Seven researched tips to feel lucky in your job

Microbrewery Workers Image

Microbrewery workers at June Lake Autumn Beer Festival 2015, in June Lake, Calif. Photo by P. Bouweraerts.

By Patricia Bouweraerts

Income or treasure — two terms that may symbolize differences between the ‘career ladder’ type of job success with the deep awareness that you feel cheerful and lucky going to work each day.

1. Feeling lucky at work can be very much about workmates

There is something compelling about working together toward a shared goal — aiming for something greater — with each individual contributing his or her own unique talent to the group.

“Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers,” wrote Christine Riordan on HarvardBusinessReview.org. “Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. Camaraderie is more than just having fun, though. It is also about creating a common sense of purpose and the mentality that we are in it together.”

Another important factor is a feeling of mutual respect and absence of bullies.

“Because bullies often get results by getting more short-term production out of employees, they are tolerated,” wrote Ray Williams in Psychology Today’s blog. “One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50 percent worse on cognitive tests.”

In contrast, an evenhanded boss can be good for your health.

“A study of 6,000 British office workers found employees who felt that their supervisors treated them fairly had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease,” he wrote.

In a 2014 survey of more than 200,000 working people in 189 countries by Boston Consulting Group, good relationships with colleagues was rated as the second most important factor of happiness on the job. Good relationships with supervisors came in close behind, at fourth.

If you work at a job where the people are great, you are lucky. It appears to be an important part of job satisfaction, and perhaps underrated.

2. Helping others and task variety are important to meaning in work

During spring 2016, I began the Workplace Story Instagram site — a photo collection of people at work. Subjects were asked what they liked best about their job. Two common themes emerged; helping others, and finding daily variety.

People often responded that they served, protected or engaged with the public and felt fulfilled by that service. It was meaningful to meet new people, or people from distant places. The other theme was variety. They liked learning new things, whether it was knowledge or skills or just interesting. Many enjoyed driving to a medley of various job sites to do repair, teach a class or practice rescue operations.

In the Boston Consulting Group survey, “learning and career development” ranked sixth, and “interesting job content” was number nine — both in the top ten.

Helping people or animals can arise from a purpose, or calling.

“Researchers have found that workers who feel a higher calling to their jobs are among the most content,” wrote Kirsten Weir in a 2013 AmericanPsychologicalAssociation.org article. “Take zookeepers, for example. Though more than eight in 10 zookeepers have college degrees, their average annual income is less than $25,000.”

When a person’s specific job tasks aren’t inherently meaningful, people can change, or reframe their thinking about the significance or ripple effects of their work.

“Steger mentions an accountant who worked at a community college,” Weir wrote. “She found her work very meaningful not because she kept the accounts balanced, but because she felt her work allowed others to advance themselves through education.”

This cognitive reframing is one of three ways Weir explained that people can perform “job crafting.”

3. Job crafting can be effective at many levels of an organization

Old Tucson Theme Park Stagecoach Driver Image

Stagecoach driver guides horse team at Old Tucson Theme Park, Tucson, Ariz. on May 15, 2015. Photo by P. Bouweraerts.

Workers typically don’t have the power to change how their employer expresses appreciation for their work. That factor — getting appreciation for work well done — was number one in the Boston Consulting Group survey of job satisfaction. What they do have more control of is how they think about tasks and prioritize them. Two additional parts of job crafting are tweaking the shape of duties and paying more attention to co-workers with similar outlooks.

Job crafting is expanding the parts of the job you feel make a real difference.

“A professor might find she’s most fulfilled when interacting with students, Weir wrote. “She may decide to limit the time she contributes to university committees so that she has more time to work with students. In some cases, adding fulfilling tasks can benefit you even if it increases your overall workload. … one customer-service representative who Dutton (Jane E. Dutton, Ph.D.) interviewed asserted herself with her supervisor and asked to join a website committee — a role that added tasks to her formal job description but allowed her to do something she was passionate about.”

People can also craft, or tweak, the amount of time they spend with certain co-workers more than others.

“Spending time with toxic co-workers can drain meaning from the most gratifying jobs,” she wrote. “But just a few moments spent collaborating with a valued colleague can be reinvigorating.”

4. Help and support the sales department

It is widely known in a number of fields that salespeople promise to clients short turn-around times that technicians, designers and developers feel they can’t meet without stress and overtime.

“Tales of the divide between developers and sales are as old as Hewlett & Packard’s garage quarrels,” wrote Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft on SalesLoft.com. “They (salespeople) are used to working in a world where deal cycles are relatively predictable. But in software, it’s different. Salespeople: don’t ask software engineers for delivery dates. Or, if you do, don’t be sad when they whiff. Imagine trying to predict a close date for a deal where you haven’t met any of the decision makers.”

Most employers, though, will vigorously support the sales force because they generate revenue in the most obvious way. Respecting the sales department can be an investment for feeling lucky in the future.

Employees in other departments sometimes have trouble understanding why salespeople don’t allow extra time.

“And sales often sees accounting as a bunch of paper pushers obsessed with making it hard to just get out there and sell, while accounting see sales as overcompensated prima donnas unwilling to follow procedures, turn in paperwork… or even imagine anyone exists but themselves,” wrote Jeff Haden in Inc.com.

Eli Finkel, Ph.D., a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, suggests an exercise to help ease frustration between individuals. Every four months, write for seven minutes about a conflict between you and a perceived annoying person at work, Finkel advises. Then, think about the conflict as if you were a neutral third party, trying to resolve the conflict achieving the best for all involved and for the company. Write about that for seven minutes.

He said on the “Insight in Person” podcast that exploring a neutral view opens up a “broader perspective, which helps you avoid just finger-pointing at it and try to adopt some perspective and some sympathy or even some empathy for it, but also helps you get a little bit of perspective on the ways in which you yourself might be contributing to some of the issues that might be happening personally with a client, or with a coworker, or what have you.”

Mending bridges — not burning bridges — may lead to good luck if that other person is later assigned to a superior position to you in the company. At the very least, friendly and respectful relationships are better for facing future times of high transition, change, or tight economic periods.

5. A dreaded change might turn out to have a nice surprise

Circus Circus Casino Performers Image

Acrobats at Circus Circus Hotel Casino, Reno, Nevada perform a show in the Midway on March 6, 2016. Photo by P. Bouweraerts.

When I was teaching music in the Midwest, one school was short on space. My desk, traveling cart, books and instruments were based out of a storage closet that I shared with paint and supplies. One day the librarian asked me if I was going to clear out my stuff because soon a hole would be made in the side wall with a doorway to the library, and the “closet” would get carpet and paint — a remodel resulting in the small room becoming her new office.

I was relocated to an unused foyer area in one of the classroom wings, with a few bookshelves acting as half-walls around my “space.” My pride took a hit. But then I opened one of the two narrow doors to the side of the desk, within my shelved-off area. It was a kindergarten bathroom than no one used any more, small but clean and working. I quickly opened the other door — another small bathroom. I now had two private bathrooms, and a change of luck.

My experience is echoed by an old Zen Buddhist story. There are various versions, and here is one posted on TrueCenterPublishing.com.

“There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. ‘Such bad luck,’ they said sympathetically. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer replied.
“The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. ‘How wonderful,’ the neighbors exclaimed. ‘Maybe,’ replied the old man.
“The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. ‘Maybe,’ answered the farmer.
“The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. ‘Maybe,’ said the farmer.”

6. Read, learn and reinvent yourself

Josh Bersin, founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte said that learning is good for a person’s career, and is both empowering and enjoyable.

“So the issue in our careers today is not ‘what do you know’ but ‘how fast do you learn,'” Bersin wrote on LinkedIn. “One of the most important skills I have found in leaders and candidates is what is often called ‘learning agility.’ Learning Agility, a term coined by psychologists, simply describes your ability to rapidly learn new things.”

He wrote that workers should read as much as they can, talk to experts around them, go to an industry conference once a year, visit YouTube and TED Talks, among other learning tools.

“Rather than worry about change and hope your employer will train you, take development into your own hands,” he wrote. “Not only will you have fun, but you’ll find new career opportunities just appear.”

So it could look like good luck, but it’s really about learning.

Employers are becoming more aware that job skills are now turning over at a rapid rate. In 2013, Hart Research Associates, Inc., Washington D.C., conducted a survey of 318 employers. The study was completed by Hart Research for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) agree, ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major,'” Hart Research wrote. “More than nine in ten of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.”

Jim Allen and Rolf van der Velden, Maastricht University, Maestricht, Limburg, Netherlands, published a study in Research in Labor Economics 21:27-50, September 2002.

Allen and van der Velden analyzed to what degree Dutch workers measured their own skills becoming obsolete after graduating from college, according to an abstract of the study posted on ResearchGate.net.

“On average, almost a third of the skills obtained in tertiary education were obsolete seven years later,” the abstract states. “Skills obsolescence is strongly related to rapid changes in work domain, and to shortcomings in tertiary education. Obsolescence occurs as much in generic as in specific fields of study.”

Therefore, newly learned knowledge or skills can provide increased job security, or the avoidance of bad luck.

7. Market yourself

Being proud of new skills and accomplishments is typically accepted by bosses and colleagues if you express it in a tactful way.

“Create a Word document to keep track of your achievements,” wrote Helen Coster on Forbes.com. “Every time you accomplish something, jot down an entry. Include what you did and why it was important. When possible, show how that achievement helped your company. Include positive comments that other people have made about your work. Review your ‘brag bag’ before sitting down for your performance review.”

You can get into a habit of promoting yourself in easy, bite-sized chunks.

“Plus, bosses like good news,” she wrote. “Klaus (Peggy Klaus, a communications and leadership coach) says that when you have a great success at work, you should send your boss a short, enthusiastic email with the news.”

If you’re shy, promote your co-workers.

“When you help other people promote themselves you’ll automatically promote yourself in the process,” Coster wrote. “If your team accomplishes something, send them a congratulatory email and copy your boss.”

Routinely affirming strengths and achievements can lead to increased self-confidence … and to feeling pretty lucky, too.