Book Review: The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

In preparation for my extended holiday weekend, I stopped by my local bookstore to pick up some fireside reading material. While I was grabbing a few copies of The 4-Hour Workweek as last-minute holiday gifts for friends, I spotted the slender edition and decided to add it to my pile.

A mere 112 pages, The Fred Factor tells the story of Fred Shea, a local postman who goes above and beyond to make others as happy as he is. Fred bundles the mail and places it under the mat so it won’t get wet or stolen. He takes the time to talk to the people on his route so that he can learn about the names on the envelopes he delivers. To Sanborn, Fred is a symbol of all who are able to find meaning and satisfaction in caring out the most menial of tasks.

Sanborn claims that “Freds” are not born but made. His solution is simple:

If you want to be happy at work, you need to figure out how your work produces value.

For an investment banker, this is simple. If s/he does their job well, the investments make money and clients are happy. If a computer programmer invents new software, the company makes money, people are helped by the product and the programmer gets recognition and a promotion.

But what if your job isn’t exciting or meaningful? What if you sell tickets or sweep floors for a living? The Fred Factor, offers up example after example of ordinary people with ordinary jobs (waitress, cab driver, flight attendant) who regularly go the extra mile to make people happy. And that is the core motivation that Sanborn suggests will help you find happiness at work:

Helping others will help you be happy.

Finding meaning in your job can be as simple as recognizing that any interaction you have with other people affects them. Making copies at a copy center may seem like boring and pointless work, but to the student buying their course pack or the new executive who is presenting to the board for the first time, you are a very important person with the power to change their day from a positive to a negative one.

The power to be happy is within.

Sanborn also emphasizes one of the most important obstacles people face in their quest to be happy at work: themselves. I admit that environmental factors can have a significant impact on personal stress and happiness, I also believe that how you perceive your surroundings can also have a significant impact on personal stress and happiness. It’s all a matter of figuring out what works for you. Don’t like your commute? Try asking for flexible hours or telecommuting. Want more responsibility and interesting assignments? Ask for a project or just work on stuff on your own. Tried all these and still can’t make it work? Then it’s time to start looking for a new job. Life is too short to waste away at something that clearly isn’t working for you.

In summary, The Fred Factor is an excellent (if brief) tome to the benefits of a positive attitude. By recognizing the effects of your work on others, you can unlock the secret to your inner value and re-discover happiness at work.

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