Want to Be Happier at Work? Ask These 3 Questions
Some 32,000 private jobs were added in April, exceeding forecasts but still a very modest showing.
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The Fiscal Times
February 10, 2014

For the seventh year in a row, nearly half of Americans (or 47.3 percent) were unsatisfied with their jobs in 2013, according to a report last summer by The Conference Board. It’s not hard to see why: Cautious corporations and a still-sputtering economic recovery have put more workers in the position of taking on heavier workloads for less pay.

The impacts can be far-reaching. “We spend so much time at work that when we’re unhappy there, the negativity can spill over to other parts of our lives,” says Susan Klaubert, a vice president with ClearRock Inc., a Boston-based leadership development and outplacement firm. Being happier at work will also make you more productive and less prone to burnout, which can lead to more recognition in your current role.

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The first thing to determine is why you’re unsatisfied – then start taking action to make your situation better. Start by answering these three important questions:

1. Do you want to stay at your current job? If you generally like your job, your colleagues and your working environment but are feeling underpaid, underappreciated or bored, it’s time to take action to improve your current position.

First, determine whether you really are being underpaid. Check out a salary comparison website like GlassDoor.com to understand whether your compensation is similar to that of other workers in your area who are doing a similar job. If it’s way off, it’s perfectly reasonable to speak with your manager about getting a raise. Just make sure you’ve planned out how you’ll plead your case before scheduling the meeting.

Make sure your colleagues are aware of your contributions and are thinking of you when new projects and assignments arise. Look for ways to promote yourself without being a braggart. “You can toot your own horn without being too self-promoting,” says Lisa Mandell, author of Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. “Instead of sending an office email saying, ‘Look what I did,’ send a congratulatory note that reads, ‘I want to thank this person for working with me to achieve this.’”

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It’s important to also make yourself known outside of your department. Introduce yourself to other coworkers when you run into them at the water cooler or company functions, and force yourself to join intra-company clubs or committees. The more visible you can be within the company, the more likely you’ll come to mind; companies know that more engaged workers will proactively change their work environment in order to stay engaged.

2. Do you like your job but have a beef with the company? For some people who dread lugging themselves into the office everyday, the problem is not the work itself, but the company for which they work. If you feel like you’re not a good fit for the corporate culture or the issues causing your stress have little chance of being resolved, it may be time to refresh your resume and start putting out feelers for a new gig. It’s simple to sign up for email alerts from job hunting sites like Indeed.com, which will give you a sense of what kind of jobs are available.

You should always be networking outside of your company, but when you’re in job-hunt mode, you’ve got to turn up the efforts. In addition to ensuring your LinkedIn profile is current, start attending networking events. Join a trade group or reconnect with your alma mater’s career development office to see make sure you know when events are coming up.

Most importantly, don’t check out of your current job. In today’s market, it can take months to find a new job. Staying committed to fulfilling current work obligations means you’ll be on the best possible terms with your boss and coworkers when you do finally leave, and you never know when you might need those connections later in your career.

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You also don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize your current position or make you an easy target for a layoff. “Even if you’re really unhappy, don’t make a compulsive decision to quit that you’re going to regret later,” says Roy Cohen, a New York-based career counselor and executive coach. “It’s much better to find a job if you have one while you’re looking.”

3. Are you in the wrong profession altogether? Making a big career change is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only solution for workers who are truly unhappy in their profession. Any worker can find himself in this situation – from millennials who are just realizing that they don’t really want to be in the industry they originally chose, to baby boomers who’ve finally burned out on a profession after decades on the job.

For workers in this situation, the most important thing is to figure out how you can apply your current skills to another profession and which additional skills you need to acquire before making the switch.

Sit down with a career coach, or to use your network to find someone in your target to serve as a mentor of sorts as you consider transitioning. “It’s going to depend on your tolerance for the risk and ambiguity of making that kind of move, and your ability to potentially go without a paycheck while you retool,” says New York-based career coach Dani Ticktin Koplik.

You may also want to confer with a financial planner to check that you’ve got the fiscal ability to make a move. Transitioning to a new industry might require taking classes or accepting a pay cut for a lower-level position in order to gain the knowledge and experience you need.

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Life + Money Editor Beth Braverman covers all things personal finance. Formerly a senior reporter and social media editor at MONEY magazine, she’s also held gigs as a newspaper reporter and trade magazine editor.