Getting What You Want at Work

It's high time to feel happier, more fulfilled and in control.

Do you like your job? If not, do you know why? It could be pay rate, schedule, workload, coworkers or the boss that drives you crazy. You don't mind the work itself, but whatever you dislike leaves you feeling frustrated, exhausted and powerless. It's high time to feel happier, more fulfilled and in control. It's time to get what you want.

Unhappy? Join the Club
Perhaps you already know why you're unhappy: the stress of working an off-shift, a lack of recognition, your pay rate compared to coworkers' and other professions, a lack of promotional opportunities or a combination of factors.

You're not alone. According to Harvard Business School professor James Heskett, only 45 percent of U.S. workers are satisfied--the lowest percentage in 23 years. Heskett blames economic pressures, greater instability and less focus on employees, leading him to wonder, "Are there too many 'hostages' in the workforce?"1

Top reasons workers hate their jobs, concluded Gallup, a research company based on international polls and public opinion, included on-the-job stress, pay scale, retirement plans, health insurance benefits, chances for promotion and recognition for accomplishments.2

This belief was corroborated by exit interviews conducted by one human resources firm that identified one or more reasons people left as downsizing, ineffective leadership, lack of recognition, better pay or better benefits.3

Finally, a recent ADVANCE survey echoes these results. According to the survey, almost half of respondents feel devalued by his or her employer, and many would leave for more money elsewhere. Lack of promotional opportunities was another common woe.4

Knowing what you don't like is a first step. It's also the easiest. Make a list of things you don't like about your job or that you would change if you could. If the list has more than five items, prioritize them by factors such as personal impact, risk of changing them and your ability to change them.

Before making demands, consider that we make our own happiness at work. Author and financial blogger Trent Hamm says employees who get raises, opportunities and promotions provide value for their employers.

Those who don't are either present but unengaged or disgruntled and disengaged. "The most interesting part," he writes, "is that people actively choose which group they're in through their actions."5

This doesn't mean kowtowing to authority. As educator and life coach Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful--No Matter What, put it, "We do not live in a real world; we live in a construct and we made it." The trick, Rao said, is to deconstruct the parts of a reality we don't like and build it up again.6 Discover which behavior you need to change and change it.

Our choices have a cumulative effect. And once you know how to provide value to your employer, it can help make you feel happier, more fulfilled and more productive.

While a change of mindset helps in the long run, you may need help now. Psychology Today offers the following tricks from psychologist Michele Breault: 

  • Door-in-the-face. Make a ridiculously large request, and once it is rejected, follow up with a smaller, more reasonable request. Because a person is likely to see the second request as a favor, it will be granted as a perceived obligation. Example: Ask for 3 weeks off at the busiest time of the summer; when it is denied (door is slammed in your face), ask for 1 week and 2 long weekends.
  • Foot-in-the-door. Ask for something small and follow up with a larger request. The favor-doer will want to be consistently altruistic. Example: Ask a colleague to help with a minor item on the bench; later, ask if the person would mind covering all work at your station while you go to a meeting.
  • Low-balling. Ask for a small favor that is easy to agree to, but before it's done, explain the request is really much larger. A person will likely want to be consistent, similarly to the previous trick. Example: Ask a supervisor to help show you a minor element of instrument maintenance; before he or she can start, explain that you really need help with a more complex maintenance task.7

If "tricks" seem manipulative, consider that framing your request in a setting of your choice can be gently persuasive. You're trying to appeal to the good nature of the potential favor-giver, an essential negotiating skill.

Tricks, of course, don't last forever. People see through them, others catch on, or others are better at it. Here are tips to outlast any tricks:

  • Learn to flex. We all have styles. Interactions with coworkers will improve if you "flex" to their styles. Myers-Briggs, Kolbe and DISC are a few popular assessment tools that can help.8
  • Learn to manage up. Author and management consultant Bruce Tulgan said managing your boss effectively can pay off big. "You need to talk with your boss and establish clear ground rules for how you are going to work together and how you are going to get what you need," he explained.9
  • Learn the other person's agenda. Good negotiators know that if getting what you want means influencing the behavior of others, you have to appeal to their agenda. A coworker forced to listen to what you want first may decide you have no interest in what he or she wants. Communication expert Dr. Daneen Skube wrote, "The simple truth about workplace negotiation is that people at work are happy to see you get what you want ... but only if they are guaranteed you are also looking out for them."10 It's all how you frame the argument.

Prioritizing in a Harsh Economy
Getting what you want while considering the style, career goals, and needs of others can be hard to prioritize in a harsh economy. Learning to respond to cues from coworkers to give them value can help you control your workplace. By giving others what they want, you can get what you want. This will make you happier and more productive, leading to better patient care.

Scott Warner is lab manager at Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln, ME.


  1. Heskett J. Why are fewer and fewer U.S. employees satisfied with their jobs? Available at: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6404.html. Last accessed May 31, 2011.
  2. Saad L. On-the-job stress is U.S. workers' biggest complaint. Available at: www.gallup.com/poll/142715/Job-Stress-Workers-Biggest-Complaint.aspx. Last accessed May 31, 2011.
  3. Giuliano J. 7 big reasons people leave their jobs. Available at: www.hrmorning.com/7-big-reasons-people-leave-their-jobs. Last accessed May 31, 2011.
  4. Patton M. Retaining talent. Available at: http://laboratorian.advanceweb.com/Archives/Article-Archives/Retaining-Talent.aspx. Last accessed June 1, 2011.
  5. Hamm T. 14 tactics for getting ahead at work - no matter what your job is. Available at: http://www.thesimpledollar.com. Last accessed June 1, 2011.
  6. Bergeisen M. Can we find happiness at work? Available at: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_at_work. Last accessed June 2, 2011.
  7. Gilbert K. Get what you want. Available at: www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200604/get-what-you-want. Last accessed June 2, 2011.
  8. Ceridian. Understanding different work styles leads to better teamwork. Available at: www.ceridian.com/eap_article/1,6266,15757-69730,00.html. Last accessed June 3, 2011.
  9. Farrell R. How to get your boss to do what you want. Available at: http://www.careerbuilder.com/. Last accessed June 3, 2011.
  10. Skube D. Getting what you want at work. Available at: http://articles.chicagotribune.com. Last accessed June 3, 2011.


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