Given how much time most of us spend at work, it's worth doing whatever you can to make sure you're as happy as possible there. The basics are probably obvious – find work you like, with co-workers you enjoy and a manager who does her job. But here are six less-obvious ways that you might not have thought of to increase your happiness at work.
1. Don't let resentments simmer. Often people become resentful of expectations that they assume their colleagues or managers have of them, when in fact those expectations are all internal. For instance, you might be frustrated that your boss regularly emails you late in the evening, making you feel like you have to respond to work emails from home. But if you talked to her, you might learn that she doesn't expect an immediate response at all – she just prefers to work when the office is quiet and empty.
If something is bothering you, don't stew in silence – ask about it. Whatever the issue, it's worth communicating and making sure that your assumptions are correct before letting yourself get bothered.
2. Don't attribute to malice what might be a mistake. For instance, if your co-worker routinely ignores your emails, you might get angry at what seems like disregard or disrespect. But if you approach him from that stance, the conversation is likely to be adversarial. You'll generally get better results if you approach him with the assumption that there's been a mistake instead – maybe your emails are getting caught in his spam filter or there's some other technological glitch. Even when people really are at fault, starting with the assumption that they're not to blame will make most conversations go better.
3. Don't fight other people's battles. It can be tempting to get involved in other people's grievances at work, but you can end up taking on the emotional burden of battles that aren't yours. For instance, if Joe hates your manager and complains about her all the time, you might find over time that you've come to dislike her too – even though you got along with her perfectly well before. This can lead you to make bad decisions for yourself, like becoming unhappy with a job or manager you otherwise liked, or even leaving your job over it. This isn't to say that you shouldn't be sympathetic to co-workers' troubles or that you shouldn't speak up about serious workplace problems, but for routine complaints, keep in mind that you don't know the full story and try to stay out of it.
4. Use your benefits. When you think about your benefits package, you probably think about health insurance and vacation time. However, many employers offer tons of other benefits as well – fitness memberships, employee assistance programs, credit unions and more. Lots of employees don't even realize they have these benefits, let alone use them. But these are part of your compensation, and you should take advantage of them if they might make your life better.
5. Thank people. If someone made your life at work easier, connected you with a helpful contact, or simply has been a pleasant person to interact with, tell them! Openly appreciating your colleagues can strengthen your workplace relationships, improve the way people see you and make you genuinely more appreciative of where you work and the people you work with.
6. Know your bottom line. Yes, your job has frustrations. But before you get too focused on them, it's helpful to get really clear in your own mind on what your bottom line is: what things matter most to you and what trade-offs you are and aren't willing to make. For instance, maybe you hate your manager but love having a short commute. You'd rather keep that commute, even if it means your manager is part of the deal. Or maybe you're willing to put up with a lower salary because you get to do work that fascinates you – or will tolerate less interesting work because you get paid generously. Getting really clear about what matters most to you will help keep you focused on what you care most about, and prevent you from getting sidetracked on things that don't ultimately matter as much to you.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.