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How to make your work more meaningful

Does your job suck?

Do you hate your boss?

If you answered yes to one or both of those questions you might be wondering how you could ever see how beyond a pay check, your work can provide you with meaning.

There are a multitude of reasons why work doesn’t always work for us.

Joe was good at his job and enjoyed the daily interactions with his customers, but loathed his manager who he saw as manipulative, mean-spirited and self-centred, focused only on his own promotion through the ranks.

Joe felt his manager didn’t give two hoots about him and would have left long ago if he had been able to secure an alternative position.

Sally was efficient and effective in her role having worked for the company for five years and had a good understanding of how things worked. She never complained about being asked to work late (again) or to perform tasks that were well beyond her job description. She saw what needed doing and got on with it.

Until the day she didn’t show for work or the day after.

A letter then arrived in the mail addressed to her boss tendering her resignation because as she said, “I have worked hard for the company for 5 years and been a loyal and diligent employee.” “Not once in that time has anyone ever said thank-you or shown any appreciation for the work I have done.”

Sam knew he had potential to do more than he was able to demonstrate in his current role. He had shared his aspirations of moving into a managerial position during his interview but after 2 years it had become obvious there was little chance of this ever happening and any attempt he made to ask if he could be considered for promotion was effectively stonewalled. Bored, disenchanted and frustrated, his behaviour became passive-aggressive, he stopped contributing to meetings and was seen as being “difficult.”

The recent open letter from the CEO Roundtable redefining the purpose of a corporation to promote “an economy that serves all Americans” feels a slightly late response to something that has been known for a long time. While stakeholders are important, business success will always be determined by those who do the work within organisations and will do best when every employee is treated with respect, encouraged, acknowledged and with a strong foundation of social support.

As humans, we need to feel part of a tribe that cares about us and that we care about too.

If your work lacks meaning, there are a number of actions you can take to help.

1. Choose how you want to show up

Attitude is a choice. While it would be totally unrealistic to be gloriously happy every day, taking a moment or two in the morning to ask yourself:

“how do I want today to pan out?” gives you the mental space to determine “I’m going in with a smile and do what I can to help my colleagues.”

2. Show you care

In all our busyness, it’s easy to get bogged down in all our tasks, focusing on what WE have to do, forgetting we are part of a living organism, the workplace. Taking care of us means taking care of others too.

Caring is as Adam Grant reminds us in his book “Give and Take”, it’s about how we give. Caring builds social cohesion and happiness.

“I’m going to call out the good and acknowledge everyone I see doing a good job,”

“I’m going to be respectful to all my colleagues, especially those I don’t get along with so well.”

“I’m going to shout my project partner coffee and cake this morning.”

“I’m going to have that conversation with Linda today to ask if she’s alright as I’ve noticed she’s not been herself recently.”

3. Reflect on how work could work better

What can you think of that would add a little more interest, zest and feeling that you’ve actually achieved something useful?

One of the biggest challenges with high workloads, reduced resources and multiple distractions (especially meetings) is to look at how you could organise your work to get more items fully completed each day.

Call for a meetings review. If meetings have become a cop-out of getting work done, it’s time to do a Marie-Kondo and ask, “does this meeting provide me with joy?” If not, do you need to be in the room? Is there a need for the meeting to take place at all? Could the meeting time be reduced to under 30 minutes?

Are you wasting time in other ways? Are you involved in tasks that really don’t require your involvement which could free you up to focus on the more important?

Taking time out, 10-15 minutes each day, to think quietly and reflectively allows you to think through what’s really important and urgent and reduce the never-ending to-do list. Knowing what you don’t do helps too because this allows you to delegate or eliminate those tasks and effectively reduce the associated stress of doing stuff that you hate.

4. Consider the alternatives

So, you hate work and want to retire by the time you’re 30?

Or you’re exhausted from overwork, and the thought of giving it all away to sit by a pool in an exotic location feels very appealing?

Really?

When I first relocated to Australia, I had just come off the back of 2 years of fairly gruelling stints in hospital rotation jobs, culminating in 6 months in a very busy E.D department.

The plan was to take three months off, to find my feet and then get going again.

The plan was somewhat railroaded by the fact

  1. I was new to the country and other than my husband I didn’t have a circle of friends to play with.
  2. My husband was at work all day and I found myself in an empty unit with nothing to do, other than housework. Going out to explore my new environment wasn’t much fun on my own and funds were limited.
  3. I quickly became lonely, bored and depressed. While my previous jobs hadn’t been much fun, this felt like torture.

After three weeks of putting up with a demanding and teary wife, hubby took control and said, “You need a job – go seek!”

Which I did and gratefully found a position, that was back in E.D (oh no!) but which provided me with a sense of purpose and got me back on track doing work that was meaningful.

Our work may not always be the exact role we desire, but having a job is incredibly important for our health and well-being, both physically and psychologically. Our sense of self-worth is bolstered by being in work (whether paid or not) and there are many who would love to have gainful employment, but for whatever reason have found this unobtainable.

Having work taken away from us whether voluntarily or not can be gut-wrenchingly hard to come to terms with.

5. Know what’s important to you

My world is my family, my husband and kids.

While some of my well-meaning (!) friends gently scold me for working too hard and yes, I am a recovering workaholic, doing work that I love, that is contributing something to the world gives me my sense of purpose and meaning.

What I do for work – because it is aligned to my values and core beliefs –  makes me a better person, a better mother and partner.

What matters to you?

What are the three to five things that are critically important to you and your happiness, and how does your work contribute to this?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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jenny@drjennybrockis.com

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