“If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do” Fredrick Herzberg
I am an Australian psychologist taking a self-prescribed ‘career break’ in the UK (that’s me on the left!). My aim, in starting this blog, is to share some of the research and insights I have collected from researching employee wellbeing and conducting job stress prevention and workplace mental health interventions over the last ten years in the hope that I can help other practitioners to jump the knowing-doing gap.
I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of happiness and wellbeing and, more specifically, the role that work can play in contributing to a person’s satisfaction with their life as a whole. I first started looking into this in 2005 as a young research student in Melbourne, Australia. My research found that work (perhaps not surprisingly to many of you) DOES play an important role in how positive you feel about your life. Interestingly though, money is not the main driver of this: instead, the people are much more likely to be happy with their life when their job:
- Provides them with an opportunity to apply their skills at strengths at work
- Gives them a sense of achievement, and
- Is meaningful.
Later, as I embarked on my doctoral studies, I started thinking about whether I could teach people to be happy at work. Was it as simple as teaching people how to apply their strengths at work? Achieve self-congruent goals? Find more meaning in their work?
Erghhh…Yes and no.
My research (click the link to find the paper) found that employees who participated in a 6-week workplace wellbeing program experienced significant gains in wellbeing and happiness. However, these gains started to drop off over time. When I spoke to participants later, they explained to me that, whilst they had made a real effort to apply what they learned on-the-job, often they were inhibited by the boundaries of their jobs.
For example, one employee – a customer service representative who stood at a teller and dealt with customer issues for 8 hours a day – talked about how she had consciously applied her values and strengths in the context of helping others. Whilst this helped in the short term (basically, ‘mind over matter’), over time, the repetitiveness of her job, and her inflexible hours of work got her down.
Whilst a positive attitude and trying new ways of thinking about or performing your job will probably make you feel better at work for awhile, the effects will wear off pretty quickly if your job isn’t that great to begin with.
Take home story? When it comes to work, happiness is not just something that we alone can control (although we can definitely influence our mood by changing our mindset or our behaviour – more on this in later blogs). Ultimately, we (i.e. managers, policy makers) must also do something to make work and workplaces healthier and happier places for people to be in.