We're often told that a successful career only comes with the baggage of high stress, hard study and long working hours – with happiness falling well down the list of priorities. Conversely, it's often believed that if you want to be genuinely happy, you must adjust down your career aspirations because that lucrative 'dream' job simply doesn't exist.
But what if you could have it both ways? Can you maintain high career aspirations and still enjoy a happy and fulfilling life? Many experts talk about the importance of a healthy work-life balance. However, simply separating 'work' from 'life' doesn't take into account that for a full-time worker, around 38 hours of their life every week is work.
The good news is that more workers are happy during their time at work than unhappy, based on research by Robert Half surveying more than 24,000 working professionals across eight countries. While there's certainly room for improvement, it also shows that it's possible to have both a positive outlook and a great career path.
So what are some of the things you can do to get the most out of the career you already have?
Empower yourself with new skills
A sense of accomplishment in your work was found as one of the most important happiness factors for Hong Kong workers.
The most highly-regarded organisations help their staff develop critical skills that they can use to achieve their career aspirations and make bigger contributions to the company.
Nic Marks, founder of Happiness Works, stresses the importance of employee empowerment. “[Employers must] respect that employees are going to have their own way of doing things, and be willing to offer praise when they come up with something original.”
If you need a new skill or qualification to meet your career aspirations, don't wait around – your employer may be willing to help bear the cost if it's valuable to the company.
The lesson here is to be willing to question the status quo and suggest new ideas that would benefit your happiness at work and the company.
Request flexible work arrangements
The expectations of an increasingly diverse, multi-generational, mobile workforce is steadily transforming how, when and where we work.
A growing number of companies support their people to work flexibly for a better work-life balance when it meets the needs of customers, the business, and other team members.
Technology is a key enabler of flexibility, blurring the boundary between work and home and giving individuals more choice over their work environment. However not all careers can accommodate high flexibility – particularly fields such as finance, which have traditionally required practitioners to put in long hours.
However, it's still worth opening a dialogue with your boss about which hours of the day are when you feel most engaged and productive.
For example, your employer might be open to letting staff choose between a 7am-3pm or a 10am-6pm workday which could benefit both your career and personal life. As Nic Marks says of managers today, “If you respect that employees have a life outside of the job, they will respect you much more and become more loyal.”
Have a sense of pride
A company behaving badly or unethically towards its staff can create a negative perception in the employee's own mind about the industry as a whole, and even lead them to abandon their chosen career path – especially if it's their first job since graduating.
Research from Robert Half’s The Secret of the Happiest Companies and Employees found that workers who feel proud of their organisation are three times more likely to be happy at work compared to those who don’t.
Every industry has its good and not-so-good employers, so don't hesitate to polish your CV and let your network know that you're looking for opportunities which are more in line with both your happiness and career aspirations.
All professions have great opportunities waiting around the corner; you just have to know where to look. These tips can help keep your career aspirations on the right trajectory while letting you enjoy better job satisfaction.