“That’s why they call it work,” as dads and managers have quipped for years in response to the complaints of young workers. Meaning: don’t expect it to be fun or easy (and quit your whining!) But when work feels like a slog and is unrewarding, it is hard to stay motivated. And for most people, there is a lot that you can’t control in your job, so you may feel “stuck” with tasks, people, or processes that cause friction and which you can’t change. Over fifteen years of coaching clients at all levels of seniority and across industries, I have learned that thriving at work means being able to identify, experience and amplify the rewards of a job even when parts of it are hard, boring, or unpleasant.
Set and track your own success metrics
Promotions, raises and recognition are probably the most obvious measures of success, but they are not in your control, may be infrequent and they don’t capture the full range of personal accomplishment or value. But your success is not limited to these formal sources. Take charge by setting your own success metrics. At least once a year, step back and reflect on your personal vision of success and how you might measure it. Start with your core values as a foundation, include both professional and personal elements and track your progress regularly. Your metrics can help guide your professional journey. You may want to share your work goals with your boss and ask for specific opportunities or projects. Putting yourself in the drivers’ seat will help you broaden your perspective on “success,” harness your motivation (and help prevent burnout) and build your sense of self-efficacy.
As a former lawyer, I was trained to “spot issues” and help clients manage risk. Whether reviewing documents for correctness and accuracy or advising clients, my colleagues and I were laser focused on identifying what was, or could go, wrong. This vigilant, critical stance was a good strategy for lawyering, but not so much for happiness. If your job involves a lot of problem identification, or if you know yourself to have a critical turn of mind or habitually engage in a lot of negative self-talk, you may benefit from learning to increase your positivity awareness and training yourself to spot what is right, not just what is wrong. Start by taking note of what is going well. Set an intention to find something good in every meeting. When tackling a new situation, ask yourself what is going well and not just what are the problems. You might invite your team to conduct a strengths-based appreciative inquiry. Perhaps the simplest right-spotting exercise is to cultivate a gratitude practice. Keep a daily gratitude journal or start meetings with team members sharing an appreciation. Your team will benefit, too!
Find the learning
My kids roll their eyes at their dad when he asks, “What lessons can we learn from this experience?” (Usually after something has gone awry.) But this practice of focusing on learning helps redirect their attention from negative emotions and thought patterns (disappointment, anger, self-criticism, blame) to more constructive thoughts and positive feelings. We know that a growth mindset contributes to resilience. But it turns out that learning itself contributes to happiness in many ways, including greater enjoyment, increased self-determination, better decision-making, career advancement and other benefits. Cultivating a learning mindset will help you take advantage of learning opportunities and boost your identity beyond the realm of your career. So get in the practice of always bringing a learning lens to any situation.
One of the best ways to be happier at work and maintain your motivation to go to work is to build workplace relationships. Having friends at your job significantly improves your work life. According to a global happiness study, “Interpersonal [work] relationships have a sizable and significant positive effect on the job satisfaction of the average employee.” While the manager relationship is most important, workplace friendships increase satisfaction, retention and productivity. Plus, you spend a lot of time at work, and having friends there makes it more fun to go to work. Improving your workplace relationships starts with a simple connection—showing interest in a coworker, sharing a piece of yourself and building from there. Showing kindness, using humor and expressing appreciation can also help create warmth and trust. Whether you have a “best friend” at work of just cultivate friendly camaraderie, the warmth of those relationships will help you enjoy work more and contribute to your effectiveness as well.
At the end of the day, your job is still … work, but there is a lot that you can do to enhance your experience. And given the news of one layoff after another, now is a good time to find ways of making the best of what you’ve got. By actively cultivating sources of positivity and satisfaction, you can engineer your job to work better for you.