To Recharge
When you have a million things going on at work, taking time out to window shop or go to a fun lunch with coworkers probably isn’t on the top of your to-do list. But, it should be.
According to the HBR survey, employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30% higher level of focus, 50% greater creativity and 46% better health and well-being than those who take one or zero rest stops during the day. “In addition, research has found that for every hour over 48 that you work in a week, you become 1% less productive,” says Pryce-Jones. In other words, if you log 60 hours, you’re going to be a whopping 12% less effective than if you had indulged in more you-time.
As your energy level oscillates during the day, pay attention to any dips in stamina as your cue to take 10. When you sense yourself flagging, go for a walk (a study discovered it improves brain function), grab tea at the café around the corner, or even spend a little time texting friends or playing Candy Crush; another recent study found that taking occasional breaks to use your smartphone increases employee engagement.
Another idea is to sneak in a chore that you were planning to do after work, like hitting up the nail salon around the corner or picking up a few groceries for dinner. “That way, you have one less thing to do after work, so you can spend more time doing what you truly enjoy,” adds Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of Sequent, an HR consulting firm, and author of Powered by Happy: How to Get and Stay Happy at Work.
If you feel guilty for disengaging, remind yourself that it’s actually a powerful tool to enhance innovation: “People often have their greatest ideas when they’re in the shower or chopping parsley,” Pryce-Jones points out. “Sometimes the way to get the best out of yourself is to step away.”
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Score R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Aretha Franklin had it right; respect is essential, especially if you want to get ahead in your career. The HBR survey determined that workers who feel valued and appreciated by their boss are a staggering 67% more engaged at work. “When you feel like your time and energy is appreciated, that inspires you to want to do more,” explains Thomas. That said, you can’t exactly come right out and demand that your boss give more kudos. If you’re not currently getting the acknowledgement you desire, there are a few things you can do.
First, you need to have a clear vision of what your supervisor wants from you. “If you understand your expectations, you’ll know what to shoot for in your career,” adds Thomas. “And, the more you meet or exceed those goals, the more recognition you’ll receive.” With that in mind, schedule a meeting with her to discuss how the work you’re doing aligns with the mission of the organization as a whole. (If your review is approaching, that’s the perfect opportunity to have this conversation. Otherwise, book a separate time to sit down with her.)
Thomas suggests asking your boss, “What does success look like to you in my role?” or “If in six months you were to say I’d done a fantastic job, what would I have accomplished by then?” Then, mention that knowing you’re adding value to the company and hearing encouragement for a job well done motivates you to pull out your best work so that she will (hopefully) make the link between praise and productivity. “She’ll want to understand how she can contribute to getting the most out of you,” affirms Pryce-Jones.
In addition, try modeling: Give your boss positive feedback and she’ll be more inclined to recognize your efforts too. “Whether or not she admits it, bosses crave recognition from their employees,” says Thomas. “Just make sure it’s praise with a cause — the reasoning behind your compliment has to be specific and genuine.” Try something along the lines of, “Thanks for supporting my point in the meeting, it really meant a lot,” or “I was so impressed with the idea you came up with to revamp the Murphy account.”
You can also hit two birds with one stone by dropping a phrases like, “You are one of the best leaders I’ve worked for,” or “I appreciate hearing your feedback because I’m always looking to improve.” Modeling is a powerful technique to try with coworkers, too. Send a colleague an email telling her how much you enjoyed working with her on your last project, or how wowed you were by the way she handled a difficult client. They’ll be more likely to give you raves in return — and everybody wins.
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Tap Into The Zone
You know those moments at work when you’re so immersed in an intriguing assignment that you don’t even notice the time going by? Those moments of flow are vital to your happiness. Unfortunately, only 20% of the survey respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who managed to hone in on their most crucial assignment were 50% more engaged.
“Most of us are action-oriented from the time we are first able to toddle around on the floor, and studies have found that we are happiest when we take small steps toward our goals,” says Pryce-Jones. “Knowing that we are doing something important and adding value to other people is ultimately what drives us.”
There are two major reasons why people tend to feel like they’re spinning their wheels. The first comes from within: You’re a procrastinator and/or have trouble prioritizing. “Organization is key here. The employees who get results complete each task they start before moving on to the next; they don’t have 10 plates spinning at the same time,” says Thomas. “They also understand what’s most important and arrange their schedule accordingly.”
Try this: At the end of the workday create a plan of action for the following day. Assess everything that needs to be done and jot down your tasks according to importance. If there are major projects on your list, break them down into achievable steps (think: “Write intro to case study,” rather than “Write case study.”) If it’s too massive an assignment for you to finish in the time allotted, you’ll just end up putting off the whole thing. Then, complete them in that order. That means the number one task on your agenda is what you tackle as soon as your butt hits the chair the next morning, and housekeeping work like filing expenses happens later on. Hold yourself to your list.
The second factor that prevents people from being productive is an inefficient workspace: back-to-back meetings, noisy coworkers, nonstop email pings. “It’s frustrating when you know what you have to get done and can’t check those things off your list because you’re pummeled with interruption,” says Pryce-Jones. So, do whatever you can to manage your environment. Turn off your email alerts, put on noise-cancelling headphones that send the message you don’t want to be bothered or go into a meeting room to get serious work done.
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Connect To Your Higher Purpose
Who knew your nine to five could feed your soul? According to the HBR survey, employees who derive meaning from what they do were more than three times as likely as others to stay with their company, reported 1.7 times greater job satisfaction and were 1.4 times more engaged. “For most people, feeling fulfilled is not about making money but about contributing to a cause that’s greater than yourself,” explains Pryce-Jones.
That’s easy enough if you work for Habitat for Humanity or rescue baby seals for a living, but what about the rest of us? “Look at the big picture,” urges Pryce-Jones. “Ask yourself why you’re getting out of bed everyday and how you’re adding value to the world through your job.” Once you pinpoint that, work can take on new significance. A systems analyst for an airline is helping to keep millions of passengers safe every day. A concierge at a hotel is adding pleasure to thousands of vacationers by making their holiday run smoother. A real estate agent is finding families homes where they’ll create joyful lifelong memories.
Reading your company’s mission plan can also help connect you to your organization at a deeper level. And, if you’re job-hunting, make sure to explore companies with similar values (for example, if you’re a big supporter of environmental causes it’s smart to investigate organizations who share your eco-friendly outlook). “Being aligned with your employer’s vision is motivating because you have a more vested interest in both your work as well as the success of your company and colleagues,” explains Thomas.
And, if your job just isn’t that spiritually inspiring then “create that sense of intention by participating in philanthropic efforts with your co-workers,” suggests Thomas. Build a community garden, sign up for a breast cancer walk, etc. Or, take a grassroots stance to establish workplace volunteerism efforts if those opportunities aren’t already in place.

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