Susan Ricker | July 6, 2015
Life is too short to work in a job that makes you unhappy. But a career change isn't always a feasible option, and sometimes it's only small aspects of your job that you wish you could change. So how can you bring happiness to your workplace?
The answer lies within appreciation and gratitude, according to Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine, co-writers of the book "The Power of Thanks: How Social Recognition Empowers Employees and Creates a Best Place to Work." They write, "While happiness at work makes people smarter, more engaged and more productive, people also have a similar but distinct need to achieve a sense of meaning in what they do. Happiness is about the self; feelings of meaning at work arise from the social context."
Let's take a closer look at what Mosley and Irvine are proposing, and how these efforts can affect your workplace.
Appreciation vs. gratitude
One of the reasons you may feel unsatisfied in your job is a lack of recognition—it doesn't feel very good to work hard on a task or project that nobody will notice or care about. As the authors write, "Appreciation means recognizing work well done. It is a subjective expression in the same way one 'appreciates' a work of art or a clever solution to a work problem. When I express appreciation for your work, I might simply be noticing its quality or benefit … Gratitude is a bit more personal than appreciation—it means expressing thanks for a benefit one has received. When I express gratitude to you for a job well done, it's because I have received direct or indirect value. If I'm your manager, I might express gratitude for you going beyond expectations and making the group more productive, which advances my own goals. If I'm your peer, I might be grateful because you stopped by to help me fix a problem even though you could have ignored it (and me)."
To start the cycle of showing your appreciation and gratitude to others, and getting recognized in turn, seek out the goals and major projects your team is working on, and find ways to support those initiatives. But also find ways to connect to them with more of your individual skills, passions and interests—which will invest you in their outcomes and show your unique skills to your co-workers and manager. For instance, you might really enjoy graphic design work at a novice level, and help co-workers design their presentations. This is a step that goes above and beyond, and uses your personal interests and skills to help another co-worker.
Hierarchy of human needs
When a manager starts looking at how to engage employees at work, there's usually team bonding activities planned, or a group outing to bring everybody together. But in order to offer meaningful work to employees, it has to go deeper than common interests with co-workers.
Mosley and Irvine explain, writing, "Appreciation and gratitude are powerful forces among employees because they satisfy the higher psychological needs of individuals and the higher social needs of groups. They confer meaning on actions because they show an action is either recognized as valuable (appreciated) or personally beneficial (gratitude) or both. This is a big deal in managing because it makes the workplace a source of meaning. To understand the potential power of appreciation and gratitude, consider human needs from the most basic to the most sophisticated."
And to do that, the authors recommend looking to psychologist Abraham Maslow's classic hierarchy of human needs as a model for considering the importance of gratitude in work and in life. "The most basic needs are related to physical survival. The next most important are the needs for a sense of safety, social contact, self-esteem, recognition and status. The highest need (and psychological achievement) is called self-actualization. Maslow's pyramid can be seen as a metaphor for what a workplace can potentially provide, from the pay that ensures food and shelter, to safety and social contact, to self-esteem. Self-actualization in the organization can be seen in those who love their work, who find their identity and satisfaction from their work and who are a perfect fit' within the organization."
Meeting your own needs
You can probably see your own dreams and ideas within Maslow's pyramid, which means the only step left is finding out how to apply those ideas to your work. As the authors write, "The higher you climb in Maslow's hierarchy, the more individualized the needs become. Physical needs are pretty much the same no matter who the person is—everyone needs food and water. Safety needs are more individual, but there are plenty of guidelines for creating a physically and psychologically safe workplace. Social needs require a workplace that functions socially, in which company culture encourages socially productive interactions. Esteem needs and self-actualization are uniquely shaped from the perspective of each person."
And focusing on those higher tiers of the pyramid is what will allow you to find happiness in your workplace and within your role. "The mediocre manager likes to think that his or her employees should be grateful to have a job," Mosley and Irvine write. "Perhaps they are, but that attitude has culture management backward. In a well-run company, the organization and the individual manager acting on its behalf harness the power of appreciation not by receiving it, but by giving it to the employees."
Check out these resources for practicing appreciation and gratitude in the workplace: