Wish You Were Happier at Work? Stop Wishing and Start Reading
Most of us have been sold a false bill of goods. Find a job you love; you'll never work a day in your life. You'll bound out of bed. Until you don't. Until a deal doesn't go through, your work or ideas are not acknowledged, your workday extends into nights and weekend.
Until you're burned out. If you want to be happier at work, don't take a job you love. Make one. Do that, and you may forget about the snooze button. Or at least use it far more sparingly.
Find - or Create?
In The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love WITHOUT Quitting, authors Ben Fanning and Chris Brogan argue that you can change your whole perspective on work and avoid burnout with a simple shift in perspective. Instead of "finding" the job you love, you "create it."
As Fanning and Brogan write, "'Creating the job you love' is choosing to make your job something worth fully investing yourself in." In doing so, you are far more likely to remain engaged and to derive fulfillment from your work. Focusing on changing your relationship with your work, rather than simply changing jobs, is the key to conquering impending - or established - burnout.
How do you do it? Burnout prevention experts Michael P. Leiter and Christina Maslach offer several powerful techniques in Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship with Work. The authors attack the main causes of burnout and provide practical solutions for overcoming each. We've examined three in a previous article (solving workload problems, control problems, and reward problems).
Now, let's take a look at the remaining three - and see if we can help you create the job you want.
4. Solving Community Problems. According to Christine Maslach, "People thrive in a community and function best when they share praise, comfort, happiness, and humor with people they like and respect." There are low levels of conflict, and high levels of trust. Sound like your workplace? Maybe not! Too often, "community" means isolation, miscommunication, and divisiveness, and this can lead to conflict and disengagement.
If this is the environment in which you find yourself, try to:
- Find common ground. We're good at identifying our differences; take the time to find out what you have in common. What goals do you and your coworkers and/or direct-reports share? Begin with communication - simple chats establish common ground far more effectively than any "team building" activity.
- Increase civility. Watch yourself: are you making rude, sarcastic, or snide comments? Are others? Take steps to temper your communications, and as a leader, enforce a zero-tolerance policy for abuse/insults.
- Improve communications. Ask targeted questions, listen to the answers, and reach out to people - whether they're new and unsure or experienced and discouraged.
- A culture based on respect and civility.
- Fair and consistent policies and procedures that discourage favoritism and discrimination (e.g. hiring procedures that promote diversity).
- Clear practices for reporting discrimination and/or harassment.
Concrete steps you can take include reviewing current policies and making suggestions for updates, requesting training in diversity issues, and continuing to work on open communication.
6. Solving Value Problems. What if you're in a position in which your values conflict with those of the organization? In an HBR article, "When Your Values Clash with Your Company's," Charalambos Vlachoutsicos details his time at an electric appliance wholesaler. The founder's mantra was "Sales No Matter How." The only metric on which salespeople were evaluated was sales.
This created a culture of lying and dishonesty. Vlachoutsicos told the salesforce under his leadership that he wanted them to sell "aggressively" but always honestly. They ignored him, and he had a choice to make. Leave the job because his values clashed with the company's - or try to make a change. He chose the latter and managed to convince the founder to revise his mantra to "Honest Sales No Matter How."
Vlachoutsicos writes, "In an ideal world, of course, you wouldn't be working in a job that clashed with your values, but leaving a job out of principle is a rare luxury that you can seldom afford. Instead, you have to find a way to bridge the gaps you find between your values and the culture you work in."
If the culture doesn't squash dishonesty, act with integrity. If it is destructive, work to build people - and yourself - up. If you feel like your work is trivial, find meaning. In some cases, though, the "luxury" of leaving a job out of principle becomes a necessity; if you cannot reconcile your values with those of your company, decide whether that clash is worth the paycheck. Pursuing another opportunity may be the best option.
Burnout is a real threat to people at all levels of an organization. If you want a job that truly makes you jump out of bed in the morning, create it. Stop waiting for burnout to subside or for your job to transform. They won't. Unless you make them. Maslach and Leiter's strategies can help - if you put them into action.