Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about what to do when you don’t like your job.
Are most people happy at work? The answer depends on who you ask. According to one 2016 study, about 88% of Americans surveyed felt satisfied in their jobs. On the other hand, a different survey in the same year found that only 49% reported satisfaction with their work situation.
In my Denver counseling practice, I meet a lot of people who are unhappy in their professional life. Some of them are not sure they are in the right career, while others believe they’re on the right general path but feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled in the day-to-day experience of their current job.
If you’re unhappy at work, you may not have the option of immediately leaving to find something better. But there are concrete steps that you can take to increase your sense of fulfillment.
Identify Your Purpose
One of the most important factors in job satisfaction is having a sense of purpose. It can be helpful to deliberately reflect on the ways that your daily job tasks benefit other people—including specific clients/customers, your co-workers, and society at large. Take a few minutes to think through this in writing, or discuss it with a friend. In addition to thinking about how your work benefits others, consider the ways in which it is personally meaningful to you. Then, see if you can distill all of these thoughts into one or two sentences, like a personal mission statement. You might choose to write these sentences on an index card and place it in your work area where you can see it each day as you arrive to begin your workday.
In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink identifies purpose and mastery as two of the three key motivators in human behavior. Mastery, or becoming more skilled over time in a specific task, can be a significant influence on work satisfaction. What skills have you developed in your professional life that contribute to your sense of purpose at work? Consider how you might complete this sentence: “I am skilled at [significant job task], which helps others by…”
Improve the Big Picture by Tweaking Small Things
Sometimes, seemingly insignificant aspects of our work life can become obstacles to fulfillment. When we find a way to make even a small shift in these areas, there can be an exponential improvement in overall happiness in the work environment.
Consider these ideas for improving your work experience:
- Think of the co-workers you enjoy the most. Look for small ways to connect with them, whether it’s a simple compliment or inviting them to have lunch together. Now, notice which co-workers you enjoy the least. For each one, decide whether it feels best to minimize your interactions with that person—which can be a healthy choice at times—or to actively reach out with a peace offering of some kind.
- Set boundaries between your work life and your personal time. Commit to devoting your attention to work during your designated work hours, and then let go of work concerns as you transition from work to home. If your job allows, don’t bring work home or check any messages from work during your personal time.
- If you’re allowed to customize your workspace, go crazy with it. Make yourself at home in your work environment as much as possible. On the other hand, if your employer has rules against personal items on the job, look for subtle or even secret ways to bring your personal life into your workspace. For example, if you play guitar on the weekend, you could keep a guitar pick in your pocket.
- Build humor and a playful attitude into your workday. What about pulling up Spotify on your break and challenging the person in the next cubicle to a lip-sync contest? If your corporate culture doesn’t welcome outward expressions of humor, try finding subtle ways to remind yourself to lighten up—like wearing goofy socks, or using the reminder function on your phone to send yourself a funny message several times a day.
What do these suggestions have in common? They all focus on finding small ways to take control of your experience at work.
Create a Transition Plan
When the only thing that will significantly improve your experience at work is the vision of a future elsewhere, it’s time to make a plan. Identifying the steps toward finding a better job will provide a sense of hope for the future as you transition to a different employer that fits your current career needs.
One key to a successful transition plan is to consider how your current job can act as a bridge to something better. What skills in your work today can transfer to a different and more satisfying position later? What learning opportunities in today’s job can start you on the path to tomorrow’s new career?
Consider whether it might help to enlist a guide who can support you as you plan for the transition. Here at LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching in Denver, I help men and women find satisfying and fulfilling work that gives them a feeling of purpose every day. Request a free consult to find out more!