If you’ve ever spent more than a few hours in an office, caught a bad case of the Sunday Scaries, or been pulled down by negative vibes in your cube collective, you might want to ponder an attitude shift and consider how to be more positive at your job. Because we’ve all been stuck in the grind. You know—working for the weekend, nodding along in agreement during Office Space, hitting snooze for just five more minutes. But we also believe there are ways to make it better that don’t involve jumping ship or destroying office equipment. (…though we won’t blame you if you disagree.)
Unfortunately, work isn’t always fun and it doesn’t always make you feel good. But that doesn’t mean you have to walk around under a cloud all day. In fact, changing your perspective can change a whole lot of other things too, which might make your job less of a slog even if it’s not your life’s calling.
How to Be More Positive at Work in 7 Simple Steps
Conveniently enough, science has a lot to say about how to be more positive and a lot of these techniques apply to the workplace too. Read on for research-backed ways to make your job more than just eight hours to get through.
Step 1: Start your morning off right
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed can throw off your whole day. And that’s not just a thing people say—it’s backed by research. The way you come to work affects the way you feel about work and the way you do your work. So if you want to stay positive on the job, it helps to be positive before you actually get there. As an added bonus, it will even help you do your job more effectively.
Okay, so now the focus went from how to be more positive at work to how to be more positive in the morning. Daunted? You don’t have to be.
There are tons of research-backed ways to start off your day in a better headspace—a quick meditation, a sweat session, or even just getting outside. There are two things to think about when you’re setting this up: 1. what makes you happy and 2. how to make it a habit.
So find something that you love and start making it a non-negotiable way to start your day. Keep your sights small as you start. After all, getting into a new routine takes time and even a few minutes to reset your mood can help. Keep track of how you feel on the days you do it and see what a difference it makes. And don’t stop experimenting until your good-mood-maker causes a noticeable difference.
Step 2: Focus on the impact you’re having
It can be difficult to stay positive when you’re slogging through mountains of paperwork or phone calls with little indication of how it actually helps anyone. Whether it’s busywork or long, boring meetings, not every part of a job has an immediate impact. That doesn’t mean, however, that those parts don’t have meaning.
Stay with us for a sec: All jobs have some meaning. The trick is to find yours and then connect it to your daily tasks, even, or perhaps especially, the ones that seem trivial. (Thanks to Shawn Achor’s new book for driving this point home.)
And this actually works. Focusing on how you’re making an impact can help you up your positive thinking on the job. When your days seem endless, think about what makes your work meaningful, whether it’s your relationship with your coworkers, your organization’s mission, or what you’re helping your customers do. Recent research found that people who associate their jobs with giving of some kind rate their work more meaningful than those who don’t.
If you take some time to think about it, you’ll probably find that giving is a part of your job too. What service does your company or organization provide to people? How does that help them? Maybe the appointments you schedule for dental check-ups help people feel confident in their smiles, catch diseases early, or ward off further pain. Suddenly, you’re giving people access to a healthier, better life—and that might make your day a little easier to get through.
Step 3: Reward yourself
Sure, the satisfaction of knowing you did a good job is a nice reward (as is a paycheck!) but it might take a little more to help you stay positive at work.
Research has found that both immediate and long-term rewards help people stay focused on their goals. We’d guess immediate rewards can be even more important when thinking about how to be more positive in your workplace because we all love a little instant gratification. To make this work for your work positivity, build immediate rewards into your every day work-plan, so you know there’s something on the other side of that big task. In fact, we’d even argue for planning the rewards themselves.
How? Try a little behavior-change staple: the if-then statement. If I get through the first draft of this report, then I get a latte. If I reply to three pressing emails, then I get five minutes of guilt-free Instagram scrolling. You get the point.
You can also plan something for after work as a reward for getting through the day. Try to be strategic about these too. Big meeting on Wednesday? Seems like a perfect day for the expensive boot-camp class you’ve been wanting to try. Review on Friday? That get-together with friends is looking appealing.
Doing something that makes you happy in the moment or knowing you have something to look forward to can both make you feel more positive in the workplace.
Step 4: Craft your job
Every job has some things you just have to do—those tasks that make people say “that’s why it’s called work.” But you might have leeway to make changes that affect your positivity.
Experts say that making small changes to how you work can help increase positivity. They call it “job crafting,” which they define as ‘‘the physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work.” Ah yes, that. Huh? Basically, you can tweak your work, how you do it, and the people you do it with in small ways that make big differences. Here’s how:
- Craft your tasks: Take on more tasks you like and less of the ones that you don’t. Or figure out how to incorporate more of the things you enjoy in your daily work.
For example: Love people but trapped at your desk all day? Mentor younger colleagues. Or talk to your boss about the best ways to use your skills/interests to make changes to your responsibilities.
- Craft your relationships: You probably have to spend time in the office with people you don’t love. But you can also add time with people you do like.
For example: Take a coffee or lunch break together or figure out how to collaborate on a project. After all, you spend time with people you like outside of work, so why not do it at work too?
- Craft your mindset: See also: Focusing on your work’s impact. It may not be immediately obvious, but reframing your work can boost positivity.
For example: If you’re an accountant, think about how helping people get bigger tax refunds allows them to afford the things they need.
Job crafting can help you move away from a one-size-fits-all job to a job that works best for you.
Step 5. Surround yourself with positive people
We know from positive psychology research that moods are contagious. So if you want to feel more positivity at work, surround yourself with positive coworkers. If you work with people who are enthusiastic about their work, it can make you more positive about your work as well.
And don’t forget that your positivity is contagious too, which can benefit you in the long-run. You can make someone else feel more positive, and maybe their positivity can be contagious to you if you lose yours down the line.
Don’t discount the people who seem to fall somewhere in the middle. According to research done by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, 31 percent of workers consider themselves optimists but aren’t openly expressing it. He calls these the “hidden 31” and encourages those in organizations to tap into their secret source of positivity to uplift the rest of the group. You can probably find some of your hidden 31 if you look closely. Maybe you’re even part of them yourself. If so, find safe ways to express positivity and see how it affects those around you.
Of course, the opposite is true as well. Negativity and bad moods are just as contagious as positive moods are. That means that you shouldn’t just surround yourself with positive people to feel more positive at work—you should try to spend less time around negative people too. If you can’t avoid working with these people, remember that you can always firmly but politely tell them you’d like to focus on your work, not their complaints about it.
Step 6: Smile
Here’s how to be more positive and happy in quite possibly the easiest way ever: Smile. We know it sounds cheesy. And we know that nobody really likes being told how their face should look. But there is evidence that smiling, even when it’s fake, can help you feel calmer during a stressful situation.
You don’t need to keep a grin plastered on your face 24/7, but next time you’re facing a long to-do list or an angry boss, try a quick smile. Just knowing that there’s a smile on your face might give you a more positive attitude about the situation.
Step 7: Spread a little love
A quick way to be positive and to spread that on to others is to give praise. This is a key strategy in Achor’s book on helping people reach their potential in the workplace because it’s a small way to bring about big change. It’s also super easy. Either pass along praise the next time someone pats you on the back for a job well done or start the praise-train yourself. (Side note: What would a praise-train look like?)
Here’s the caveat: This only works if you’re sincere, specific, and avoid comparisons, so be sure to call out exactly why you’re praising who you’re praising and don’t line up their accomplishments with anyone else’s.
Remember the whole mood-contagion thing? It works here too. In other words, the more people see praise being given, the more likely they are to give it themselves. Don’t be shy about telling people when you appreciate their work and don’t let the buck stop with you when someone does the same.
How to be more positive when all of your stay-positive strategies failed
Keep at it, but also know when your negative feelings are an indicator that it’s time to move on. Sometimes those feelings are telling us that we’re not where we need to be and that’s okay too.
To sum it all up
You might not be able to turn in your notice and move to a tropical island, but remember that there are ways you can make yourself feel more positively about your job, no matter what that job is. So next time you’re counting down every minute until 5:00, try one of our tips to get through the day—and even feel good about it.
Your turn: Ever wanted to know how to be more positive at work? Tried any of these science-backed strategies to get you there? Let us know more in the comments.
If you like this article you’ll also like How to Practice Mindfulness on the Job
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.