It’s important to be happy at work. After all, few people want to spend 40 hours or more every week in a place that makes them unhappy. But the organization itself has reasons to want you to be happy, too. Happiness at work leads to improved productivity, better morale, and increased engagement. So happiness is a win-win for both employees and employers.
But how do you tell if you’d be happy with a prospective employer during a job search? After all, you may know little about the hiring manager, your colleagues, or the company.
What Factors Contribute to Your Happiness at Work?
First, determine the key components of happiness at work for you. Cultural fit, for example, is very likely to have a major impact on your happiness. Say you accept a job in a hard-charging environment with a huge emphasis on being available 24/7 to achieve the company’s goals. If your chief priority is work-life balance, you may feel like a fish out of water almost from the first moment. That’s not a recipe for job satisfaction—or meaningful career growth.
Autonomy, defined by Entrepreneur as “the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best,” contributes more to happiness at work than money does. Autonomy can mean you have leeway to determine how best to fulfill your objectives. It can also mean the organization encourages employee development and creativity. The company 3M, for example, once gave its scientists a certain percentage of time to research self-directed projects. The result? The Post-It Note.
Personal fulfillment also contributes to happiness. Personal fulfillment is a highly individual matter, so you need to define it for yourself. Are you interested in eradicating world hunger, for example? Or do you want to develop your leadership capabilities? Or do you just want colleagues who are pleasant to be around? Develop your personal fulfillment criteria first.
How do you assess cultural fit with an employer, and your chances of autonomy and fulfillment? Read on.
1. Cultural Fit
There are two aspects to cultural fit. The first is the company’s culture. Most companies provide official statements that can help you determine parts of their culture, such as the mission and values statements. Are these congruent with your own?
The second aspect is your chemistry with coworkers and supervisors. Increasingly, managers tend to equate fit with whether they like and feel comfortable with employees, according to The New York Times.
Remember, the interview process is a window into the company. The best way to assess this aspect of fit is to pay attention to the chemistry in interviews. Does your hiring manager seem likable? Do the interviewers seem comfortable with you? Does the environment feel comfortable?
But an interview can’t be the only determinant of fit, either, according to the Harvard Business Review. Chat with past or present employees for lunch or coffee, if possible. Do you feel comfortable? Do their work goals, senses of humor, and any pastimes mentioned accord with your own? Or do they root for the Red Sox while you love the Yankees? While feeling comfortable isn’t definitive proof of a cultural fit, it’s certainly a good indicator.
Autonomy in a given workplace is, frankly, much trickier to figure out than a culture. A company may officially praise autonomy, but your supervisor could end up exhibiting a profound tendency to micromanage. You may be on a team that is less than ideally autonomous due to multiple factors, such as pressure to meet a deadline.
Again, use the interview process as a test. Observe the degree of autonomy you’re given during the hiring process itself. Do you have plenty of time to ask questions and contribute to the shape of the interview? Or is the interview extremely structured?
Tap your network to discuss the company’s reputation for autonomy. If you can talk to current or past employees, ask them about the trade-off between autonomy and structure. Are any people known to micromanage? Do employees have any time to develop their own projects—and is that important to you?
3. Personal Fulfillment
Once you’ve decided what personal fulfillment means to you, think about whether the company will contribute to it.
If you are highly concerned about world hunger, for example, working for an organization with that goal may be highly personally fulfilling. Getting a job that furthers your leadership objectives might be highly rewarding if that’s your focus. Ask what success looks like in the company during the interview to see if the answer seems personally fulfilling. On the other hand, if you want a job with congenial colleagues, it might be important for you to work in an environment with opportunities to work on group assignments and talk throughout the day.
One final note: Look at all these factors together. You don’t want to take a job that seems like it hits the fulfillment bull’s-eye, for example, and realize later that you lack cultural fit or autonomy.
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