Published May 09, 2013
If you’re finding it hard to drag yourself to work, maybe you need a new job – but maybe you just need to adjust your attitude.
After the initial “honeymoon phase” of a new job wanes, it’s easy for the day-to-day grind, or a difficult boss, to take a toll on your job satisfaction, leaving you with a negative attitude.
"Workplace happiness is finding the right job, the right culture and the right boss,” said Brandon Smith, a workplace coach and founder of theworkplacetherapist.com, which is based in Atlanta. “The challenge is that when one of those is out of line, you have to find ways to manage that."
Some people, in fact, are more prone to negative thinking, which can make them even more unhappy at work than others in the same situation.
One type of therapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy, is based on the theory that you can improve your mental health, or in this case your level of happiness at work, by reframing the way you think about things and taking steps to improve how you cope. It helps you change your thinking to make it more accurate and less tinged with emotion.
Here are some common “mindset traps” that can sabotage your level of happiness at work, and tips on how to reframe your thinking about the situations.
You feel bored or unchallenged. The flip side of not being challenged is realizing that you’re good at your job, and it doesn’t require too much of your energy, said Amy Morin, a cognitive behavioral therapist in Lincoln, Maine. But that may not help the tedium.
Think of ways to make boring tasks more interesting, like listening to music or talking to a co-worker to pass the time. Always set the bar high for yourself.
“Imagine this is the last time you’re ever going to get to do this particular task," Smith said. "You’ll put more into it." Get boring tasks done first thing in the morning to get them out of the way.
At the same time, if you’re feeling frustrated at work, start to develop a career plan or exit strategy. Map out a two or five- year plan. This will give you a sense of control and help you tolerate your job because you know you won’t be there forever.
“It involves asking some bigger questions about what you want to do and how do you want to get there,” Smith said.
You dislike your boss or co-workers. “Look at what you can learn by having this person in your life,” Morin said. “I know it sounds idealistic,” but it can reduce your feelings of animosity towards them. Do they teach you patience, or challenge you to bite your tongue, or to be tactful or assertive?
“I also recommend looking at their qualities that you may like, rather than focusing on the ones you don’t like,” she added.
That said, you should also keep a healthy distance.
“You need to be able to work with the team and get what you need from them without getting so close that they drive you crazy,” Smith said. You can do this by communicating via email rather than meeting in person or telecommuting when possible.
If your co-workers are complainers who bring you down, you need to walk the fine line of being one of the team so you don’t isolate yourself.
“Listen to their complaints and try to turn it into something positive,” Smith said.
You can’t ever get enough done. Being overworked is the new normal, making employees feel they’re not good enough or productive enough. Try to flip this thinking by saying, “My workplace has high expectations of me, and I’m only there so many hours.”
Set a daily to-do list with realistic goals. Write it down on pad of paper so you can have the satisfaction of scratching a line through it when you’re done. Even if you still have a huge workload, seeing what you’ve accomplished today can remind you of just how much you did get done.
Set limits, so you’re not working all night long. Carve out time to recharge yourself or else you’ll burn out. Smith recommended planning long four-day weekends once every three months. If you can do this, it gives you something to look forward to in the short term and provides regular opportunities to re-energize.
You feel underappreciated. If you have a halfway decent manager, ask if you can check in with him or her for five minutes about your job performance. But the back pat may have to come from within. Remind yourself of why you’ve chosen your job and what is the difference that you’re making, Smith said.
“If you helped one person today, you made a difference in the world," she added.
Your boss thinks you’re a dope. If your boss catches a mistake you made, you might assume she thinks you’re stupid, when in reality, you probably made a common mistake that won’t lead to any negative opinions of you. Ask yourself, what is the evidence that she’s disgusted with you or wants to fire you? Try not to overgeneralize isolated incidents or blow criticisms or events out of proportion. If you don’t think you aced a presentation, it’s unlikely people thought you bombed, but instead understood your message and weren’t judging you on your performance.
In many of these scenarios, try to think of what you’d say to a friend who was in your shoes.
“We’re often kinder to our friends than to ourselves,” Morin said. Use those compassionate and rational words on yourself.