Less than a third of U.S. employees were engaged with their jobs in 2014, found a new Gallup poll. Though engagement from 2013 was up by almost two percent (the highest it’s been since the year 2000), 51 percent were still “not engaged” and 17.5 percent were “actively disengaged.” Engagement means employees are involved, enthusiastic, committed to their work and workplace — so basically, a majority of workers are miserable.
Who is engaged? Traditionalists, or executives, managers, and officers; you know, the powerful people. Those with jobs in manufacturing, production, and the transportation and service industries show the lowest levels of engagement. Oh, and so do what the NY Daily News described as “disenchanted millennials.” This particular finding suggests millennials “may not be working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths, thus creating engagement,” Gallup researchers said.
In a previous Gallup poll, Americans with a college or postgraduate degree were less likely to be engaged at work in comparison to those who are less educated. There were additional factors of engagement, such as customer service, quality retention, safety, and profit. Gallup researchers suggested this stems from the fact half of the recent graduates (in 2013) were in jobs that didn’t require a degree. And the proposed solution, according to Forbes, is for employers to start introducing their employees to new challenges and rewards for their hard work.
A great idea, yes, but Harvard-trained positive psychologist Shawn Achor has a different, long-term solution: rewire your brain for happiness. In his 2011 TED Talk, which is nearing 10 million views, he cited research that 25 percent of success at work is predicted by I.Q.— the remaining 75 percent is predicted by optimism, social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.
“What we're finding is it's not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality,” he said. “And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”
However, this change doesn’t come from the idea, “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful,” thus happier. Every time your brain experiences success, you’ll change the goalpost of what success looks like. For example, if you get good grades, you’ll tell yourself, “Now I have to get better grades.” This applies to your job, too: “If I get a good job, now I have to get a better job.” By raising your positivity in the present, your brain can experience what Achor calls the “happiness advantage.” This means your brain is finely attuned to positivity rather than negativity.
The brain, Achor found, is 31 percent more productive when it’s at positive versus at negative, neutral, or stressed. A positive brain improved sales employee’s performance by 37 percent, and doctors were found to be 19 percent faster and more accurate when coming up with a correct diagnosis.
The fact of the matter is we can choose to be engaged; we can choose to be happier at work. In his book, Before Happiness, Achor wrote:
Achor said this change in perception can start simply by asking yourself three questions: "How can I reach out and better connect with my co-workers, neighbors, or friends? What are some ways my actions matter to the world? What am I proud of accomplishing today?” Once you have your answers, it'll be easier to cultivate happiness and success in both your professional and personal life.
Additionally, Achor said you can train your brain to be at positive. All it takes, he said, is two minutes of practicing gratitude, journaling, exercise, meditation, and/or random acts of kindness for 21 consecutive days. Something like acknowleding three things you’re grateful for each day prompts your brain to fall into a pattern of scanning the world for the positive, not negative, Achor said; journaling literally prompts you to relive positive experiences; exercise teaches your brain your behavior matters; and putting your co-worker's coffee on your tab isn't only nice, but it could ease their social anxiety (which may factor into their work-related misery). Interestingly, our brains are hardwired to be kind, but compassion can be blocked by other factors, like money.