Work occupies a lot of our time. So naturally, we want to feel happy and satisfied in our jobs. “It’s important to cultivate a positive experience during those hours,” says Sally Anne Carroll, a life and career reinvention coach and author of the book “Reinvent Your Reality: A Positively Practical Guide to Revitalizing Your Life & Work.”
We often assume that fostering a positive workplace experience requires sweeping changes, switching positions, or finding a new job at another company. But when you adjust the way you do a few things, you can feel more satisfied, no matter where you work or what you do.
Need a refresh? Consider these five small ways to improve your workday.
1. Set a positive intention.
Your mindset greatly impacts your mood. So if you start the morning with a sour perspective, it’s likely your workday won’t go smoothly and minor snags will become major stressors, says Tess Brigham, a psychotherapist and certified life coach.
Instead, Brigham encourages setting a positive intention before your workday. Choose an intention that reflects an action or mindset within your control. For example, you might tell yourself:
- I intend to be patient and calm when dealing with co-workers and clients.
- When I find myself getting frustrated, I’ll refocus my attention on what I can change.
- I will listen more than I talk.
- I will welcome challenges and focus on solving issues that come up.
2. Think of “one person.”
Research suggests that having a strong sense of purpose helps workers feel more satisfied with their careers. To sharpen your sense of purpose, Brigham suggests focusing on one person and how you’re making their life a little better. “No matter what kind of work you do,” she says, “it matters to someone somewhere.”
Brigham cites an example from Jeff Goins’s book “The Art of Work.” He interviewed a woman who punched precise holes in tubes that administer cancer medication, work that is both strenuous and repetitive. But as she punched the holes, she reminded herself that she is helping to save someone’s life.
3. Seek autonomy.
Having some control over your work tasks or schedule also contributes to job satisfaction. For example, a study of 20,000 employees in the United Kingdom found that workers with higher levels of autonomy reported higher levels of job satisfaction and even overall well-being.
That said, let’s acknowledge that autonomy in the workplace depends on the type of job you have. Some roles naturally have some autonomy, while others have little to seemingly none. Jill Duffy, author of the book “The Everything Guide to Remote Work” and a columnist at “PCMag,” suggests thinking about what you can control during your workday, however minor it might seem. Can you control when you perform certain tasks? Can you set your own hours or work from home a few days a week? Can you suggest projects or goals to pursue?
If you don’t have much autonomy, Duffy recommends talking to your manager. Sometimes managers aren’t aware of an employee’s desire for more flexibility or different work opportunities.
4. Connect with co-workers.
Research shows that positive relationships with co-workers are linked to greater job satisfaction. In one survey of 2,500 U.S. workers, for example, 60 percent reported that co-workers were a key factor in their job satisfaction—even more than being interested in their work.
Liking your co-workers starts with getting to know them. Not sure how to connect? Each week, invite one colleague for an in-person or virtual coffee date, suggests Brigham. “People are always flattered when someone wants to get to know them,” she says, “and people like talking about themselves and what they do.”
Positive feedback also helps build stronger bonds with colleagues. Recognizing a co-worker for a job well done starts a conversation, deepens your relationship, and shows that you see them and their good work, says Duffy.
Send a quick message of appreciation to a co-worker, such as, “I loved your idea in today’s meeting,” or “You’re such a skilled public speaker.” Another option, Duffy says, is to use the format, “When X happens, the result is Y.” For example, you could say: “Thank you for the edits you made to my proposal. When you put in the care to make the language right, it makes the whole team look better.”
5. Focus on what you like.
To boost work satisfaction, reflect on past moments that you’ve enjoyed. In her book “Embrace Work, Love Your Career,” Fran Hauser suggests scanning the last three months of your calendar and highlighting the meetings and conversations that bring a smile to your face. Then consider what parts of those interactions were particularly satisfying.
For example, maybe you enjoy collaborating with certain people. Or perhaps your satisfaction stems from a particular task you were working on. What about it was so satisfying or fulfilling? Do you gravitate toward specific parts of your job?
When you reflect on successful and enjoyable projects, you also gain insight to your strengths. Perhaps you’re a strong presenter, for example. These insights can help guide you when requesting future work assignments. Our natural strengths are energizing and enjoyable, says Carroll, and tapping into them allows you to contribute in ways that feel meaningful.