The need to ‘work happy’

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Disclosure: HP is a client of the author.

At HP’s Amplify event this week (which is focused on partners), I initially got excited about an update to my favorite laptop, the HP Folio. But what really caught my attention was the opening video, which shows employees in a variety of locations and situations working, and having fun.

I often wonder if companies and their leaders realize we are in a very different world than we were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees are rethinking priorities and whether they are working to create unions, thinking about resigning (the Great Resignation), or have tuned out (quiet quitting), the goal seems to be the same — a renewed focus on work/life balance.

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The reason the video struck home for me is because when I was a kid working on a farm, my grandfather (who owned that farm and had been the CEO of a large petrochemical company) told me work isn’t supposed to be fun. At the time, I wondered why. Why can’t work be fun, why can’t you be happy at work — why can’t you “work happy”?

Let’s look at what that means.

Working happy and happily working

There are two concepts I have fought for most of my career. One is the belief that you have to focus to succeed. (That’s what my IBM mentor argued at one point) Instead, I was eclectic and moved from project to project, always looking for something interesting and different to do. This often got me in trouble, but the diversity gave me breadth, made me almost impossible to lay off (I tried to take a downsizing package and was told I was too valuable), and allowed me to look forward to my job. 

The other concept is that work should be fun. You should enjoy what you do and look forward to doing it. I love being an analyst, I am excited to learn about and work with new products, and I am fascinated by the interesting and different problems in various companies. But I really do not enjoy execution. I like breaking down a problem and creating plans to fix them, but I hate the political, interpersonal, and process parts (think about all those corporate rules and practices).

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So, for me, becoming an analyst was perfect. It allows me to do what I love and avoid what I hate. So after 40 years of holding a variety of jobs at different companies, I ended up working happy.

Everyone should strive to do so.

How to work happy

There are three elements to finding your way to “work happy.” 

  1. Create an inventory of things you love to do and things you hate doing. This is the foundation of a plan to find your path to working happy.
  2. Find companies that take care of, nurture, and help their employees grow. It’s fun to watch the HP execs on stage because they really like each other. (You would be surprised at how many events I’ve been to where it was clear company leaders hated each other.) Do not trade off salary for strong employee care.
  3. Get your personal life if order. Some of the worst experiences I have had as a manager involved dealing with people whose home lives were a mess. Affairs, divorces, and family problems can take an otherwise happy life and trash it. If you cannot sort out your home life, your work life will be affected.

Every time I write about how much I love my job, I get a ton of mail about how to do what I do. Be aware: most people do not make it as analysts. It requires an extremely specific set of skills and interests to not only do this job but enjoy doing it. What makes me “work happy” will not work for you. We are unique. Trying to emulate the life of someone that appears happy will not work for you because what you love and hate will be different.

There is no shortcut to working happy. You must develop your own path to reach that critical goal.

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