A job you hate, but it's a job

By Anne Fisher, contributor

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: Please settle an argument. My husband has a management job that was stressful enough before the recession but, over the past year and a half, has gotten much worse. He is obviously miserable, and I think he should look for another position -- even in this rotten job market -- before his current situation damages his health and his career.

He, on the other hand, has what I would call a "suck it up, cowboy" attitude. He says it doesn't matter whether he's happy in his work or not, because it is a "good" job that allows him to support his family (we have three young children) and that is the most important thing, especially with the economy as it is now. What do you think? -- Worrying in Washington

How stressed are you?
1. Conditions at work are unpleasant or sometimes even unsafe.
Very Often

Dear W.W.: Your question couldn't be timelier. Employee satisfaction is at its lowest level in 22 years, according to a recent survey by the Conference Board: Fewer than half of the full-time employees polled say they enjoy their work. Of course, they're likely to get scant sympathy from the millions of Americans who are desperate to find any work at all.

Yet there is convincing evidence that happiness at work, or the lack of it, has a measurable impact both on overall satisfaction with life and on the success of people's careers.

Talkback: Are you happy at work? Leave your comments at the bottom of this story.

"Happiness does matter from both an individual viewpoint and in terms of business sustainability," says Jessica Pryce-Jones, the author of a fascinating new book called Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success (Wiley-Blackwell, $24.95), based on her many years of consulting and coaching experience, as well as a five-year in-depth study of 3,000 employees.

"If you're really happy at work, you'll be 180% happier with life overall, have 180% more energy, and be at least 50% more productive than your least happy colleagues," says Pryce-Jones, who also is CEO of iOpener, an HR consulting firm based in Oxford, England.

The extra energy and productivity that springs from liking what you do can propel your career forward in ways that wallowing in negativity never will; and being 180% happier with life in general is just, well, a terrific bonus.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy employees tend to be happy for more or less the same reasons, while each dissatisfied worker is unhappy in his or her own way. So, to address as many varieties of misery as possible, Pryce-Jones packed her book with case studies. She also devised an interactive quiz, (available on iOpener's Web site for free until the end of April), to give specific advice based on the reader's answers to 75 questions.

Anyone who wants to be happier on the job might also take a good look at Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful -- No Matter What (McGraw-Hill, 22.95). The author, Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D. (www.srikumarsrao.com), bases his approach on a wildly popular course called Creativity and Personal Mastery he has taught at Columbia Business School, Northwestern's Kellogg School, Berkeley's Haas School, and elsewhere.

Rao's basic premise: Happiness comes from within, and anyone can learn to generate it by examining, and then changing, thought patterns that get in the way. His book tells how to transform a miserable job into one that is truly enjoyable. The process begins with identifying what there is about one's current situation that does give rise to happiness, and then gradually expanding on that until the good far outweighs the bad.

But to get back to your question: You may not be able to persuade your husband to look for ways to be happier at work, since he doesn't think it matters whether he is or not. But as his spouse, you can certainly help him cope with the stress he's under -- before, as you say, it harms his health.

Dr. Terri Orbuch, a professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, runs the Early Years of Marriage Project. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, it's the longest-running study of marriage ever conducted, following 373 couples since 1986.

Orbuch distilled the results of that research in a new book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great (Random House, $26). One of her key findings: "Happy couples talk about what happens at work, even if it's 'boring' or unpleasant," she says. "For years, the conventional wisdom was, 'Leave work at work!' But it's a huge part of your spouse's world, so why not make an effort to understand what's happening there?" Just allowing him to vent -- without chiming in with urgings to get another job -- may ease a lot of the pressure he's feeling.

"You can also try exercising together, maybe by taking a long walk two or three times a week," Orbuch adds. "Exercise is a tremendous stress reliever." True.

Talkback: Have you ever felt stuck in a job that made you miserable? What did you do about it? Tell us on Facebook, below. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Company Price Change % Change
Apple Inc 99.02 1.35 1.38%
Facebook Inc 74.92 -0.27 -0.36%
Bank of America Corp... 15.50 -0.09 -0.58%
Dollar Tree Inc 54.87 0.65 1.20%
Family Dollar Stores... 75.74 15.08 24.86%
Data as of 4:03pm ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,982.59 22.02 0.13%
Nasdaq 4,444.91 -4.65 -0.10%
S&P 500 1,978.91 0.57 0.03%
Treasuries 2.49 0.02 0.89%
Data as of 11:49pm ET


Herbalife shares tumble after the maker of nutritional supplements reports earnings that fall short of analysts' estimates. More

New annual report from U.S. government shows the long-term prognosis for Medicare has improved thanks to slower health spending, while the outlook for Social Security remains unchanged. More

Online dating site OkCupid found its users were more likely to have conversations when it told them they were more compatible than in reality. More

Actor-founded This Bar Saves Lives had Hollywood connections, but learned Start-Up 101 the hard way. More

Steve Mason, a pastor from California, inherited more than $100,000 in student loan debt when his 27-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009. With interest and late penalties, the debt has since ballooned to $200,000. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.