How to be happier at work by making a difference

Over the last few weeks I have been facilitating a coaching group focused on how to feel more energized and alive in your here-and-now at work. In the last session today, we’re focusing in part on how to amplify your feeling of making a difference at work.

Numerous studies have shown that feeling like your work has a positive impact on others improves both satisfaction and productivity. People who engage in giving and being of service to others report feeling more engaged, more motivated, and happier.

Make it your mission to make a difference

First, let’s look at a mindset that can set the stage for all the ideas mentioned below. Rather than just seeing your work in the context of your job description – what you get paid to do – think about the time you spend at work as a vehicle for having a positive impact.

Make it your mission to make a difference. Some of that will be directly related to your job. Other aspects will have no direct connection to the work you do.

Every day is packed with opportunities to make the world a bit better, to help people, to make an impact. Try making an experiment out of noticing and acting on those opportunities. Make it your focus for 30 days, and see what happens.

Recognize the positive impact of your work

Regardless of what your job is, someone, somewhere benefits from the work you do. That might be the end user of your organization’s product or service, or it might be someone within your organization.

Start by taking a look at how your work makes a difference, even in small ways. Does it make someone’s life easier? Does it give a co-worker the information they need to do their job? Does it prevent chaos from taking over?

If possible, connect with the person or people who benefit from your work. Make it personal.

Acknowledge and recognize

One of the easiest and most ubiquitous opportunities to make a difference is through acknowledgment and recognition. You don’t have to be in a position of authority to give recognition. Simply acknowledge people’s contribution. Give someone heartfelt thanks. Look for ways to help people feel valued. Write a gratitude note.

This has several benefits. First, it makes the people around you feel good (who doesn’t love to feel acknowledged?). Second, it feels good to do. And third, the more you notice what’s good about people and express it, the more of that you see.

Share knowledge

Look for opportunities to share your knowledge. It might be mentoring someone at an earlier stage of their career to help them navigate the path and thrive. It might be a particular skill you have that would be beneficial (e.g., how to communicate effectively). Or it might be helping new hires learn the ropes.

Start making a list of what you know that people might find beneficial. Look for opportunities to share it.

Generate and implement ideas

Be on the constant lookout for ways to make things better. That might entail bottom line driven ideas like how to save money or make money, or it could simply be ideas for how to improve the quality of life on the job for the people you work with.

Ask why, and ask it often. Question the status quo. Make it a habit to brainstorm ideas for positive change, challenging yourself to come up with at least one idea a day.

Cultivate community and connection

One way to make work a better place is to help cultivate a sense of community. Wherever you are on the org chart, you can contribute to this. It might be as simple as initiating regular lunch gatherings with the people you work with. If you are in a position of authority, it might involve more formal efforts like team building.

You can also foster that sense of community at the individual level. Start with your immediate work team. Get personal. Be curious. Ask questions. Get to know who they are behind the title on their business card.

Show you care. Bring a personal touch, acknowledging birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Support someone if you know they are having a challenging time, even if it’s as simple as giving them a card.

Share resources. Give recommendations for books to read that had a positive impact on you. Better yet, give someone an actual copy of the book.

Be the change

Ask yourself, “What kind of workplace do I want to experience?” Then make it your mission to embody that. How can you contribute to the environment you want to experience? Some examples of how you can “be the change” include:

  • Look for opportunities for acts of kindness.
  • Be a role model for positive attitude.
  • Refuse to join in on the negative (i.e., bitch-n-moan), and when possible, defuse it when others do.
  • Focus on what’s possible. Be a voice for possibility.

Many of the ideas discussed in some of the other categories above can fall into this category as well.

Look for opportunities to help and serve

Make it a habit to ask the simple question, “How can I help?” Try to make the helping and serving its own reward, rather than looking for acknowledgment.

That might be pitching in to help someone meet a deadline (keeping in mind that you need to take care of your own work balance). Or it might be noticing something that needs to be done (like cleaning the counter in the office kitchen, or making another pot of coffee).

Parting thought

When you make it your mission to make a difference at work, you create a whole new way of thinking about what you’re there to do. Yes, you’ll still do the things that you get paid for. But it also opens up a new way of thinking about what you’re there to do.

The bus driver whose goal is to make passengers smile. The CEO who sees one of her primary objectives as helping her employees thrive. The junior high school janitor who sees the purpose of his work as ensuring a clean environment for students to learn in.

It’s almost as though you are creating a second, parallel role for yourself, one built around a focus that research shows helps you feel more engaged, motivated, and happy.

Make it your mission to make a difference, and see how it feels.