The 7 Things You Need To Look For In Your New Job (To Make You Happy)
Posted September 8, 2016, by Vivien Luu
Job hunting isn’t easy.
From agonising over whether to sign off your cover letter with ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Regards’ to trying to take the perfect LinkedIn profile picture – looking for a new job can be a back-breaking process that’s about 33 per cent exciting, 25 per cent frustrating, and 1,000 per cent stressful.
Since you’re doing everything possible to put your best professional face forward, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your prospective employer holds all the power.
But the job search is actually a two-way street. Sure, through the resume, cover letter and interview process, the company vets you. But here’s the thing: you vet the company too.
And if you aren’t doing that, you absolutely should be!
Why, you ask?
Because we spend a helluva lot of time at work – over 80,000* hours in a lifetime in fact!
That’s a lot of meetings, a lot of emails and way too much time spent feeling miserable if you hate your job.
So how do you find a job that makes you happy?
1. A salary that puts food on the table (and meets your basic needs)
A job needs to pay you what you’re worth, and even more importantly, it needs to pay you enough to live life the way you want to.
And no, that’s not all about getting paid the big bucks. A seminal Princeton University study has found that a higher salary doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling happier each day.
Similarly, a review of 120 years of research on the relationship between employee happiness and salary has found that if you want employees to be happy and engaged, money is not the answer.
Having said that, you do need a salary that meets your basic needs. If it doesn’t, you need to go in to bat and negotiate a higher package, or you need to walk away.
So, as boring as it may be, take out your calculator and do the maths so you can answer the following questions:
- How much do I need to earn to live life the way I want to?
- What’s the minimum salary I’m willing to accept?
- Am I willing to sacrifice parts of my lifestyle in favour of a job I love?
2. A job that lets you live
Work hours are another non-negotiable, since they have a huge impact on your happiness and health. Workaholics, listen up: You want to work to live, not live to work.
And Iâ€™ve got science on my side to prove it.
According to a report on job satisfaction published by Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, work/life balance is one of the six key factors that contributes to job satisfaction.
The think tank surveyed 2,600 workers to better understand what contributed to a happier work life, and found that ‘a healthy relationship between our professional lives and our private lives’ was absolutely crucial.
Along with this, science has found that long work hours can lead to:
- Increased risk of depression
So when you’re hunting for a new job, make sure you find one that suits your lifestyle and has a healthy work/life balance by:
- Deciding upfront whether you’re looking for full-time, part-time, casual, contract work/freelance work, or a fly-in-fly-out arrangement
- Figuring out if you need flexibility, and finding out if they’re willing to accommodate you
- Finding out if you’re expected to travel frequently as a part of your role
- Asking what the usual work hours are (FYI: Legally speaking, the Australian FairWork Obudsman says that employers can only make you work a maximum of 38 hours per week.)
3. Work that’s challenging, but not impossible
Science and popular belief are in agreement: feeling satisfied and happy at work involves feeling engaged by what you do, and being so absorbed by the task at hand that you’re able to get into ‘the flow’ of things.
Sounds a bit hippy dippy trippy, doesn’t it?
Seriously though, the researchers use the term ‘flow’ to define when someone becomes ‘totally absorbed in using one’s skills to progress on a challenging task’ to the point where they completely lose track of time.
How do you find work that lets you do that? Look for a good challenge!
Challenging work is something that’s difficult enough to hold your attention and be rewarding to complete – but nothing that’s so difficult that it seems impossible.
Here’s a beautiful graph here that demonstrates my point:
You would think that having a job that’s really easy would be fun.
But if a job is too easy, you can expect to be bored out of your brains, watching the clock waiting for the day to end. But if it’s too demanding and you’re out of your depth, you’ll be stressed up to your eyeballs.
Neither are great things to feel at work, and both are probably why you’ve left previous jobs in the first place.
So, when hunting for a new job, make sure that the role:
- Aligns with your strengths
- Has tasks that are just slightly out of your reach (so that you improve your skills and find the work adequately challenging)
- Doesn’t have any tasks that are impossible for you to achieve with your current skills and level of experience
4. A job that gives you a sense of purpose
If you’re looking to be happier at work, there’s one word you absolutely can’t ignore: purpose.
We hear a lot about the need to be passionate about what you do, but passion is inextricably linked to feeling a deep sense of purpose and being driven by more than profit margins or ego.
‘People are happy when they contribute to something that is bigger than themselves,’ says Cynthia Fisher, Professor of Management at Bond University, who lead a comprehensive study of happiness at work.
And a study from the Happiness Research Institute supports this.
The data shows that irrespective of the sector or job title, what contributes most to an employee’s happiness is the feeling that there is a purpose behind what they do – accounting for 42% of job satisfaction.
So how do you find work that’s meaningful to you?
Purpose comes in all shapes and sizes, but a good place to start when reflecting on what you want out of your new job is to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you identify with the company’s mission statement and the work they do?
- Is the work you’d be doing, something that you’d be doing in your spare time anyway (i.e. something you’d be willing to do for free)? (This relates to your passion.)
- Does this job allow you to help others or make the world a better place?
- Will you be able to sleep at night?
5. A super short commute
According to research from the UK’s Office of National Statistics, commuters ‘have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, and lower levels of happiness’ when compared to their colleagues. This is most pronounced in commuters who spend 60 to 90 minutes getting to work.
It doesn’t stop there. Studies show that commutes that last over 45 minutes also shave years off your lifespan, increase unhealthy habits like eating take-away and avoiding exercise, and even increase the likelihood of divorce by 40 per cent!
Why do we put up with it then? Because it’s a trade-off between living in a spacious and affordable pad an hour away from work vs. squeezing into a tiny one-bedder that’s a 10 minute walk to the office.
Of course, this is an individual choice that’s determined by things like lifestyle, affordability and whether or not you have a family or mortgage – but many economists point to the hidden costs you’re incurring in both time and money when you increase your commute.
In a now-famous study, researchers from the University of Zurich found that for every hour of commuting time, you’d need to be paid an additional 40 per cent more of your salary to make the commute worth your while.
So when you’re looking for a new job, try your darndest to factor in the commute!
For the ‘happiest’ work commute, sciences suggests finding a job that’s:
- Within walking distance; OR
- Requires a commute of no more than 45 minutes; AND
- If travelling by public transport, only involves one mode of transport
6. An awesome manager
Who doesn’t want an amazing manager? Somebody who gets you, is on your side, and pushes you to do your best each day?
It turns out that having a great manager isn’t just a ‘nice to have’; it’s a ‘must have’ if you want to be happy at work.
The Happiness Research Institute has found that leadership is the second most important factor affecting job satisfaction with more than half of those surveyed stating thatâ€™d quit if they didnâ€™t get along with their boss or colleagues.
So what makes a great manager?
Google analysed hundreds of internal performance reviews as part of â€™Project Oxygenâ€™ – a project designed to pump ‘fresh air into management’ and found eight qualities that strong managers had in common.
A good manager:
- Is a great coach, and someone who provides frequent and specific feedback
- Gives you autonomy and doesn’t micromanage (but is available to give you guidance and help when you need it)
- Genuinely cares about your success and wellbeing
- Helps you prioritise work and remove obstacles
- Is a great communicator and listens to you (as well as the entire team)
- Can act as a mentor and helps you with your career development
- Has a clear vision and strategy for your team
- Is technically competent (in your field) to be able to advise your team
While it might be hard to suss whether you’d get on with your soon-to-be manager before you actually get the job, here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Ask them to share some wins that one of their team members had recently. If they struggle with answering this question, it’s a sign that they’re either disconnected from their team, or they don’t like to give credit to their team members.
- If they don’t make small talk or try to get to know you before shooting off their list of questions, that can be a red flag. Similarly, if they interrupt you or don’t let you finish your sentences – or seem overly aggressive – you know that you’re probably dealing with a pretty selfish manager whoâ€™s only interested in the bottom line.
- Ask general questions about the role to try and gauge their management style. Look out for defensive body language or eye contact aversion – if you have a confident manager, they shouldn’t be threatened by this.
7. Colleagues you can be friends with
Fact: We spend the majority of our day at work. That usually means that we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families.
So if you turn up to the office each day and think: ‘I’m here to work, I’m not here to make friends’, you’re doing yourself (and your happiness levels) a massive disservice.
Studies show that genuine friendships and a sense of camaraderie in the office does wonders for job satisfaction; and subsequently improves productivity, employee engagement, and a business’ bottom line.
Findings from the Happiness Research Institute’s report on job satisfaction show that: ‘The more you feel part of a community at work, the more job satisfaction you experience.’
Having close friends at work:
- Boosts employee satisfaction by 50%
- Lets you benefit from 137% more personal development support
- Means that you’re 7 times more likely to engage fully if you have a best friend at work
So when you’re on the hunt for a new job, keep an eye out for a place where you can imagine making friends. This can be hard to gauge from a quick interview, but there are a few things that are dead giveaways:
- The office culture: How people dress, how they speak to each other and how the office is laid out should give you a sense of the overall culture, and whether it speaks to your personality and identity.
- The company brand: Do the company’s values resonate with your values, interests and your own personal brand?
- The perks and traditions: Traditions like Friday night drinks or team-bonding retreats will also hint at whether the company values camaraderie, and whether it makes an effort to throw employees together and encourage friendships.
The stress of finding a new job can be all-consuming – a jumble of feelings that can make it all too easy to zero in on any job that pays the big bucks, and stick the idea of being happier at work into the ‘nice to have’ column.
But just remember that you spend 80,000 hours of your life at work.
As you weigh up your options, go ahead and stick being happy at work in the ‘must have’ column. The data and science show that it can make a huge difference to your career and your life.
Viv is a writer who enjoys researching and writing about creativity, how the human mind works, and neuro processes. She values creativity above all else and admires people who pursue their career dreams, no matter the sacrifice. In her spare time, she binges on HBO shows and epic fantasy novels.