Unfortunately, a lot of people don't love their jobs. About 61 percent of newly re-employed workers consider it "just what they do to put bread on the table," according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. But with an average 90,000 hours of our lives spent on the job, it helps to care about what you do-or at least have a foosball table in the break room.
Every year, the companies that rank the highest in employee satisfaction are the ones that offer creative perks. Pet-friendly days, team-building activities, small performance rewards all break up the monotony of the 9-to-5 and boost morale.
"The key to job happiness is variety, " says Sonja Lyubormirsky, psychologist and author of The How of Happiness. "No matter what you do, mental stimulation through a variety of challenges is the key to keeping interest in your job."
Large companies spend thousands of dollars researching how to keep a corporate culture of motivated, happy employees. Take a cue from their research and apply those simple perks to your own job.
Write down the little things.
Online retailer Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh doesn't offer the most competitive salaries for his sales team. Instead he's developed one of Fortune Magazine's Best Companies to Work For by building a culture of gratitude. "Many studies have shown that gratitude helps people increase their overall happiness level in life," writes Hsieh on his Zappos blog. "One technique is to make a more conscious effort to notice and appreciate the little things in life."
For Hsieh, that means updating his Twitter account with small things he appreciates on the job. He encourages his staff to do the same. "Now, anytime I notice something that would normally be inconsequential, the very act of tweeting forces me to spend some time appreciating what would have otherwise been ignored or forgotten."
If your company isn't cool with public work-related updates, you can still test out Hsieh's theory. Spend a day writing down things you observe on the job--from co-worker conversations to email updates. Then label each one either good or bad, depending on how they make you feel. Don't be discouraged by the results.
"Most people use the "bad thing" label three to ten times more often than they use the 'good thing' label," writes Srikumar Rao, author of the book Happiness at Work. "Each time you use the 'bad thing' label…you're adding a tiny bit of stress to your life. Cumulatively, it has a huge impact on you." Rao suggests it reinforces powerlessness or lack of control, one of the biggest complaints people have at their job. A sense of control is especially important in our current unstable job climate. But you can trick yourself into feeling empowered by keeping a running list of good things at work. Salt and Vinegar chips in the vending machine? Write it down. It's the little things.
Make your own game room.
New research has found that games in the workplace can foster relationships, healthy competition and creative thinking. But if you don't work at a tech company, you may have to provide your own arcade. Download Tetris to your phone. Take a 15-minute break twice a day to play Scrabble online with a co-worker. Even a crossword at lunch will sharpen your mind and prepare you for the second half of the day. This is especially important in jobs like data entry or factory work that require repetitive activity. Taking small breaks to activate another part of your brain or even creating a game while you work can keep your mind sharp and your mood high, says Lyubormirsky, a psychology professor at University of California, Riverside. "Time yourself with a task and see if you can beat that goal each day to create mini-challenges on an otherwise boring task," she suggests. If you're bogged down in meetings and find yourself dozing in and out, try pulling out Silly Putty. Engaging your fingers in a physical activity will activate your mind and as a result re-invigorate you.
Support your side projects.
With more hours spent in the workplace, hobbies have gone the way of 401k's. But the positive effects of a consequence-free challenge hasn't. That's why some top-ranked companies offer compensation for special-interest classes like cooking, ceramics, or poetry. At Google, "Innovation Time Off," is a day when engineers get to toy with other creative projects they may not be working on. Studies show that happiness at work is directly parallel to happiness outside the job. But with so much time spent at work, cultivating other interests during the week is crucial to maintaining an emotional balance.
Once a week, give yourself an hour, during lunch or after work, to experiment with a topic of interest. Download a free lecture on iTunes University for your commute. Or listen to a language-learning podcast. Once you build in a weekly time for a new challenge it becomes part of your work routine--and, as a result, part of your work. So even if your job doesn't keep your mind engaged, aspects of your work routine will.
Create a rewards program.
At Adobe, employees are offered discounts at local retailers. Whole Foods provides credit to employees that can be used for entertainment and gifts. Corporations offer employees these perks as a reminder that their work is appreciated. Sure the salary is what it's all about, but it's easy to forget what the salary allows for. It's not just about affording rent, but getting tickets to a ballgame, a gift for your kid, an extra order of dessert. Start your own self-rewarding program as a reminder of the pleasures that come from your efforts. Every three to six months, treat yourself to a small bonus ($20-$50) -a dinner, tickets to a movie. Not a big thing, just your way of saying "thanks for the hard work".
Provide lunch benefits.
Top companies provide free lunches, discounts at gourmet eateries, or weekly barbecues. The reason being, a good lunch provides energy, office bonding and something to look forward to. Start your own meal plan by doing a lunch swap with co-workers. Make lasagna for two or three work friends. Then give someone else the task next week. If you like to cook it gives you a platform to try new recipes and if you like to eat, it gives you chance to have home-cooked meals you didn't have to slave over.
If you can, share your homemade lunch with a boss. At Zappos, Tony Hsieh will share the occasional shots of vodka with employees. His rational is to eradicate the feeling of powerlessness with your employer. It may be unconventional but breaking bread of some form with your boss, levels the playing field and lets you find common ground.
It's also important, once a week, to eat lunch alone. "Shrinking leisure time, and mental and physical exhaustion, are by-products of our accelerated work shifts," writes psychologist Ester Buchholz in her book The Call of Solitude. "People today, caught in a struggle to produce work at the rate demanded by society, never consider the lack of alone moments. Once they do, they may decide to take control of their professional life." Buckholz suggests a little bit of alone time leads to heightened brain activity. " Life's creative solutions require alone time. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems," she writes. Take 20 minutes in a quiet spot away from your desk to eat alone once a week and see if you notice any changes in your thinking after a few months. If you don't get time alone at home, your work lunch could become one of your favorite moments of the week.
Bring your pet to work.
Some jobs encourage bringing pets, others maintain an in-house office pet. Studies have found that cats and dogs effectively relieve anxiety better than any rubber stress ball. If you can't have a furry creature under your desk, store one on your phone and pull up pictures twice a day. If you have access to the Internet, set your alarm for "daily puppy" time and pull up a blog like cute overload for an animal fix. It'll instantly break up your day for a quick mental massage.
Create a no-work zone.
Time away from work is key to staying happy on the job. If you feel like your job is eating into your free time, it may be your own fault. With phones connected to work emails checking in on the job can be involuntary. Pretty soon, the variety your brain requires to feel balanced and happy is gone. Some organizations forbid emails after a certain hour, others discourage contact on weekends. Set your own rules within the boundaries of your job. If you're off on weekends, see if you can instate a no weekend email rule for yourself. Will anyone notice if you don't respond till Monday? One way to keep your mind at ease is to set an auto-reply message on your work email before every weekend that says you'll respond Monday. You can even include an emergency contact number to put your mind at ease.
Make your workspace inviting.
One of the biggest detractors to a job is lighting. It's the kind of thing you may not notice, but feel. When you walk into work do you suddenly get de-energized?
"Poor lighting has been associated with a variety of problems including low productivity, high human error rates, eye strain, headache, a reduction in mental alertness, general malaise, and low employee morale," according to ErgoDynamix, a company hired by places like General Electric to improve employee satisfaction. One of their first fixes at major companies is improving standard overhead lighting in an office.
Multiple light sources and filtered bulbs with minimal glare are proven to reduce stress and create a positive work atmosphere. If you work at a desk, buy a lamp or a bulb filter to reduce glare. Another way to improve your workspace is with a small fan or heating pad. Controlling your own body temperature will help you feel more physically comfortable in your job.
Take a spa break.
During the Internet boom, several companies hired a masseuse to come to the office once a month. It may seem like a luxury but a study in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that a twice weekly, 15-minute chair massage lowered anxiety, sharpened the mind and even improved math scores. If you live by a mall, reward yourself with a $10/$10 minute massage on your lunch break.
If you're stuck in the office, massage therapist Amy Kreydin recommends "rolling a golf ball on the feet, in short routines while sitting at a desk. Several busy nursing stations in Massachusetts have adopted this act of improving circulation and reducing stress and fatigue."
Offer incentives to stay…or go.
"Core Values" is a term that Zappos CEO Hsieh has trademarked. It's at the center of his philosophy for keeping employees engaged at work. "It doesn't actually matter what your company's core values are. What matters is that you have them and that you commit to them," writes Hsieh in his book Delivering Happiness.
The idea is, if you care about what you do, you'll like doing it. At Zappos, Hsieh suggests his staff isn't just selling shoes, they're spreading the happiness message. It's a feel-good resolution that works for his employees.
"It helps to re-frame your work if you find ways to give it meaning," says happiness psychologist, Lyubomirsky. "One study found that several hospital janitors considered their work their calling. Instead of seeing their tasks of changing bedpans and mopping floors their jobs, they saw the bigger picture of making the lives of patients more comfortable." As a result, the study showed they enjoyed what they did and referred to their work as "their calling."
Many jobs provide added value to other people's lives, whether it's building cars, trading stocks, or making pizza. Is there a philosophy behind your personal routine or a little something extra you do when you create a product? Some companies compensate "spiritually" by offering a free volunteer day or by connecting workers to organizations in need. Consider how your workplace knowledge could be used to mentor a child, or use a sick day to volunteer once year. If you feel good about giving back to the world, then you'll feel better about what do.
If you can't even sip the proverbial Kool-Aid, Zappos models an alternative option. New employees at the company are offered $2,000 to quit if they're not feeling their jobs. Rarely does anyone take the bait-maybe because it's there. If you can set a goal to save $2 grand, even if it takes a few years, you can consider it your "I quit" money. You never have to actually use it, but you always know you've got a way out if things become unbearable. If you keep providing your own jobs perks, odds are you'll never use it.
For more self-rewarding perks on the job, check out 6 office toys that will improve your 9-to-5.,