Today’s the day that most of us headed back to work in earnest after the Australian festive season. If that’s the case for you, and if you’re anything like me, your Sunday night probably wasn’t much fun.
With the highly stressful and uncertain environments our workplaces have become in the 21st century, it’s hardly surprising to learn that most people suffer ‘Sunday night blues’. Throw in the possibility of a strike by public transport workers and we could all be mouthing the words to the Bangles Manic Monday – ‘If I had an aeroplane I still couldn’t make it on time’.
So, when Annie McKee’s book How to be Happy at Work popped up on my radar, I grabbed it with both hands. Finally, I thought, someone is going to lay out some simple steps on how to make Manic Mondays, and every other work day, a lot more enjoyable and a lot less depression-inducing.
I made two mistakes in my thinking about this book and it’s enticing promise. Firstly, that the steps a seeker must take towards anything, from happiness at work to spiritual enlightenment, are never simple.
My second mistake is one I always make – and for someone who’s read as many business and personal self-help books as I have, I’m a little embarrassed that I made it yet again! I looked outside myself for the answers. I hoped Annie McKee might be a guru and I might become her devotee. If I studiously followed her carefully laid trail of crumbs to achieving happiness at work, I’d surely find what I sought.
That’s not to say McKee’s book was a disappointment in the self-help stakes. Far from it in fact. How to be Happy at Work is chock-full of case studies, personal experiences, excellent observations from thought-leaders, and practical exercises to help one attain said happiness. Ms McKee also outlines the three things she believes are essential ingredients to being happy at work – a sense of purpose, a personal vision, and ‘resonant, friendly relationships’ – all of which makes a great deal of sense.
What the book doesn’t do, however, is go out and get that happiness for you.
It’s a simple yet obvious distinction and my disappointment stems from the fact that, however fleetingly, I thought I could fast-track the happiness-at-work thing by reading a book! Not that I would discourage you from reading How to be Happy at Work, you understand. It deserves a look despite there being no quick fixes to that dilemma.
What surprised me was the number of times I nodded along with McKee’s assertions and advice for ways to move forward positively. A lot of the text reiterated concepts that I’d read before in such books as Daniel Pink’s Drive, Adam Grant’s Give and Take, and Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence.
Other information and ideas imparted by McKee were things that I already knew to be true from my own experience. While my hopes of having a new business guru to follow quickly faded, I was nonetheless comforted by the fact that Annie McKee’s book reminded me of what I already knew and had accepted as truth in my own quest for happiness at work.
And what might these truths be? For me, the first is the myth of a ‘separation of powers’ between our work and our private lives. Anyone who’s worked in small business knows they’ve got Buckley’s of keeping the two lives in separate boxes. Work always spills into home and vice versa. The trick for me has been to accept and manage that ebb and flow rather that struggle for an unattainable ‘balance’ between the two.
Same goes for personal values versus work values. I’ve always puzzled over the adage, ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business’, usually spouted when I was being royally screwed over by someone at work. Surely, we are the same people both at work and at home. So why should our integrity and behaviour be modified merely because of where we are?
Furthermore, if the organisation you work for demands that you behave in a way that tramples on your personal integrity, then I’d wager your chances of finding happiness in that job are very limited.
And finally, it all comes back to me, or you, depending on whose happiness at work we happen to be talking about. Author and spiritual teacher, Louise Hay once said something along the lines of your own consciousness got you into this job that makes you so unhappy, and your own conscious can get you out again. No one else is, or can ever be, responsible for your happiness at work or anywhere for that matter.
Ms Hay also makes the point that no person will ever achieve happiness at work or indeed, score a more satisfying position, if they are constantly whingeing about their inept boss, unreasonable clients, or rude customers.
It’s good advice, much like the advice and practical help you’ll find in Annie McKee’s How to be Happy at Work. Just don’t think that you can get someone else to do it for you.