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Like Your Job Better by Friday

Five proven ways to be happy at work—even if your job is driving you crazy.

by Sarah Mahoney

Work
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If your life-change plan includes a new job or even a new career, we get it. But that mighty of a change isn’t always possible. In the “bloom where you are planted” spirit, there is plenty you can do to turn the tedious, stressful and unrewarding job you have into something better, even likeable.

Finding more happiness at work is a big deal: An intriguing new study from Ohio State University looked at the health of some 6,400 workers over many years, finding that people who dislike their jobs in their late 20s and early 30s are less healthy than their peers by their early 40s, especially in terms of mental health. People who liked their jobs the least before they were 40 report higher levels of depression, sleep problems and excessive worry later in life.

See also: The New Rules for Career Happiness

If you’re not happy at work, your malaise may feel even worse because you’re swimming against the current. Job satisfaction is at a 10-year high, according to the latest survey from Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM). Thirty-seven percent of people say they are very satisfied with their current jobs and another 51 percent are mostly satisfied. Only 5 percent are very dissatisfied. “We don’t really know why that is,” says Jen Schramm, manager of the workforce trends and forecasting program at SHRM, based in Washington, D.C.

“Eighty-three percent of people believe their relationships at work improve their quality of life. So invite a co-worker to lunch.”

It may be due to a strong economy, which allows employers to increase perks and benefits, or maybe the improved outlook emboldens people to get out there and job hunt for something better. (In fact, 45 percent of those surveyed say they’ll look for a new job this year.) Another theory, Schramm says, is that the still-pretty-recent recession kept people in jobs longer, allowing them to work their way into positions that are a better fit.

Want to join the happy crowd? These five steps are just the career counseling you'll need.

Monday: Kick your day off with a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The single factor most responsible for job satisfaction across all ages and industries in the SHRM survey is respectful treatment of all employees. And sure, that’s something workers can (and should) lay at the feet of a company’s top execs. But Schramm says we can all brush up on paying closer attention to the way we deal with bosses, subordinates and peers. “Creating a more respectful atmosphere in your immediate environment and team can help with satisfaction too,” she says. Making this move is critical: Other research has found rudeness in the workplace is increasing and contagious. Sarcasm, condescending comments and put-downs are the most common problems.

Tuesday: You know all that venting you and your best work pal do? Set some limits. While a little kvetching about your job isn’t harmful, after a certain point, it just isn’t helpful either, says Christopher Robert, an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s business school. He wanted to study co-rumination (a term coined by his wife, also a researcher, to describe people who yak endlessly about their troubles with someone else) in the office, and the research found too much can be a bad thing.

Seeking social support for any kind of problem, he says, is usually a great idea. “And good friends generally want their friends to be able to do this. But it’s important to recognize when all you are doing is rehashing the same problem.” For one thing, bitching endlessly about the boss might put a friend in an awkward position. “And it might get the other person down, too,” he says.

His advice? If you need to talk, invite your friend for coffee or a drink after work. “That puts some natural boundaries around how long the conversation can go on,” he says.

Wednesday: Start thinking about a new skill set. While the opportunity to use their abilities and skill sets rate high among all survey responses, it was ranked highest by Generation X workers as a measure of satisfaction. It was also a significant consideration for employee engagement, says Schramm. So if there’s a skill you’re not using now but would like to, or even better, something you’re eager to learn, start exploring ways to get it. In a perfect world, your employer would spring for, let’s say, social media training for marketers. But even if that’s not the case, exploring career development avenues on your own, such as a class, certificate program or workshop, can increase your sense of happiness.

Thursday. Rethink your laugh track. Workplace humor is tricky, says Robert, who recently published a study on some unexpected ways it can backfire. If a well-liked supervisor uses humor, it’s helpful: People get along better, and subordinates report being happy with their jobs. But if the relationship isn’t solid, all humor—no matter how tasteful and appropriate—falls flat. While his study looked specifically at humor between bosses and the people they manage, he thinks it would hold true for co-workers, too. In other words, even if your yearslong commitment to saying “Guess what day it is?” every Wednesday makes you like your day better, stifle it until you’re sure you are on solid ground with those around you. “If you think the humor is well meant and comes from a good place, it will go over well,” he says. “But if it comes from someone you dislike, you might be particularly resentful of the humor and it will fall flat.”

See also: 6 Ways to Beat Stress at Work

Once you’re confident that you have a good relationship with your co-workers, feel free to use humor as a way to increase your own job satisfaction. (Researchers have found that it offers a buffer from stress.) Even when your attempts at humor aren’t very good, if your audience is friendly and sympathetic, “they’re likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Friday: Find a new friend. While trust between co-workers and top management cropped up on everyone’s list in the SHRM study, baby boomers ranked it higher than other age groups. Having a warm relationship with co-workers is key to job enjoyment across all groups. A study in the U.K. found that 83 percent of people believe their relationships at work improve their quality of life. So invite a co-worker you don’t know much about to lunch and see what you have in common, or grab coffee with someone who is already a work chum. Says Schramm: “Close workplace relationships are valuable to the most engaged workers.”