Being happy at work might be completely up to you

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Don’t complain to Laurie Ruettimann about your work life unless you are willing to do something about it. Ruettimann knows firsthand about what it’s like to have a crappy job, even one that comes with a six-figure salary and a platinum American Express card.

That’s because her job was once the same as that of George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air” — a human resources executive who flies from city to city firing people in the name of the company’s bottom line.

In that particular job at mega-pharmaceutical company Pfizer, Ruettimann suffered depression, along with airport meals that consisted of Pepsi and a package of Starburst candy. It led her to lap-band surgery in Tijuana, Mexico — and also a breakthrough about what’s important.

Ruettimann’s book, “Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career” (Henry Holt and Company) out tomorrow, is part manifesto and part manual for anyone who is willing to put their own health and happiness ahead of a miserable job. (Don’t worry, lap-band surgery isn’t an integral part of the plan.)

What’s especially helpful about Ruettimann’s book is that she’s right there with you, sharing her own journey, stumbles included, to a life that has room for healthy behaviors, hobbies, relationships, volunteering and even binge-watching TV.

Ruettimann also shares the paths that friends and others she’s counseled have taken. Mind you, nowhere in the book does Ruettimann ask you to quit your job, settle for a smaller paycheck or start your own business. Instead, it’s about sitting with your discomfort and figuring out what’s wrong with the current job before moving on to the next.

Ruettimann insists that stressed workers become unhappy ones. “If you’re worried about working less and getting in trouble, quit those long hours and dare them to fire you in a gracious way,” she writes. “Pivot away from work and embrace your emotional health. Nobody gets fired for getting more sleep and being happier. People get fired for being jerks.”

Aside from having trodden the path of a disgruntled worker herself, Ruettimann also has more than a decade of human resources experience, the important certifications in the industry, a large network of HR executives and lots of common sense from which to offer advice, which includes figuring out why you show up at work and what you get out of it.

“Even on the most oppressive days, this exercise helped me see I wasn’t a victim,” she writes.

The book also provides a path forward, “In the next six months I would like to xxxx, so I need to xxxx. Exercises like this, and attitudes and actions you take as a result, change your relationship with work,” said Ruettimann. “But nothing changes if you do not take that initial risk, bet on yourself, and put yourself first. You can’t continue to blame other people if work is broken. Fix it for yourself.”

Here are Ruettimann’s tips for a happier relationship with your work:

Get back your balance

“It’s hard to get fired in America,” said Ruettimann. “Trust me, I worked in HR. Do this for 30 days: Schedule your working hours and time off, and stick to it. When you work, demonstrate the best work ethic ever. When you’re off, be off. See how you feel after a month.”

Predict failure

“We waste time and energy on conversations, meetings and projects that end up going nowhere,” said Ruettimann. “Before you do anything, whether it’s hopping on a video chat with your boss or meeting with a vendor to discuss contracts, ask yourself, ‘How will this go wrong?’ Make a list. Then proactively try to fix those things before they go wrong. Be proactive about beating failure, and you’ll fix your job.”

Treat yourself

“You work hard. Where’s the payoff? Start budgeting for a post-pandemic vacation, a new (to you) car, or even just a day off where you indulge in the activities you love,” said Ruettimann. “Your hard work can feel good when you create an audacious financial goal.

Expand your mind

“Unhappy employees are bored,” said Ruettimann. “If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. We live in the golden age of learning — from free online courses to digital libraries, there’s no excuse. Take 15 minutes a day and learn something new.”

Befriend HR

“When your job is overwhelming or even toxic, there’s one person who can give you the inside scoop on whether or not it will ever get better: your HR representative,” said Ruettimann. “Lucky for you, HR people have no real friends outside of HR. Be kind, get to know your human resources manager, and you’ll be rewarded with hot gossip and a better understanding of how work works.”

Be aware that the grass is not necessarily greener

“All workers are overwhelmed. There’s no company that has nailed work-life balance,” said Ruettimann. “If you’re interested in another job, ask around. Are any of your friends truly happy with their careers? The answer to what ails you is most likely inside, not at another company.”

Imagine quitting

“Nothing good comes from quitting on the spot, but you can plan and rehearse your resignation,” said Ruettimann. “Will you write a formal letter? Throw a party? Give a speech telling your boss what you really think of her? See it. Dream about it. And then save it for a day when we’re not all struggling to survive a pandemic and recession.”

Make a note of why you work

“Some people go to work to earn money to pay off student loans. Others go to work to pursue their passions, which gets them closer to a more fulfilling career. You can’t improve your life until you understand why you do what you do,” said Ruettimann. “Write down your why on a sheet of paper. Put it on your desk. Look at it often, especially when your days are taxing.”

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