How to Be Happy at Work: The Unexpected 70% Rule

Seven days after graduating college, I started work at my new job.

I was officially a taxable employee, a contributing member of society—more than an unpaid intern.

Stepping into this oft-talked about “real world," I entered a marketing agency and was eager to spend all my time solving strategic problems for brands. It was an agency, so naturally I envisioned days filled with brainstorms, whiteboards, pitches, creative meetings, and 4pm keg-tapping.

[bctt tweet="How to Be Happy at Work: The 70% Rule, by @RajNATION #happyatwork"]

The Reality of A Job

I wanted it all, and I was ready for it all.

I soon learned that everything I had envisioned was a fantasy. Sure, I was involved in brainstorms, pitches, creative meetings, and sometimes on Fridays we would crack open a beer to close the day, but all of that was overshadowed by preparing contracts, proofreading website copy, creating PowerPoint presentations (oh PowerPoint, how I loathe thee), filling out project documents, compiling reports, and status calls—my G-d, the status calls.

About six months in, I realized something: I was really happy.

I had to do a lot of bogus work, but at the end of the day I was still going home saying that I loved my job.

Meanwhile, I had friends and professional connections at other companies living it up with their kegs, ping-pong tables, Mario Kart, creative meetings where you can write with marker on the walls, and crazy client outings. They had the life I was initially hoping for, but they were going home saying their jobs were "just okay."

Right around that six-month mark, I was working late one night, drafting a bear of a contract. I didn’t finish until midnight, and had to be back at the office by 7:00 the next morning if I wanted enough hours to get everything else done.

When my head hit the pillow that night I felt good. It struck me that at no point during that late-night contract drafting did I say to myself, Why am I doing this?

I didn’t have that glamorous agency life I envisioned in college, and I was doing more work that annoyed me than not. Yet I was still smiling, and the people I knew who did have the glamorous agency life with all the crazy perks weren't.

So what was wrong with me? Was I addicted to labor? Did I enjoy deprivation and failing to see my visions come to fruition?

It wasn’t any of these things. There was something else in play that put the smile on my face. Something I like to call The 70% Rule to Being Happy at Work.

How to Be Happy At Work: The 70% Rule

I went into my new job thinking that I’d always be doing cool stuff 100% of the time. That wasn't the case, and it’s actually never the case, for anyone.

The functional parts of our jobs that we glamorize — the things that we love doing — are not things that we get to do 100% of the time. In fact, we don’t even get to do them 50% of the time. The truth is, we likely never exceed 30%. There are always administrative tasks that need to get done, paperwork that needs to be filled out, and ‘stuff’ that gets put on our plate that takes up about 70% of our work.

So, with only 30% of our time taken up by our ideal functional job, and 70% consumed by everything else, if you want to be happy at work, there needs to be something that provides balance.

The balance you need to be happy at work comes from two things:

  1. Do you enjoy who you work with?
  2. Do you receive the respect you feel you deserve?

If you don’t like your coworkers, it’s real tough to be happy—you spend at least 40 hours a week with these people.

[bctt tweet="Liking your coworkers + feeling respected are key to being #happyatwork, says @RajNATION"]

Respect shows its face in many forms:

  • Do you understand your role within the company and how you impact its success?

  • Is there a clear path for career growth and opportunity to achieve it?

  • Do your team members look out for you?

  • Is your boss your champion within the company, and does he/she foster your growth?

  • Are you compensated appropriately?

  • Do you feel challenged?

  • Do you feel comfortable voicing your opinion and sharing ideas?

  • Do you trust others, and can they trust you?

  • Is your work valued by others?

  • Do you receive praise for a job well done, and is that praise acknowledged publicly?

  • Can you be yourself without worrying if that’s a problem?

  • Do you feel like you are part of something larger?

  • Do you get appropriate HR benefits and time off?

[bctt tweet="Look for a job where you can be yourself, says @RajNATION #happyatwork"]

I find it interesting when people tell me their company is great because they have a Ms. Pac-Man Coffee Table in their break room. When I hear that, I know I won’t be surprised if I see them looking for a new job in a year.

The video games, never-ending beer supply, and table tennis are all temporary distractions, and oftentimes they mask a lack of corporate respect.

[bctt tweet="Office perks sound great, but being appreciated for your work matters more— @RajNATION #priorities"]

Getting to Level 5 in an arcade game during your break only goes so far before you get frustrated that you are making $10,000 less than what you want, and have no idea if you’ll get promoted at your next review.

Enjoying being around your coworkers and feeling respected are the things that truly matter to a person. That's the reason I was happy to work on a contract at midnight, email it to the client, and still write, Hey—I know it’s super late, but I can review this with you if you have 15 minutes free right now.

With only 30% of your work day dedicated to your ideal functional job, if you want to be happy at work, your remaining 70% of extra work has to be packaged with liking your coworkers and receiving the respect you deserve.