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Martyn Newman


Managing Director

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Well-being at work: Learning to love what you do


One of the strongest predictors of health and well-being turns out to be the quality of our social connections.

Yet, have you ever turned up for a doctor’s appointment, had your blood pressure taken and then been asked some rather direct questions about your social life: Do you often get together with family and friends? Do you enjoy the company of colleagues at work?
No? Well, according to studies reported in the Scientific American Mind, it turns out that belonging to social groups and networks appears to be just as an important predictor of health as diet and exercise. As a result, it makes sense to build high quality relationships in the workplace:
  • Treat the people you work with as your equals and look for the common ground you share as human beings
  • Look for ways you can help others achieve wins at work
  • Make sure you give others the opportunity to make decisions and contribute to the relationship in some way.
This in turn will make you more attractive to others and lead to greater opportunities, personal productivity and increased happiness.
Compassion – try a little kindness
One of the most effective ways to build high-quality connections is to practice empathy with others. I like to think of empathy as really being compassion in working clothes. According to the Dalai Lama: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” In other words, true happiness exists in making other people happy.
How to develop empathy:
  • Communicate that you understand the tasks that people are trying to perform
  • Listen well to others and be curious about their experience
  • Ask strategic questions about your employees’ plans, hopes and dreams and see if you can recognise the emotions that direct the behaviour of people. If you get it right, you will greatly enhance your capacity to make emotional connections with others and attract other people to you.
Go with the ‘flow’
If you’ve ever been totally absorbed in what you’re doing, then you will have experienced losing track of time or forgetting temporarily about your worries.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘Me-hi Chicksent-me-hiee’) is a psychologist who interviewed thousands of people of all ages and asked them to describe their highest moments of satisfaction – an idea he describes as flow.
According to Mihaly, when people experience their highest satisfactions and are experiencing flow they describe the experience as: ‘the task is challenging and requires skill,’ ‘we concentrate,’ ‘there are clear goals,’ ‘we get immediate feedback,’ ‘we have deep, effortless involvement,’ ‘there is a sense of control,’ ‘our sense of self vanishes,’ and ‘time stops.’
If ever there was a key to job satisfaction and productivity, then being in ‘flow’ sounds pretty close to it to me. Being absorbed in the flow experience is about total engagement and a loss of self-consciousness.
This means that at work you should aim to ensure that the challenge of your job matches your skills and provides you with the opportunity to stretch your abilities; establish clear goals of what you’re trying to achieve and focus your attention regularly on expressing your creativity.
It should also enable you to establish a sense of control and take charge of developing your talent; create your future by developing an attitude of positive self-expectancy; learn something valuable from each experience; minimise your need to be admired by others and, instead, cultivate a genuine self-awareness that is open to receiving feedback.
Deciding to love what you do, or at least the people you do it with, is a necessary condition to maintaining your emotional well-being.
Cultivate optimism – look on the bright side
Choosing to look on the brighter side of life and sense opportunities even in the face of adversity rather than focusing on what’s wrong; treating yourself kindly, or simply trusting that you can eventually achieve your goals are all optimism strategies.
These strategies not only lead to positive feelings, but do more to predict successful outcomes in life than just about anything else you do. An optimistic approach promotes positive mood, a sense of mastery and high self-confidence that in many ways inoculates us against depression and anxiety.
Smile and the world smiles with you
The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle viewed laughter as: ‘a bodily exercise precious to health’. Well, it turns out he was right. Recent research has documented that humour is not only psychologically beneficial, but that it can have significant effects on overall wellness, including lowering our risk of disease.
According to psychologist Stee Ayan, laughter relaxes us and improves our mood, and hearing jokes appears to ease anxiety. Cheerfulness is linked to emotional resilience – the ability to keep a level head in difficult circumstances – and to close relationships.
The first step in deciding to become more cheerful is to recognise how much time each day you spend focussing on your problems and frustrations. Holding high expectations leads to constant disappointment. Over time this pattern of being consumed with failed expectations creates a seriousness that leads to emotional exhaustion.
Determine to approach each day by giving up your expectations and instead be surprised by joy when little things go well, or people are friendly. Rather than fight against life, accept the disappointments as natural and look for the things you are grateful for. You’ll soon feel much lighter and cheerful.
A cheerful character gives us an emotional toughness that protects us against crises and enables us to see the silver lining in major disappointments, such as job loss.
All work and no play
Psychologists have known for a long time that spontaneous, imaginative play is vital for normal social, emotional and cognitive development.
Marc Berkoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests that without play, adults may end up getting burned out from the: “hustle-bustle busyness that we all get involved in.” Berkoff suggests that adults who do not play may end up unhappy and exhausted without understanding exactly why.
Finding time to do something you enjoy each day has the dual effects of providing you with ‘time-out’ from your stressful day and boosting your creativity. Play opens up new channels of creativity and increases the level of satisfaction we experience at work.
How employees feel about their organisation is directly related to their level of productivity and creativity. Studies reported in Fortune Magazine show that highly motivated employees are up to 127% more productive than averagely motivated employees in high complexity jobs.
Taking time for periods of play reduces stress, frees us from worry and increases creativity and our ability to solve problems.
Go play
Three strategies for finding time for play include:
  1. Get involved in some kind of unstructured active movement that’s not associated with time pressure.
  2. Get your hands dirty and create something; nurture a plant, write a story, play music, or personalise your surroundings.
  3. Get involved with other people regularly throughout the day; share a coffee, find a reason to laugh, celebrate someone’s success – as often as possible. It’s the little things that make a big difference to cultivating your emotional energies.

Martyn Newman is an occupational psychologist and managing director of emotional intelligence consultancy, RocheMartin.

This article was first published by our partner, online jobs board, Changeboard.

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Martyn Newman

Managing Director

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