On reflection: happiness at work through self-evaluation

By Heather Foley

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A reclining chair would do it for me.  Or an expensive coffee machine.  Or perhaps a fabulous lunch date.  Ah yes, happiness at work: that feeling of contentment and satisfaction.    It certainly seems to elude many people.   Surely it must be possible to achieve it?

We all find ourselves, at times, contemplating our lot in life.  We take stock of where we’ve got to and what we’ve achieved.  Perhaps it’s also a time to realise that, regretfully, there were goals that we missed, dreams that were never achieved, gym memberships that weren’t, in the end, worth the money.  

Performance review

If you’re questioning your happiness in the workplace, it might be time to look to your performance review for help.  It could steer you on the right path to contentment at work.  Typically, performance management reviews are an annual affair.  You probably receive feedback from your employer and may be given suggestions for improvement. 

You may not, however, be asked about your happiness in the workplace, and there is a danger that, at the end of the process, you may still be left wondering ‘does my employer really care about me?’.  The whole process can seem rather clinical. 

What’s more, the appraisal process often does an excellent job of appraising, criticising and spotting flaws, but it doesn’t always help, encourage, inspire, or give clear guidelines for improvement. In other words, it doesn’t always put you on a path to happiness.  But don’t give up on your performance review.  One way of addressing this problem is through an often-overlooked element of the performance review process: self-evaluation. 

The importance of self-evaluation

Self-evaluation is essential as it provides an opportunity for an employee not only to look critically at his/her own performance, but also to feed back any concerns, worries, or problems which may be standing in the way of career progress, development, and, ultimately, happiness.  It may be the only opportunity you’re given to have your say, so you need to ensure it’s included in the performance review process.

Whilst your self-evaluation should be an honest appraisal of your efforts and achievements, you also need to include your thoughts on two key areas: what would make you happier at work, and how you think this could be achieved.  Don’t just present your employer with problems: include the solutions as well!

Well-structured targets

And how can you achieve happiness?  How will you plan for it? - through goal-setting and smarter targets.  When targets are well thought-out and structured, you have a clear sense of direction and a true feeling of involvement; a sense of control over your own path to happiness and also your career advancement.

SMARTER targets

Thankfully, the practice of using SMARTER targets is more commonplace now than ever.  It’s an excellent way of ensuring that real progress is clearly managed and witnessed. 

The mnemonic SMARTER seeks to guarantee that any target made is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound, and is Evaluated and then Re-evaluated.  It was developed from George T. Doran’s comments in Management Review (1981) and has been in popular use ever since. 

The fact that any targets are revisited, through re-evaluation, ensures that both employers and employees have the chance to keep progression on track.  That’s also why it’s important to timetable interim meetings, in addition to your annual review.


Once such targets are in place, you can monitor your own development and become more clearly involved in ensuring your own happiness.  A real sense of career control is also achieved, which is an excellent motivator. 


Happiness is so closely bound to a sense of well-being in the workplace, and, in turn, career success, that confirming happiness should become a core part of all appraisals and employee surveys.  Encourage your employer to set a clear path for success and happiness, focusing on self-evaluation and ensuring all targets are SMARTER ones.

And while you’re waiting for your next performance review, take comfort in the words of Henry Ward Beecher, social reformer: “the art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things”.  Perhaps I’ll treat myself to that coffee machine after all…

Heather Foley is a consultant at ETS, an HR Consultancy and Technology provider


Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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