With over eight hours a day spent in the office, we see our colleagues more than our family members – work truly consumes a huge portion of our lives, Dr Noraslinda Zuber, Director Human Capital at Majlis Ugama Islam, Singapura (MUIS), notes. 

She is glad that her job now, as Director Human Capital at MUIS is an enjoyable one, where she has the opportunity to contribute her expertise and bring value to the organization. Though looking back at her last 20 years in the Public Service, she also recalls periods when she has found herself frustrated at work. Drawing from her experience, here are some suggestions from her on how to stay happy at work.

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Find something that motivates you

Dr Nora personally identifies meaningful work and empowerment and trust from bosses as two must-haves for her work happiness. “For me to be able to shape things within the organisation makes me very happy,” she muses.

Whether or not one shares her sentiments, she reiterates the importance of finding “one or two things that really resonate”, to hold on to when the going gets tough. Early in an officer’s career, things like remuneration and career advancement are great motivators, but Dr Nora cautions that these carrots also have an expiry date.

“It will come to a point, maybe in the fifth year or so when you ask yourself if this is enough – what exactly makes you happy?” In preparation for that, find something that goes deeper than material satisfaction, she urges.

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Develop the courage for crucial conversations

Dr Nora notes that two of the biggest causes of unhappiness at work are an increasing workload and poor interpersonal relationships, issues that she believes can be resolved if one is prepared to talk about it openly or have what she terms as ‘crucial conversations’.

She describes crucial conversations as those that “matter to you as a boss or staff, and often come with a lot of emotions tied to it”.  Although these may be “high risk” and “explosive”, Dr Nora stands her ground that these conversations are a necessary evil. “You still need to talk about it to find a resolution for things to be better,” she says.

She suggests starting small.  Next time you’re given a new piece of work you feel you can’t take on, ask: “can we discuss this”, and get the ball rolling to renegotiate. What you should definitely not do is to bottle it up, and then complain to your colleagues behind your boss’ back saying things like: “boss didn’t understand” –  after all, he can’t understand if you don’t tell him!

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Reach out but look in

Have you ever had a boss that made you feel small? Constantly breathing down your neck, criticizing and nitpicking? Dr Nora has.  Back then she was plagued with negative thoughts like “am I good enough?” and “am I so stupid that I cannot deliver?”. 

She advises those who find themselves in a similar situation to quickly reach out to their support systems for reassurance and encouragement. Also, she says, remember to look inwards. You may not be able to change the situation, but you can control how you react to it.  In her case, that meant putting herself in her boss’ shoes, preempting his questions and expectations and constantly amending her work to bring it to a higher level.

Be willing to walk away

Citing an example of a friend who was earning a stellar salary but who was also working 24/7 even on weekends, Dr Nora emphasizes that not all jobs are worth sticking it out at.  In a toxic environment, when you are struggling to survive, not thrive, leaving “is not necessarily a bad choice,” she says. Nobody wants to be constantly unhappy, so if and when the time comes, she concludes, have the courage to seek a better fit and greater happiness, elsewhere.

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