How To Be Happy At Work

5 Experts' Tips For How To Be Happy At Work

What do you mean you get to work at 7am, are the last one to leave, bring in cookies every Friday, offer to finish other people's work for them and still haven't had that promotion? It's time for a new approach – one where happiness is your boss.

How was your day? If it wasn't that great, don't despair that you need to pack it all in and start again.

Based on the women I spoke to, those who dominate their careers from boardroom to army base, the formula for happiness depends a lot more on what you do outside of the office than in it.

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For Junior Doctor Storm Lonsdale, who encounters death on a regular basis working at a London A&E, switching off from work by going climbing or meeting friends for a drink is fundamental.

Army Staff Sergeant Sara Canning feels like she can achieve anything at work by starting her day early with a run.

If you want to start feeling better about your day come Monday morning, what's clear is that preparing well both mentally and physically for your day ahead

It goes without saying that enjoying the job itself is key.

But if you want to start feeling better about your day come Monday morning, what's clear is that preparing well both mentally and physically for your day ahead, and then allowing yourself time to kick back after work, leaves you in a far better position to confront work challenges.

Whether this inspires you to change career altogether or just set your alarm for an hour earlier, finding your own formula for happiness and success comes down to two things: self-knowledge, and trial and error.


Jo Bertram, 34, is Regional General Manager of UK, Ireland and the Nordics at Uber. After studying Physics at Cambridge and getting her MBA in Paris, she spent four years working in business consultancy in Africa before joining Uber in 2013.

Getting plenty of sleep is vital for my happiness, as is disconnecting from work.

I'm very ambitious, so when I've had a tough time with work-life balance in the past I've created a yearly bucket list of things that I then commit to making happen, such as going to a friend's wedding or booking a holiday.

I'm more resilient now after facing some big challenges at work, including vicious trolling that forced me to quit Twitter earlier this year. Unfortunately when you compete with an established industry like Uber has, there are some that will lash out and social media provides an easy platform.

I used to personalise everything and get very upset if something went wrong, assuming it must be my fault.

The opportunity at Uber popped up when a friend contacted me via LinkedIn.

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Now I focus on the bigger picture and realise it's not about me. I spent a lot of time building up a picture of my dream job. I loved working in Africa as I saw the impact my business had. I'm a bit socially awkward and hate networking, so would instead ask everyone I knew out for coffee to discover what resonated about their jobs.

The opportunity at Uber popped up when a friend contacted me via LinkedIn. 


I had never heard of the company, but the job matched my skills and it seemed like a dynamic business, so I jumped at it.

I ask my team to rate their happiness at work out of 10 so I can get a clear picture. I'm an eight out of 10 (I'm British and cynical, so I doubt 10 is ever possible).

WORK IT

Jo's path to career enlightenment

  • Have a f**k off fund. If you end up in an awful job, savings give you the time to think about what you want.
  • Don't worry too much about a plan. Make decisions based on whether you'll enjoy the challenge, not if they'll look good on your CV.
  • Arrange social events after work. I don't like letting people down, so saying I'll meet a friend at 7.30pm means I can't work late.
  • Seek advice. I wouldn't find my job description as exciting as the role actually is, so talk to someone doing the type of job you're interested in.

Storm Lonsdale, 27, is a Junior Doctor currently working in A&E at Queen's Hospital, London. Volunteering at an HIV orphanage in Kenya inspired her to study medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. This year she'll begin anaesthetic training in intensive care and her ambition is to work in conflict zones.

I encounter death on a regular basis and speaking to patients' relatives is one of the hardest parts of the job.

Often your best isn't good enough and as a doctor you see how unfair life is. It's a small downside and is balanced with the special moments I experience every day. I was part of a team looking after a very sick boy with meningitis who was in intensive care for a long time.

We didn't think he was going to survive so watching him walk out of hospital was amazing.

You realise that without our intervention that person would be lost. I love that I never clock-watch at work and am constantly challenged. I hate feeling bored.

When the blue phone in A&E rings with a five-minute warning of a cardiac arrest coming in, the team of doctors and nurses immediately snaps into action.

I have to be extremely focused to cope with the pace of such a busy ward and, as a junior doctor, I know it's my responsibility to speak up if I'm feeling overwhelmed.

The team support makes it easier and we have a debrief after any cardiac arrest so we can voice our emotions. There are few jobs where you have such intimacy with a complete stranger; it's a huge responsibility and privilege.

Doctors aren't great at work-life balance because if something goes wrong it's more important to stay. When I work regular hours, I might go climbing or for a drink after work.

I have good financial security as a doctor, though mine isn't the highest paid profession: I'm on around £30K because I live in London.

My family work in creative fields; my mum and dad met when she was a model and he was importing Levi's, and my sisters are artists and designers. They are proud of me, though my dad thinks the NHS works its staff too hard. But the way I see it, everyone who loves their job works hard at it.

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WORK IT

Storm's secrets to success

  • Don't take work home.The time you're away from work is your own and you don't help anyone by ruminating. Switch off by going for a drink or doing some exercise.
  • Think long-term. It can be soul-sucking when friends are establishing careers and you're still a student, but doctors have to play the long game and know the rewards will come eventually.
  • Make your career work for you. My aspirations to travel and do humanitarian work have drive the choices I've made.

Julia Stephenson, 41, worked at Universal Music and went on tour with Nelly Furtado as a Road Manager, before joining the BBC as a Publicist. She retrained as a lawyer and has combined her old and new careers as a Legal Advisor at ITV plc.

As soon as I walked into ITV I knew it was the right place for me.

There's a diverse mix of nationalities, races and backgrounds, and being back in a media environment felt like home.

Working with like-minded people in an intellectually stimulating job is more important to me than money. I could work at a leading Magic Circle law firm and earn £100K, but wouldn't have time to spend it.

I'm a creature of habit: I get up at 6.30am and go for a run.

As soon as I arrive at the office, I run through my to-do list. I adore my team.

We're currently six women and very chatty, usually about our latest Netflix binge. We're collaborative and solve problems together.

We're all at different life stages: some have children, others are dating or single. We're from different backgrounds but are great friends and go out for dinner regularly.

Our team director makes sure our successes are celebrated and we have a monthly meeting where we nominate someone to win the 'Top Dog' award.

My colleagues are important to happiness. It's the opposite of the temporary role I took while transitioning to law, which was so negative that I left before I had another job.

I found out the next day I had aced an interview at the BBC 
– sometimes you have to have faith. Life is too short to do something that doesn't make you bounce out of bed.

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Julia's career top tips

  • Outline your agenda early. Don't set a precedent of working late when you start a new job or people will expect it.
  • Be yourself. It's exhausting to put on a 'work persona' so find an environment where you'll be accepted for who you are.
  • It's never too late to change careers. It was a big challenge being a trainee lawyer at an older age and I had to battle my own insecurities. You have one life and you can do as many things as you want with it.
  • Take time to reflect. Turn off your phone and ask whether what you're doing is making you happy. If it's not, ask what you can do to change it.

Roberta Benteler, 32, spent her early career in finance. At 26 she quit to intern for independent designer Saloni and started Avenue 32, a luxury e-commerce website of emerging design talent and established brands.

People think that designer clothes, travel and fashion shows are what make me happy, but I would give them all up for my team.

My happiest moments aren't being snapped by photographers, which is quite stressful, but during our monthly company breakfasts when we all eat together.

We've grown to 40 people in the six years since I started Avenue 32. The average age of people who work for me is under 30, so I feel like I'm mother to a second family.

The first thing I do when I arrive at our open-plan office is go around and chat with everyone, maybe ask how a business trip went or check on the interns who sit next to the directors.

I know that even if I'm having a hard time in my personal life, the positivity of my team will cheer me up.

I have workaholic tendencies and used to wake up in the night to check emails.


I have to make a conscious effort to take time for myself.

I don't get up at 5.30am anymore but I still like to exercise, have a long bath or cook an omelette and read the news. I take my mornings slowly so that when I arrive at the office around 9.30am I'm happy and balanced.

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I knew nothing about e-commerce when I started Avenue 32.

My naivety was a blessing; had I known how much money and work it would take, I would have been terrified.

The business is 100% family financed, which is a double-edged sword; I'm lucky to have their mentoring but it's a lot of responsibility.

We relaunched the website recently and faced some big challenges. It has made the team stronger though – we all pulled together and introduced new reporting structures as a result.

Back when I was working in finance I was well paid but isolated; I wouldn't do it again for the world.

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Roberta's philosophy for enjoying each day

  • Keep your team happy. Everyone contributes to our internal newsletter – even if only to mention their new haircut, birthday party or holiday.
  • It's just a job. While this is my dream job, I don't let work make me unhappy.
  • Crisis is necessary. Overcoming challenges makes work fun. If you don't have any problems it can become routine.

Sara Canning, 27, is an Aircraft Communication Specialist in the 1 Army Air Corps, who has served in Australia and Northern Ireland. The daughter of a soldier, she joined the army at 18 and currently lives in military quarters in Somerset with her 10-year-old son.

I never think of myself as a woman leading men.

We're soldiers – we wear the same uniform, carry the same weights and go through the same training. I don't shout.

I find it more effective to be calm, quiet and clear on what I expect. Some people say women aren't as strong as men but 
I would argue that strength isn't just physical.

I've known some incredibly physically strong women in the army whose characters and mental attitudes have been just as inspiring.

Contrary to popular belief, there's no shame around crying.

We've been through extraordinary things together and it's important to expect and accept emotions – it's seen as strength not weakness to let them out.

All soldiers know there's a possibility of being in danger on the frontline and we're trained for it.

I've never had to test out my killer instinct so I don't know for sure how I would react under fire.

The whole army ethos is about working together and my colleagues are my family; I love knowing that I'll probably be working with the same people for the rest of my life.

I thrive on being active and start my day with exercise, whether it's a full-on physical training session or just walking the dog.

The whole army ethos is about working together and my colleagues are my family

I feel desk-bound since being promoted to Staff Sergeant, so I get up twice a day to train or walk over to the helicopter hangers to inspect the equipment.

I wasn't always fit but I love running and compete in cross-country and triathlons.

Last year I applied to go on a never-before-attempted expedition to Antarctica with an all-female group of soldiers. If I make the cut we'll go to the South Pole unassisted – a monumental task and one I've been working towards alongside my regular job.

I believe in keeping things challenging, otherwise I become bored.

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Sara's guide to a fulfilling work day

  • Iron your work 'uniform' every morning. Discipline builds confidence. By taking pride in your appearance, you take more pride in your actions, too.
  • Eat a protein-rich breakfast. I have up to four boiled eggs to fuel me through the morning. If you don't eat, you'll be hungry and miserable at work.
  • Start your day with a physical challenge. Going on an eight-mile march with weights strapped to my back makes me feel like I can do anything.
  • Reframe how you view obstacles. I see everything as a blessing. I believe if you work hard you'll eventually see the rewards.

This feature originally appeared in ELLE's October 2016 issue

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