Unhappy at work - 5 career regrets you wish you knew earlier

By Adam Johnston on 15 April 2024

Robert Half’s The Secret of the Happiest Companies and Employees reveals that happy people tend to be harder workers, more productive, better leaders and have all-round improved health due to reduced stress and frustration.

While the report states that most employees are happy at work, not everyone is accounted for. Looking back on your career so far, what would you do to improve your happiness? What could you do today from what you’ve learnt?

We’ve chalked up five career regrets you wish you knew earlier, because no one should be unhappy at work.

1. “I was unhappy at work because I had no autonomy.”

David Jones, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half Asia Pacific says that feeling like we make our own decisions, “is a critical part of being human”. As such, the opportunity to act autonomously at work gives people a sense of independence and freedom. This freedom allows people to work confidently, productively, and perhaps most importantly, to trial new ideas and processes without fear of reprimand.

You will have your own way of completing daily tasks, projects and developing new ideas. The space to experiment and work without constant monitoring helps assure happiness and promote innovation, something beneficial to employees and employers alike.

2. “Not expressing concerns about changes to my title and salary made me unhappy at work.”

Equality matters immensely to workers. Both employers and employees have a role to play in ensuring that the discourse around title and salary is transparent for entire periods of employment. Even the smallest inequalities or perceived disparities can make people unhappy at work and create fractures in once cohesive teams.

For employees, it’s important to have regular conversations about title and pay to voice concerns when they arise. Having a clear understanding of what you need to do to move from that coordinator role to manager or to jump into the next bracket will allow you to take strategic, considered steps in the right direction with your career.

3. “Feedback was rarely communicated which made me doubt my contribution."

Feeling good and doing well at work doesn’t always rely on being the best or achieving large-scale goals. On the contrary, a sense of accomplishment, empowerment and satisfaction can arise if constructive feedback is provided, and an opportunity to improve and learn is encouraged.

Dr. Christine Carter, author of The sweet spot: how to find your groove at home and work says that, “The key for managers is to express gratitude and to be really specific about the particular effort the employee made.” Carter adds, “Because that’s when people feel seen and recognised.” While in most cases it’s the responsibility of managers to express gratitude for successful work, as employees, don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation about feedback and your current work progress. Being provided with constructive feedback or praise allays feelings of fear and insecurity and promotes happiness at work.

4. “The organisational culture just wasn’t right for me.”

In most recruitment scenarios, strong skills and experience are typically the most important attributes to consider for a role. But what needs to be equally considered is whether you’re a good fit to the culture of the organisation. A truly good fit entails both skills and temperament, and failure to recognise this could lead to dissatisfaction with your role, and even career.

Ensuring that your personality would be a good cultural fit as well as your experience means you’ll be able to adapt easily, exhibit resilience and be equipped to navigate any challenges that come up. Employees who are a good cultural fit are not only happy and productive, but tend to have greater tenure and develop loyalty to both employer and organisation.

5. “I thought happiness at work was my responsibility alone.”

Research by Robert Half found that 20 per cent of employees say their happiness at work is solely their responsibility and another six per cent believe this duty is entirely in their boss’s hands. The reality is that happiness at work is a shared responsibility, and that different people, factors and contexts play a role in guaranteeing your sense of self and satisfaction. Your manager and colleagues, for example, play key roles in how you feel about your work, the amount you contribute to departmental goals and overall team camaraderie. Understanding that the influences are often diverse, and that responsibility is shared can ensure that robust strategies are put in place to combat unhappiness at work, and feelings of isolation among unhappy staff are rare.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being happy at work, and it’s certainly an area that requires ongoing work, review and improvement by employees and employers. However, understanding the critical role it plays in staff engagement, productivity, tenure and organisational reputation will ensure it remains a top focus to avoid feeling unhappy at work. Because it’s time we all work happy.

More From the Blog...