4 keys to long lasting happiness at work
28 September 2021 — Written by Arpit Chhikara
Your happiness at work depends a lot on your happiness outside of work. Strange, right? This is what Shankaran Nair believes. He graduated from IIM Bangalore in 1979 and has been a part of the founding team of multiple organisations for the last 40 years. Today we’ll be going through some of the insights that he has gathered through his experiences in the business world. You’ll get to learn about having agency in the workplace, being authentic and the value of work culture. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to enjoy the pursuit of happiness.
Three pillars of workplace happiness
Shankaran had come to believe that there are three pillars to happiness in the workplace:-
- Agency - staying in control and taking responsibility for the roles and tasks you take up
- Individuation - being your own unique self free from the norms of a group when working alone or in a team
- Authenticity - doing what is in line with your personal values and true to your inner calling
When all these three factors are in sync, work becomes worship, the by-product of which is long-lasting happiness.
Be social outside of social media
Our lives over the years have become far too social. In prehistoric times, we used to live in tribes, the total number of members in which were about 150. This is called the Dunbar number, named after the scientist who came up with it in his research. Why is this number useful in today’s day and age? Because we as social beings have come a long from discovering fire to creating spacecraft. But our brain’s wiring is designed to have a capacity for remembering the details of only a few people.
You can remember the full names of a few dozen people, the first names of about a hundred and only vague details of a thousand social media friends. It makes sense to surround yourself with people with whom you share a close bond and let go of surface-level ties, in both personal and professional spheres. Maintain your social media engagements but do not let those virtual bouts of instant gratification negatively affect your real-life pursuit of happiness. Focus more on personal growth.
Build self confidence from within
How important is self confidence for happiness? More important than you may think. Our social nature brings with it some ills. We compare ourselves to those around us. This can happen in either direction - good and bad. If people in your office are not as skilled as you, you’ll feel an unusual sense of confidence. On the other hand, if you’re not having as expensive a car as your peers, it’ll ruin your self-esteem. The best way to navigate the waters of social comparison is to not allow someone’s external indicators of success to dictate your internal values. If you have to improve yourself, be better than you were a month, a quarter, or a year back. After all, you can only be better than your previous self, right? According to psychologist Nathaniel Branden, self-esteem consists of two factors. First, feeling worthy and second, feeling competent. Make sure you strive to tackle both these factors by taking time to reflect upon your past, creating a vision for the future and working hard in the present.
Focus on work culture and empathy
Work culture and empathy are the most overlooked factors when talking about happiness. Do you know that teams fail not when people disagree with each other’s actions but with each other’s values? This is what organisational psychologist Adam Grant found and wrote about in his book Give and Take. It, therefore, makes sense to have cohesiveness in teams when it comes to values and vision, the idea behind work culture. In the long run, teams where people provide constructive criticism succeed. That’s because the members can see each other’s blind spots and help overcome biases and shortcomings.
Moreover, when the leaders have an openness to listen to what their employees have to say, they can figure out areas for improvement. In his book Eureka Factor, authors John Kounios and Mark Beeman say that creativity sparks when the mind is set free from the pressure to be creative. In a workplace where the leaders give space to employees to be their best, only there do we find creative breakthroughs, like at Google.
Balance personal growth and work
Have you ever wondered why personal growth is a buzzword these days? Because gone are the days when you had to stick to one job for a lifetime. Today’s young people look at work not as a job, but as a long and diverse career journey. This is what is called the portfolio career wherein you seek challenging and personally satisfying experiences over steadily rising paychecks. For people in the starting stage of their careers, Shankaran has a piece of advice. Choose to work with a boss who can also become your mentor, he says. This makes total sense.
In the starting years of your professional life, you need someone who can be your guiding light, a Mr Miyagi. As you advance in your career, choose to work where you people are healthy and upbeat because, in the long run, you’ll end up becoming like them. Consider constantly stressed and complaining colleagues an indicator that the time to switch jobs or roles has come. That said, how often do you objectively take note of yourself in a brainstorming session, during team meetings and when working under pressure?
These were some of the insights Shankaran Nair gathered in his four-decade-long career in the corporate and business world. To sum it up, the prerequisites for lasting happiness in a career are meaningful connections with your team and a sense of agency. Plus, you need to be in a profession and environment that authentically connects with your personal values. When all these points are in check along with a self-reflective outlook, work and personal growth become much more joyful.