A woman wearing glasses sitting on a table, on her tablet device and drinking tea while working from home

The 8 steps towards being happier and more productive in the workplace

This article has been updated to reflect the unique situation we find ourselves in, where a high proportion of the workforce is now working remotely. But our tips for happiness, productivity, and health remain as relevant as ever. Over two thirds (69%) of full-time employees in the UK are currently unhappy at work, with 88% admitting to regularly doing non-work related activities to make the day go faster. Employee stress levels have risen nearly 20% in the last three decades, and 16% have quit from overwhelming stress in the workplace. With almost a third of our life spent at work, could this have a material impact on our overall happiness and wellbeing?

We’ve come up with a list of simple steps that can help you get the most out of your work life. However, if you need more than an energy boost to pick you up from your work rut, we have hundreds of live tech roles at organisations of every size and every industry throughout the UK – so if you’re not happy in your current role, we’d love to be the one to help you change that. Head to our jobs page to find your next career move in tech.

Here’s our eight simple steps to a happier work life.

Take a break

Have you pulsed and paused recently? Research shows that taking regularly scheduled breaks can help to focus your mind and improve output. Whether you’re following Tony Schwartz’s 90-minute theory (that humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes); Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro method, which sees subjects work in concentrated bursts on a single project for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break; or the 52-minute work period followed by 17-minute long break evidenced by some of The Draugiem Group’s most productive employees, the point is the same: far from detracting or distracting, humans require breaks to achieve objectives.

Ideally, you need mental, visual, and physical breaks. Stretch your legs with a walk, make yourself a cup of tea, or switch off with a casual conversation with co-workers (you don’t have to be in person for this – don’t forget to switch on your video if you’re using Skype to feel more connected!).

And of course, make sure you take your lunch break. While research shows that nearly 20% of workers worry their bosses don’t think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, nearly 90% say that taking a lunch break helps them feel refreshed and ready to get back into work. So when you’re ready for a break, take it.

Make yourself at home

Your work environment is important. Regardless of whether you believe that messy desks make for creative geniuses, or a decluttered desk sharpens your focus, create a space that works for you. From light background noise to reduce distraction (check out these sites for background noises, from rainfall to coffee shops), to the colours blue, yellow and orange, to plants (found to improve employee satisfaction and to increase productivity by up to 15%), there are lots of ways to improve the office environment.

And while you may never win the air conditioner war, (although you may right now!) there are still plenty of small wins that can be achieved at your desk. Extra points if you convince your workplace to host a bring-your-dog-to-work day – which can reduce stress and improve happiness for workers. And for those with pets at home, that’s a silver lining.

When it comes to home working, it’s important to designate a work area which is separate to the rest of your personal life and to set clear boundaries. Working in your bed will blur the line between work/life balance, which could leave you feeling fatigued.

Stop getting distracted

Did you know that the average worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes – and that it takes 25 minutes to get back on track with the original task, once disturbed? From a constantly buzzing phone to unexpected email requests or chatting with colleagues, the workplace is full of distractions. And every interruption sees a drop in productivity, as time is lost and less tasks completed.

There are simple steps you can take to stop getting distracted. Put your phone on silent and keep it out of sight, use headphones, book out a meeting room or set yourself to ‘busy’ if need be! You can also follow the two-minute rule, where anything that requires less than 120 seconds of your time and attention you respond to immediately, and anything else gets placed on the ‘to do’ list.

Don’t multi-task

For some, the temptation to make up for lost time can be to try and do more with less – namely, multi-tasking. However, rather than helping you to achieve more in a shorter period of time, trying to do ten things at once causes you to lose focus, resulting in longer timeframes, lower productivity, and inevitably, frustration. According to research, humans incur more lost time by switching from one task to another and this is even greater when tasks were complex or unfamiliar. The bottom line? Focus on one task at a time.

One way you can do this is by breaking projects into small, manageable chunks. While completing a large project can seem daunting, smaller bitesize pieces of work give a greater sense of achievement, which is often linked to boosts in serotonin, the ‘confidence drug’. This will also send your self-esteem sky rocketing, meaning more achievements, more quickly.

Reduce decision making

That’s right; making too many decisions is mentally draining. Each decision you make reduces your cognitive resources, making future decisions harder. So reduce the volume of decisions you make to core priorities (Steve Jobs was reported to wear the same outfit daily to cut down on his), delegate where possible, and try to make important decisions early in the morning (or at least before 3pm, when serotonin dips), when your brain is at peak performance.

Start your day right

It should come as no surprise that getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep every night is one of the easiest ways to boost your cognition, improve your wellbeing and increase memory and problem-solving ability. However, what you may not have considered is the importance of also rising early. The first hour of the day will shape everything that comes after it. An article by Psychology Today suggests that waking up 15-30 minutes earlier than normal, and using 5-10 minutes of this time to meditate – a favourite amongst business leaders - can also positively influence the start of your day.

Rather than rushing to get out of the door, you’re relaxed, composed and mindful, as meditation helps you to detach from day-to-day habits and preoccupations. With 35% of 16-24 year olds distracted by personal mental health worries during working hours, taking some time to reflect at the beginning of the day can help to alleviate some stress. Don’t forget to stretch, drink a glass of water, and eat a healthy breakfast to get you started too.

When it comes to home working, you may want to consider keeping your normal routine – including an early start. In some roles, an early start could even give you a head start, so make use of the extra time where possible. But this is still a two-way street. At the end of the working day, make sure to switch off – if you redirect your emails to your personal phone, turn off notifications and give yourself time to breathe. Balance is key. 

Embrace kindness

Ever heard of the helper’s high? The act of kindness – helping others or doing a good deed – releases endorphins that boost positivity, improve health and reduce stress. There’s also a positive link between happiness and helpfulness, as one study revealed that happy workers are 33% more likely to help their colleagues. Being kind doesn’t have to be about grand gestures, either.

Making someone else a drink, buying treats or offering to help out on a project can all help to give you a positivity boost. If your company has a CSR strategy or volunteer days (as we do at Onezeero), also take full advantage of that. And failing that, smile. Not only does smiling trigger endorphins (it’s a more powerful pleasure-booster than chocolate), but it also makes you seem more likeable and competent.

In the current circumstances, being kind is also about being considerate. Check-in on your colleagues for nothing more than a chat, offer a helping hand on difficult projects, and help out your neighbours and community where practical and safe to do so.

Practice gratitude

Embracing kindness should also be about being kind to yourself. Studies have shown that reflecting on your day positively – writing a journal or making a note of three positive things that day – can significantly improve happiness. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is even more enhanced when expressing gratitude to someone else.

In one study, participants who wrote a letter of gratitude experienced a surge of happiness more powerful than any other interaction during the study, with benefits lasting for months. The lesson? Make sure you say thank you to your co-workers.

Still uncertain that the above tips will help you to feel happy and more fulfilled at work? Maybe you’re ready for a change of scenery and a fresh challenge. Check out our jobs in technology to find a role where you can reach your full potential. Happiness at work shouldn’t be forgotten about – it’s one of the biggest components of your life, and one that is so easy to improve. And remember that if you should prioritise anything today, it’s your happiness, your health and your welfare. 

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