“I don’t much like my job,” confided Jake, a mid level pharmaceutical executive,”But I get paid fairly well, it’s a stable company and I can’t see any way out. So I turn up, do my job and get out of here. It’s not ideal but hey, it pays the bills.”
Jake shared his situation with me after a keynote I gave on the importance of taking risks. Obviously, when it came to his job, he was playing safe (at least in the short term). He reminded me of a dentist I’d met a few weeks earlier who told me he was counting down the days until he could retire. Which would have been understandable if he was a few weeks off retirement. But he wasn’t. He was in his early forties and retirement was years away. What a miserable way to spend years of your life… only 7,149 more days to retire!
Sadly, around the world today there are millions of people who go to work every day disliking their job and wishing they were elsewhere (according to Gallup organization, only 13% of people are actively engaged in their jobs.) While the cost to the bottom line in organizations is in the billions, the cost to the human spirit is immeasurable. So if you’re unhappy at work you’ve basically got three options:
a) Change what you do – whether a new role or a new career (yes, it will require trading the security of where you are now to step into an uncertain future. But seriously, aren’t you putting your happiness at risk staying where you are?)
b) Change how you do it – adopt a new mindset and cultivate new habits
c) Change nothing, and be complicit in your own misery (not my recommended option)
The truth is, there is always a ‘way out’ of situations that leave us miserable if we’re willing to find it and do the work to make it happen. In the shorter term, there are always things we can do differently to get more enjoyment from our work, however mundane we find it. So if you don’t like your work, just know that whether it’s changing your job, your career, your attitude or your approach, there’s always something you can do. Always.
Of course, even people who love their work don’t always love going to work. None of us enjoy every element of our job, and there are times when even the most rewarding career path can leave us feeling flat, burnt out, frustrated, bored or wondering “What next?” While it’s unrealistic to expect to always love what you do, it is realistic to genuinely enjoy your work (most days). In fact, given you spend a third of your adult life at work, it would be a shame not to enjoy it. To help you on your way, here are the top four reasons people dislike their job and what you can do about them.
Reason #1: “I don’t feel valued.”
Mother Teresa once said that there is more hunger in this world for appreciation than there is for bread. Certainly over the years the most unhappy workers I’ve met are those who feel their hard work, time and talents are simply taken for granted. It’s why one of the first things I direct leaders to focus on is ensuring that those in their team feel fully valued by them. It takes so little time to acknowledge people for what they do, and the attitude they bring to work every day, yet it can make such a profound difference. If you don’t feel valued in your workplace, you mighty want to share how you feel with your supervisor. If you feel that won’t make a difference (or you’ve tried it and it didn’t), then you might be best served by looking to find a place to work where you will be valued.
The findings from a recent study by The Energy Project found employees that feel valued and appreciate are 13 more times likely to stay in an organization and are 67% more engaged. Needless to say, if you’re in a leadership role, the single most important thing you can do every day is to make sure people know that they are their efforts are valued.
Reason #2: “I don’t see how what I do really matters.”
Finding purpose in our working lives has become the new ‘mission critical.’ Indeed Albert Einstein once said, “More and more today people have the means to live but not the meaning to live for.” His words speak to one of the biggest causes of disengagement in today’s workforce… people find no or little meaning in their work. While some occupations and careers hold a clear and direct line between the nature of the work involved and the difference they make for others, many don’t. But the truth is that every job – from the most menial and mundane – holds intrinsic value and meaning. So while what you are doing might not feel like it’s changing the world, it does impact the world in some way, otherwise you wouldn’t be paid to do it. And far and above the nature of the tasks you do, what makes the greatest impact is the spirit in which you do them.
Whether you work on an assembly line or wash dishes in a corporate cafeteria (both jobs I did in my early twenties) or you audit multi-nationals or take care of the dying, think about the spirit you bring to your work every day and the impact it would make if you did your job poorly, with a sour face and an “it pays the bills” attitude. It’s not just what you do that makes a difference, but how you do it. As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “Mindset is everything.” So whether what you do is something you’re passionate about, or if you’d love to feel more passionate, taking time to “Know Your Why” can make all the difference. As Blessing White wrote in the State of Employee Engagement, “Engaged employees stay for what they give. Disengaged employees stay for what they get.”
Reason #3: ” I’m not able to focus on what I do best.”
After graduating with a business degree from college, I started my career in a graduate program for a multi-national oil company. It seemed pretty exciting at first… until I was put into a role that involved analyzing spreadsheets all day to optimize trucking distribution routes. While I’ve always been pretty good with numbers, doing that job sucked me dry. By the end of the day I couldn’t get out of the office fast enough and I would wake up most mornings dreading the day ahead. The simple reason was that it didn’t leverage my strengths or allow me to do what I did best and enjoyed most… connecting with people, building relationships, finding synergies, and optimizing collaboration.
If you find yourself in a job that doesn’t let you do what you do best and enjoy most, try to be creative in finding ways to do more of those activities, even if just in small bursts or brief times over the day or week. If it doesn’t hold a promise of future opportunity to progress into more rewarding work, you may be best placed to look for a new role (in your organization or outside it) or to pursue a new direction entirely. That’s what I ultimately did, returning to grad school to study psychology. When you genuinely enjoy what you do, work no longer feels like ‘work’. So choosing to pursue work that feeds your spirit and harnesses your strengths is going to lead to greater fulfillment at work and beyond it.
Reason #4: “I’m burnt out”
It’s well documented that you can’t perform at your peak if you never get the chance to disengage from your work and to recharge – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Recent research by the Energy Project found that people who don’t take a ‘time out’ during the work day, or get to turn off from work after hours, aren’t able to sustain the same levels of performance as those who do. Likewise, managers who encourage employees to go home at a reasonable hour and take regular breaks have higher performing teams than those who don’t. Just as a car that gets regular tune-ups will go further on less gas, have fewer breakdowns and handle bad roads better, so too will you cope better with the pressures of your job, the difficult people and the tough problems when you are giving yourself the time you need to ‘tune up’ and recharge. So however busy you are, be intentional about:
giving yourself ‘time out’ throughout your day (employees who take a break every 90 minutes have been found to improve focus by 30% over those who don’t and have a 46% higher level of well-being)
unplugging when you get home so you don’t bring your work home with you (or at least, put aside a few hours of ‘non-work’ time to be with your family if you need to plug in again later on.
cultivate regular routines that nurture your body, mind and spirit (e.g. regular exercise, sufficient sleep, time to connect with your bigger “Why,’ clarify core priorities, and engage in activities that feed your spirit.)
Life is far too short and your talents too precious to waste. So whether you need to change what you do or change the attitude you bring to it, be proactive about it. You have value to bring, a contribution to make, and your happiness is on the line. So the question is:
What do you need to change about what you do or how you do it in order to make your experience of work one that enriches your life, rather than depletes it?
I’m pleased to say that Jake has decided to look beyond his current role for a new one that offers both more opportunity for personal growth, along with greater stimulation. While it may invite new challenges and greater uncertainty into his life, it will almost certainly create more rewarding possibilities also. At least he won’t be counting down the days until his retirement or passively waiting for things to get better on their own. They rarely do.
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