How to Be Happier at Work

Hint: stop sending so many emails

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David Sorich / Chicago Ideas Week

Keith Ferrazzi speaks during the "Work: Fueling Performance" talks at Chicago Ideas Week, in Chicago on Oct. 16, 2013.

According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 70% of Americans either hate their job, or are “disengaged” with their work. That’s pretty bad, especially given the proven link between employee satisfaction and overall company performance.

But it can get better—or so argued several experts Wednesday at Chicago Ideas Week, as part of a 90-minute discussion on the future of work. Here’s how.

1. Find a higher purpose.
 “In order to be a human being we have to make red blood cells,” said Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana, the workplace productivity platform.  “But the purpose of being alive is not to make red blood cells.” In other words, while all companies have to make money, the reason most exist is to help people fill a need—which means that most workers are, by extension, improving the life of somebody, somewhere. (For a fee, of course.) It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re bogged down with day-to-day tasks. So minding the bigger picture is essential.

2. Try an email alternative.
One of the reasons Rosenstein grew frustrated at Facebook and Google, where he started his career, is because “I was doing too much work about work—going to meetings, reading emails—and not enough actual working,” he said. The reason: there wasn’t much clarity on what had to get done, and who was supposed to be doing it. So he left to help develop Asana, a workplace management system that’s based on accomplishing tasks, not sending emails. (Learn more here and here.) It’s currently being used by Pinterest, Dropbox, Foursquare and more.

3. Embrace other generations.
It’s easy to resent workers that aren’t in your age group: “millennials are entitled,” “boomers are luddites,” and “Gen X-ers lack ‘executive presence'” were just some of the perceptions noted among workers polled by Ernst & Young. But it’s not that simple. Each generation also excels in different areas:



And the most engaged workers are the ones who learn to appreciate—and more importantly, leverage—the fact that others may offer what they can’t. “Get the facts,” said Dan Black, director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young. “And be flexible.”
4. Beware superficial signals.
“We don’t like admitting this,” said Alison Wolf, author of The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World, “but beauty gets rewarded—in both sexes—in the workplace.” And it’s not just in terms of pay: attractive people are perceived as more trustworthy, a main reason why graying female senators dye their hair, according to Wolf. But blindly trusting those signals can be dangerous—there’s no actual scientific correlation between beauty and brains. So make sure you look beyond them before when selecting a teammate, and especially when hiring a new employee.

5. Learn how to really change someone’s behavior.
According to Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of collaboration consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, “70% of the reason we change is because we tried something and liked it, 20% is because we were coached into changing by someone who gave a damn, and only 10% is from actual instruction or training.” In other words, the best way to realize your demands is to 1) collaborate on them or 2) make them fun—or at least seemingly fun, a la Tom Saywer and the fence—for the person you’re demanding them from. “We need people to feel like people have their back,” Ferrazzi added.