Did you know that if you are a 40-year-old full-time office worker, chances are you have already spent 3 375 days on work? That amounts to around 27 000 hours of your precious life time that you will never get back. Work takes more of your lifetime than any other activity, besides sleeping. On average, you will have spent a third of your life on work. In other words, 72 000 hours and 9 000 days. Do the math – and you’ll find out how much time you have left.
But what is the quality of those precious hours and days?
Everyone would naturally agree that such a significant amount of time must be put to best possible use. But is that the case? Have a look at some figures and ask yourself, “With my current work situation, which category do I belong to?”
> According to Gallup (1), only 13% of the world employed population is engaged in their work with passion. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
> The remaining 87% of working individuals are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”. The “not engaged” employees are essentially “checked out”: they sleepwalk through the workday, contributing their treasured time without energy or passion, (63% according to Gallup).
> The “actively disengaged” individuals aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining the accomplishments of their engaged co-workers every day (24%).
This corresponds to my personal observations in daily work. As a founder of Happy-at-Work 11 years ago, I witness a distressing reality: the majority of my clients reach out to me profoundly demotivated, with the “TGIF” attitude, or even worse – deeply submerged in the “survival” mode, with the emotional, physical and mental state of burn-out.
A few years ago, Vincent, a 35-year-old broker, approached me seeking help; he was on the verge of falling. His “active disengagement” was clearly pronounced not only in his emotional state – in the form of fear, stress and apathy, but also in the physical one. His body would rebel against his job every single morning by producing an irrepressible vomit reflex, and because he failed to promptly respond to his needs, it was not long before he collapsed and was hospitalized. Vincent’s example shows that work – an activity that we dedicate so much of our energy and time to – should at least not make us sick and miserable, and that we must be proactive about our physical and emotional health.
But Vincent is not the only successful careerist whose work makes them sick. In his insightful book, Dying for a Paycheck, Jeffrey Pfeffer points out that 61% of employees declared that workplace stress had made them sick and 7% claim that they have actually been hospitalized, (2). Physical collapse is a rather dramatic and severe consequence of being disengaged and unhappy at work. To most people, it serves as a wake-up call to change their lives for the better – and they do. However, the majority of disengaged working individuals don’t get hospitalized and they are, many would argue, in a bigger danger than Vincent, to turn their work-life into an ultimate disappointment, with seemingly harmless actions.
Many years ago, when I worked as a Marketing Manager in Evian, I witnessed a young colleague, Claudia, a Sales Administrator, cross out days in her calendar with a Stabilo marker. When I asked her about it, she confessed to me that she was incredibly bored and counting days until her next holiday. She had 60 days left of work until her 5-weeks-per-year vacation.
“What about the other 47 weeks of your year?” I thought. Claudia was just in her early 30s, and, like the 87% of the workforce, was already sinking into boredom, a “waiting for retirement” mode much too surely. With this type of attitude, day-in and day-out for years and decades, how would she feel about her life and career in her 50s?
Between birth and death, we spend 15 to 20 years in school, and then mindlessly enter work life – rushing, stressing, feeling more disengaged and under pressure, longing for vacation and some kind of liberation. But many people don’t realize that they will have carried the “when-I-grow-up” mindset throughout all of their invaluable 40-or-so working years. And at 65, many individuals still wouldn’t know what they want to be. I often see top- and mid- level managers seeking clarity in their forties, anxious about their retirement age approaching and distraught about having reached an “end” without having even “started”. To help my clients switch from the “TGIF” and “I am surviving” state to an “I am thriving” one, I first ask them to be completely honest with themselves and understand the end goal of their work path:
What is the ultimate expectation of my 9000 days at work?
Most people, regardless of age or seniority, struggle to answer that question. Expectations are individual. Whether it is about career and promotion, job security and comfort, wages and bonuses, meaningful vision, resonant relationships or special purpose, I believe that the common denominator for each and every working person is the need of fulfillment.
At the end of a life, we all want to look back and say, “WOW. Those 9000 days were great”. Not all of those days, but most of them. We’ll want to know that we’d lived a good life, a happy life – that years went by with quality and joy, and not with disengagement, boredom and exhaustion.
What can I do to be happier at work?
To avoid work misery and foster fulfillment instead, I highlight 5 essential components:
- Know yourself. Know your “why” and your “what”. Developing self-awareness helps navigate easier and make better choices. Knowing your talents, strengths and motivators, as well as clarifying your career expectations are imperative elements.
- Focus on positive everyday progress. Don’t get lost in your to-do lists, action plans and activities you have not accomplished. Instead, focus on what you have achieved, even on the smallest steps of progress. Focusing on positive results with gratitude helps acquire happiness on a daily basis.
- Build great relationships. Harmonious and supportive relations have a positive impact on health and happiness. We all know that people “join a company and leave a boss (and/or colleagues)”. Trusting and resonant relationships are indispensable.
- A sense of purpose. When you make a difference at work and are able to see the impact of your efforts, it brings undeniable happiness. Meaningful work is a major source of positive emotions.
- Develop resilience and self-management capacity.
The challenge in today’s ever-changing environment is staying grounded and resilient, and knowing how to manage stress and emotions. We need to cultivate our personal sustainability: we are not running a 1000-meter race but a marathon.
As John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
Being happy and fulfilled at work is something we all struggle with at some point in our lives. But happiness at work is not a luxury. It is crucial, given the number of hours, days and years we dedicate to work.
So let me ask you this:
- What do you want for the remaining days you have left at work?
- Who benefits from those ‘other plans’ you are busy making?
Let’s make the best out of our 9000 work days!
Annika Månsson, CEO, Founder of Happy at Work, Switzerland
Want to hear more from Annika? She’s also a speaker at the Global Online Happiness at Work summit. Register before the 21st September, for free access during the Week of Happiness at Work.
- Jeff Pfeffer, “Dying for a paycheck”, Harper Collins, 2018.
Psychology Today, April 23, 2014.