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12 questions to measure your workplace happiness

(Illustrations by Abbey Lossing for The Washington Post)

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Do your opinions count at work? Does your job feel important? Do you have a close friend at the office?

These are just some of the questions that researchers use to measure how happy and productive workers are in their jobs. Given that we spend an estimated one-third of our lives at work, finding ways to improve quality of life on the job can have a huge impact on our overall health and happiness.

I can relate. I recently left a job after 15 years to join The Washington Post, where I’m leading a new team of reporters and editors focused on personal health and well-being. I also will be writing this newsletter every Thursday, bringing you the latest science-based advice for living well.

To assess your own workplace well-being, take this 12-question quiz, a proprietary survey created by Gallup and based on research from 2.7 million workers across 50 industries worldwide. Read each of the following statements and ask yourself if you strongly agree or strongly disagree — or if you fall somewhere in between.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

How did you score? Jon Clifton, chief executive of Gallup, said it’s important to remember that every job has ups and downs. If you fell short on some of the items, do you have someone at work you can talk to about improving your situation?

Notably, whether you have a close friend at work is the “most contentious thing we’ve ever asked in a workplace,” said Clifton, author of the new book, “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It.”

“There are a lot of executives who feel like your personal life stops when you show up to work,” he said. “They don’t want to talk about people being friends in the office. But it’s one of the single biggest things that predicts retention.”

In making my own decision about changing jobs, I asked myself many of the questions listed in the Gallup survey. I also thought about opportunities for mentoring young people, something that can make any job rewarding. Deciding to leave my old job wasn’t easy, but asking myself a few key questions about my own workplace well-being was a good place to start.

Three questions … about food and sleep

This week, Eating Lab columnist Anahad O’Connor reported on the surprising link between bad sleep and bad eating habits. I asked Anahad three questions to learn more.

What surprised you most about the link between sleep and diet?

What really surprised me was the sheer number of extra calories that people consume on days when they are sleep deprived — about 300 to 550 calories on average, mostly from junk food. That’s roughly the caloric equivalent of adding a McDonald’s double cheeseburger to your diet on top of what you normally would eat.

Why don’t more doctors talk about sleep quality as a path to better nutrition?

I think that for a long time it wasn’t widely recognized, even though the research has been building. Typically, when someone wants to lose weight or improve their overall health, the lifestyle changes they turn to are diet and exercise. That’s been the conventional advice for decades. But now, more and more experts are talking about sleep hygiene as the third leg of that stool.

Do you have any favorite tips for getting better sleep?

I set a nightly sleep reminder on my phone. When I’m lying in bed at night skimming the news or social media, that reminder pops up on my screen at 10:30 p.m., and it motivates me to put down my phone and close my eyes. Putting away your electronic devices at a reasonable time is one of the best ways to get more sleep. If I’m tempted to stay up late working on something, I remind myself that it can usually wait until the morning — and I’ll likely do a better job on it when I’m well rested.

I recommend that anyone who snores or suspects they have sleep apnea see a doctor about it so they can get it treated. I didn’t realize just how poorly I was sleeping until I finally got my sleep apnea taken care of. Proper sleep is critical to your well-being. It affects so many aspects of your mental and physical health, including, of course, your eating habits.

Everyday life coach

Each week, I’ll bring you advice from an expert about how to make your day just a little better. Today’s everyday life coach is Daniel H. Pink, author of “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.”

The advice: Create a “break list.” You probably already have a to-do list, so why not add a few restorative breaks — taking a walk, taking a nap, calling a friend — to the list of things that you really should get done today.

Why you should try it: The science of taking a break is compelling. Pink notes that when Danish schoolchildren took 20- to 30-minute breaks before a test, their scores increased significantly. Hospitals that mandate more breaks see a decline in medical errors. Judges are more compassionate when they take a few breaks in the afternoon. Nurses who take breaks with a friend are less likely to quit their jobs.

How to do it: Pink suggests writing down three breaks you plan to take — it could be a walk, a coffee break or a phone call to a friend. Frequent, short breaks are best. A movement break is better than one that involves sitting, but a nap can be restorative, too. Outside breaks in nature are more restorative than those taken indoors. And it’s always a good idea to take a break with a friend.

Now that you’ve got your list, add them to your planner or digital calendar. “Remember: What gets scheduled gets done,” says Pink.

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