Started a new job only to discover it's a minefield of gossip and negativity? Is your workload causing your social life to shrivel up? Or is management leaving you feeling micromanaged or, worse, neglected? A leading workplace relations expert says a rare number of Australians really focus on achieving contentment at work – most of us putting up with negative cultures and long hours as part and parcel of working life.
Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology), CEO of leading health and education organisation Casey Centre, says even though many of us think we could never be content at work, we aren't powerless and can achieve satisfaction: 'We spend more time at our jobs than we do with family and friends – having a good frame of mind at the workplace is essential to our health and wellbeing. A large part of what we can control is how we respond to the culture, colleagues and the work.
'I always recommend that early on in a new role, spot where the negativity is coming from – a particular person, team, or project," says Dr Casey, who manages 200 employees and is author of How to Deal with Master Manipulators ($69.95, Casey Centre). 'Once you've identified it, set strong boundaries so it's easier to deal with."
Dr Casey's strategies to deal with difficult people at work and difficult workplaces are a result of her own research at Casey Centre over five years. 'A lot of the following strategies are about creating a positive frame of mind, maintaining it by distancing yourself from negative influences, and nurturing a positive work environment," Dr Casey says.
Dr Mary Casey's strategies for achieving personal happiness at work
Choose your job carefully: Establishing a feel for a work environment early on can save you later. 'It is hard to know beforehand the office culture, but it is essential to not focus solely on salary when making a decision. In the interview, ask questions about management style and culture. Asking these questions will help you gauge the environment and whether the salary will be worth a potentially negative climate," Dr Casey says.
Don't take anything personally: 'For your sanity, it is worth developing some emotional and mental detachment – especially from any individuals that radiate negativity. It is a skill that takes time to develop," Dr Casey says. 'Being detached in the workplace means you are able to judge and make decisions rationally and impartially."
Don't let negative emotions control you: Positive emotions make up 99 per cent of our happiness quota; however negative feelings – however small – have such an impact on us they can overwhelm anything positive. 'When you feel like you are losing control to anger, stress or fear, take a short walk around the block. Never get emotional in front of managers or colleagues. In a negative work culture it may be used against you in the future," Dr Casey says.
Disengage from manipulators: 'Manipulation can be so subtle most victims are unaware they are a target. The most obvious signs are the way victims feel around another person. Because manipulation is about controlling another person's behaviour, you can feel frustrated, guilty, exhausted or anxious when in contact with the manipulator," Dr Casey says. 'Set boundaries: make it clear to them what you will and won't accept both verbally and behaviourally. When confronting a manipulative co-worker, they may play emotional games to make you feel guilty or discredit you. Don't be pulled into their tactics – take the discussion back to the issue you are trying to confront."
Create positive allies: You can create a positive workplace 'sub-culture" by developing friendships with like-minded co-workers. 'There's nothing like having a laugh in the day with colleagues. Identify positive, supportive colleagues and go to lunch or drinks with them to develop the relationship," Dr Casey says. 'However, if there is any gossip then you must disengage with them."
Find fulfilment elsewhere: 'Sometimes we think work is the cause of our happiness, when it is actually another area in our lives – such as a relationship or our health – that we are unhappy with, and which is spilling into our work," Dr Casey says. Taking up a sport; hobby or volunteering can also create a sense of fulfilment in our lives. 'Committing yourself to something you really enjoy will help with your mindset when at work."
Treat yourself: Do good things for yourself throughout the day. 'If you find your morning is turning into a disaster, organise dinner with a friend, buy flowers for your desk, anything that makes you feel good," Dr Casey says. 'I always recommend that when possible, sit outside during lunch. Studies have shown that sunlight boosts moods."