Career Management

Boring tasks, difficult colleagues and an endless pit of meaningless work. Sound familiar? Many of us are unhappy in our jobs and are holding out for something better in order to make us happier. In fact, roughly 60% of the UK workforce is unhappy, according to Investors In People (IIP). This dissatisfaction, combined with our perception of ourselves through others’ successes, makes a miserable bunch of workers who are desperately waiting to be happy.

Unfortunately, waiting to be happy or assigning happiness to a certain change in your life, never really works out. Your happiness might peak after you buy that new car, but does the new purchase mean that all your other problems just melt away? Probably not. It’s this reason why appreciating – or changing – the here and now is more important than living for the future, where things will be different. Here are a few reasons why we aren’t content in our careers and why we need to change our perception of job satisfaction.

A better job or a promotion could actually make you unhappy

Affectionately referred to as the ‘honeymoon-hangover effect’, one study suggests that moving jobs will not make you happier in the long term. The managers involved in the study peaked within the first few days of their new jobs (honeymoon), followed by a drop in job satisfaction throughout the following year (hangover). Those managers that did not change roles retained a roughly consistent level of satisfaction.

More holidays make work harder

A study in the Work and Stress Journal reports that 96 Dutch workers showed improved levels of health and well-being whilst on holiday. Yet, within the first week of returning to work, these effects returned to the same level as they were pre-holiday. While this study provides evidence that holidays are effective in improving well-being, the benefits quickly fade.

Post Vacation Syndrome (PVS), or ‘post-holiday blues’ mean that returning to work is far harder, especially when you’ve been so far removed from your usual routine. One study cites that 57% of UK workers suffer from the aforementioned effects. These ‘blues’ led to 34% of those surveyed turning to spending sprees, 10% to drinking more alcohol, and 21% to booking off more holiday without approval. The remaining 15% became so stressed from the ordeal, that they didn’t feel like the holiday had even happened, and 12% were anxious about returning to their daily routine.

In essence, more holidays will not always make you happier; if anything they make it far harder to return to work and actually enjoy anything you do in comparison to the long leisurely beach vacations you’ve become accustomed to with more holiday allowance.

A higher salary isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

It’s often a faux pas to say that money makes you happier, but apparently it does… up until a point. A survey of 1000 Americans suggests that an increase in salary correlates with an increase in overall happiness. The salary-happiness tipping point, according to a 2010 study, was cited at $75,000, which is roughly £50,000-£55,000. Once you surpass this tipping point, according to Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, your happiness does not increase with the more money you make.

But why? Well, this tipping point salary generally provides enough money for one to be comfortable and stable. Anything more is just excess, and doesn’t necessarily make you happier, so do bear that in mind when this common career myth crops up. Plus, do you actually need more money, or do you want it because someone else is on a higher salary than you? Often our perception of our salary is based on that of those around us, which is another point to consider when you pin your ‘future happiness’ on getting and having more money.

What does make us happier at work?

What truly makes you want to come into work? You might not have any answers to that question right now, but for jobs you’ve enjoyed in the past, what has been the best aspect?

Boston Consulting Group’s 2014 survey of 200,000 workers shows a great difference between what we think will make us happier (essentially, what others have) and what we need for actual job happiness.

Ranking at number 1 under the ‘happiness on the job’ section, was ‘appreciation for your work.’ Completing the top four happiness factors were: 2. Good relationships with colleagues, 3. Good work-life balance and 4. Good relationships with superiors. ‘Attractive fixed salary’ ranked in eighth place, and is the only factor within the top 10 that is a type of compensation, with the majority of the top ten being work environment-based. Interestingly, the UK’s isolated top three factors for job happiness were the factors ranked 2-4 worldwide.

What now?

So what do we do with these newly discovered work-happiness factors? Appreciate them for what they are: good friends, good managers, and a good work-life balance are what we need. We’re not saying don’t leave your job for something different, but don’t expect all your problems to disappear if you do. Don’t stay miserable where you are because you have a good salary, but equally don’t leave a good job, just for a better salary elsewhere.

It’s all too easy to let our aspirations of happiness reside in the future, but that is where dreams and goals belong. They stay ahead of you, and your happiness should travel with you towards them. The accomplishments you achieve from aspiring towards these goals will ultimately make you happier than any material desires ever could.

About Lizzi Hart

Lizzi Hart is a Linguistics graduate from the University of Sussex, a Marketing Assistant at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau and a freelance music journalist. She has had work published through the Guardian, the Independent, Metro, The Huffington Post and Elite Daily.

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