Even if we are unhappy with our work situation, it is possible to find meaning.
“Thank God it’s Monday!” It’s not often we hear these words unless the person is extremely bored at home. But work can be a source of daily happiness. Business management consultant Jean-Paul Guedj has a lot to say about that in the following interview by Annonciade Fougeron.
In your book, Vive le lundi! Connaître le bonheur au travail (Long live Monday! Finding happiness in work), you cite numerous testimonials from people who are happy with their jobs. What do they have in common?
I’ve met many satisfied professionals from all sectors, from house cleaners to high executives. What do they all have in common? While they look forward to weekends with the family, going back to work on Monday is easy for them; their job is an integral part of their life. They love their job because certain things there make them happy: the feeling of being useful, the freedom to take initiative, the pleasure of having done a good job, and they find it interesting. The two main sources of satisfaction come from being recognized for their work by the management, and their autonomy.
What the factors that promote this kind of job satisfaction?
Beyond economic motivation—making a living—the first factor is self-realization, that goes hand-in-hand with a profession that is in sync with the worker’s level of training. The second is motivated by a rich and stimulating relationship with one’s boss or manager. The worker values this relationship and thus performs better.This relationship clarifies the worker’s sense of value in the company and his or her place in it. Lastly, the relationship with colleagues, feeling like they belong to a group through rituals (parties, anniversary celebrations, personal relations, get-togethers). Values (humanitarian, work ethic, efficiency) are the third factor in well-being.
Nevertheless, we can experience psychological or physical suffering …
As its etymology indicates, work, or travail (which derives from the latin tripalium, an instrument of torture composed of three poles) contains the notion of suffering, of overcoming one’s weaknesses, of challenges, and the surge of adrenaline. This striving, what I call “self-testing”—which is a sign that you are truly alive—gives us pleasure if it is experienced and consistently respected.
Psychological or physical malaise relate to the contemporary discontent that affects certain businesses. There are three main factors that directly affect this: short-sighted management that aims for quick profits, disorganization—the impression of a confusing system that shifts at the whim of market ups and downs — and the sense of wasting away at one’s job.
When you are feeling totally discouraged, should you summon up your courage to get motivated again or should you just leave and find another job?
Too many people let themselves be strung along by suffering and get accustomed to it, probably for fear of being fired. If your job becomes intolerable (for example because of unbearable management, harassment, discrimination, meaningless work), it is best to discontinue in such an environment. You might be able to negotiate another type of job with management, a new position that better fits your profile and preferences, or it might be better to find another job altogether. It may be difficult, and you will likely need all your strength to actually leave or find a new direction.
Happiness often comes out of a new way of thinking about one’s profession. When despondency and apathy set in, putting work into positive terms and rethinking one’s profession can deactivate this. It requires identifying the specific things that bring out positive feelings: good relationships with colleagues, the possibility of new career perspectives, interest in the challenge of a new task on the job. One person may be better at writing, while another is better at organization, so whenever possible, each person should try to develop according to his or her talents and needs of the company. It is essential to discuss your preferences, your strong points, and what fulfills you with the person in charge. It’s a good idea to reflect on these questions at least once a year, first alone and then, for example, in a yearly meeting with management.
How far should we aspire to advance within the company, to fulfill our need for responsibility, take on risks?
It all depends on the person. It is true that getting promoted boosts our self-image and increases our salary. But it does require certain aptitudes and personal preferences—the ability to make decisions, authority, organization—which not everyone has. This kind of change could bring you added stress and suffering and responsibilities you are not ready to handle. Many technical specialists, after having been promoted into management, return to their previous position. It is essential to analyze your preferences. “Know thyself,” advises Socrates, and you’ll know what direction to take!
To find happiness in the workplace, is it necessary for the job to be your “true vocation”?
Teaching, medicine, artistic professions, or cooking are undeniably jobs that should be one’s true vocation. Luckily! However, this doesn’t mean mistakes won’t be made and you can find yourself in the wrong job. It is more a question of being sufficiently stimulated on the job versus finding total happiness. In fact, our creative potential is so great that it is possible to find happiness in a great number of activities.
In terms of one’s job, a worker has more freedom than he or she may think. Every profession allows for room to maneuver, to adapt, to be creative. For example, an executive who, while the boss is gone, gives the go-ahead to a commercial contract, or a civil servant who decides to implement certain practices more in the spirit of the guidelines than in following them to the letter.
“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life,” goes a saying attributed to Confucius. Even if you end up in a job by chance, if you have the desire to be there and complete the tasks to the best of your ability, it can be satisfying.
Is it necessary to be a little childlike to be happy in a company?
To keep a task from becoming tedious, even though you are under obligation to do it, there should be a little bit of play to it. Playing includes humor, lighthearted relationships with colleagues, a certain creativity (invention, innovation), getting away from reality. A good sales agent, for example, gets a certain pleasure in negotiating in a playful way with clients, rather than being overly serious.