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You spend at least 40 hours a week at work (probably more), and that’s not even including the time it takes to get there.

It’s important, then, that you enjoy what you do while you’re there.

Being happy in your job doesn’t mean you need to be laughing with your colleagues all the time or getting constant promotions and pay rises though. Enjoying your job is more about feeling content, respected and challenged within your role. If you’re happy at work, it’s worth turning up every day.

What Does Being Happy at Work Look Like?

How you feel happy in your job is different for everyone. For example, you might enjoy your job because you earn what you want, you get on well with your colleagues, you get on well with your manager, you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do, you feel respected, you feel like you’re doing something that’s important, or you like that sense of purpose and reward.

When you look at those positive feelings, it’s easy to figure out what unhappiness in your job might look like. You might feel like you’re being taken advantage of and not being paid what you’re worth. Your workmates might be more like work enemies, and your manager might have it in for you. You might feel like you’re in a dead-end job that you’re only doing for the money.

Melissa Grainger is a communication coach who helps teams figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are so they work better together.

“When people enjoy what they’re doing and they’re good at what they do, they’re going to get more out of it,” she says. “That’s why it’s really important that people enjoy their jobs, especially because most of us spend more time at work than we do doing anything else.”

Being Happy at Work Changes Everything

Because many people spend more time with their workmates than they do with their families, a lot of tension can build up if work spills over into home life.

For example, you might have had a terrible day at work. Maybe you’re drowning in deadlines or you’re struggling with your manager. When you get home, the last thing you probably want to do is cook dinner or play with the kids - but your partner might want you to. You might end up taking your emotions out on your family even though they don’t have anything to do with how you’re feeling.

It can be hard fitting in all the things you love doing outside of work too, especially if you’re working long hours in a job you don’t like. Going to the gym or hanging out with friends is important, but when your job consumes your life it’s easy to drop those priorities.

Caroline Sandford is a career specialist who helps people find their dream jobs. She says that being happy at work isn’t just good for your emotions though; it’s also good for the job.

“The happier you are at work, the more productive you’ll be,” she says. “If you’re happy and where you’re supposed to be, and the job meets your values, you’re more likely to be more committed to the job which can only be a good thing for everyone.”

How to become Happier at Work

Whether you work in a ‘job job’ or a ‘career job’, it’s important that you enjoy it. If you don’t and want to make a career change, these tips are a good place to start.

  1. Understand what’s making you unhappy

    Caroline says that you can’t fix a problem unless you know what it actually is.

    “Unhappiness at work could be caused by anything, from a miscommunication or a personality clash with someone at work, to something that’s not actually related to work,” she says. “Communication is key. Look at what you can do within your own environment to improve your situation. Don’t assume that your situation can’t improve, and be open to other people’s perspectives because sometimes we interpret things that might not be there.”
  2. Figure out what you actually want to do

    Dream big about what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t matter whether you want to set up your own business, work for a certain company or work in a particular industry; if you want to do it, now is the time to take the steps to make it happen.

    Write a list of all the things you’re good at along with all the things you’d love to do if you were given the opportunity. Compare that list with the job you’re currently doing. If things don’t match, it might be time for a change.
  3. Look for opportunities at your current job

    If you’re not happy doing your current role but there’s room for growth or movement at your current job, perhaps it’s time to talk to your manager about employment options.

    “If you don’t get on with the person you sit next to, simply moving desks could make a big difference to how you feel about work,” says Caroline. “If you’re bored or want to upskill, ask for more responsibilities or to be included in that next big project.”

    Don’t limit yourself to your current department. You might work in Operations but Sales might look interesting. Find out who the right people to talk to are then work together to set up a process to help you upskill or switch roles.
  4. Look for opportunities outside of your current job

    If your unhappiness is mostly about the company you work for, not the role you’re in, it might be time to change jobs altogether. Start by looking for jobs on online job platforms like Seek, Yudu or Trademe. If your skills are more specialised or you’re looking for a specialist role, try LinkedIn or register with a recruitment agency. Make sure your CV is up-to-date, and ask for advice about interviews before you turn up for your first one.
  5. Keep learning

    Sometimes changing careers means that you need to do further study. You might already have a degree or diploma from a tertiary institution like MIT, or you might not have any high school qualifications. There are options for every skill set and level of education and experience; check out MIT’s full list of study options.

    More study isn’t for everyone though.

    “People often think that retraining means going to uni,” says Caroline. “For some people, uni isn’t the right option. Sometimes you can learn on the job, and sometimes you can train while you’re working.”

    There are plenty of online resources available to help with personal development too, and many of them are free.

    “Personal growth is the best investment you could ever make,” says Melissa. “Listen to audiobooks and podcasts or find some tutorials on YouTube. Udemy is a cost-effective online resource that’s filled with online courses in just about every area, which means you can give something a go before committing to a three-year degree.”
  6. List your financial and lifestyle non-negotiables

    Changing careers or going back to school might sound great in theory, but if it’s not going to work in practice it might not be worth the effort.

    Before you make any decision about your career, clearly outline how much money you need to earn every week to continue paying your mortgage or keep food on the table. If you can make compromises, make them now. Sometimes switching careers equal a pay cut so you need to be confident that you can survive on less money.

    If you’re studying while working full time, you might not have any time or energy to do anything else with your life. Figure out what your priorities are; your family might have to make a few compromises if you’re going to get a big career boost at the end of your study.​​​​​​​
  7. Talk it over with people in the know

    “Talking to people, especially people who have done what you want to do or have knowledge in that industry, is a great tool,” says Melissa. “People are usually really keen to share their knowledge. Don’t limit yourself to just your family or friends though because, while they might mean well, they might not have much experience in that space. Reach out to professionals in your network too - remember to offer to pay for coffee.”​​​​​​​
  8. Just do it

    If you’ve weighed up all your options and you’ve decided that switching careers or getting a new job is the way to go, just do it. Try not to quit a job without having your next step planned; it’s always wiser having another job to go to when you leave one.

    If you’re saying goodbye to your boss, make sure you end things on good terms. Good references are essential for getting new jobs, so don’t just up and leave; continue doing your job well and work out your notice so they’re more likely to give you a glowing recommendation when you leave.
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