How to Not Hate Your Job
A new survey is getting headlines in the business press. According to Robert Half U.K., one in six British workers over age 35 said they were unhappy. This is twice the percentage of unhappy workers under the age of 25.
To be skeptical for a moment, Robert Half is in the business of plucking workers out of one job and placing them elsewhere. Workers over 35 years old tend to be a more lucrative demographic for headhunters. I am not saying the survey results are inaccurate. But bear in mind that the survey sponsor has an interest in its outcome.
Cynicism aside, let’s stipulate that as a worker moves along in his or her career, he or she often faces a crisis of dissatisfaction. What can you do about this?
In Praise of Discontent. A person who has been in the workforce for ten to fifteen years often hits an inflection point. Professionally, if they have been paying attention they may know 80-90% of everything they will ever learn in their career. (Totally made up “statistic.” But work with me). He or she has learned the basic technical skills needed for the career as well as the necessary social skills to survive a workplace. So, what’s next?
Complacency would allow a person to get comfortable in their current skills and their relationships. This is detrimental to the worker and the employer. Discontent disrupts complacency. So far, so good. But, what should a dissatisfied employee do?
A dissatisfied worker should ask herself daily how to improve her situation. What can she learn? What technical skills can she hone? What social skills can she improve to propel her from being a good employee to being a leader?
Embrace the discontent. Realize that discontent is the opposite of complacency. Instead of allowing dissatisfaction to cause unhappiness, let it prompt you to learn and improve.
A Happy Worker Makes a Happy Workplace. To build a nurturing, collegial workplace, somebody has to start it. Remember the Golden Rule. (No, not “He who has the gold rules”). The real Golden Rule: treat others as you want them to treat you. Don’t wait for the boss or management to set the tone and improve the vibes in the workplace. Choose to be that likeable person who makes others feel welcome and at ease. When you lead with goodwill, people tend to reciprocate with kindness.
Network. Build a network of friends and allies inside and outside your company. Friends in the company will make your work day more enjoyable. Allies will make office politics bearable. Don’t neglect your network outside your current company. If you are in sales or business development, you already know the importance of building a big network. That network will include your clients, customers, and partners in the marketplace. No disrespect to Robert Half or other recruiters, you may also find that your best opportunities for new jobs will come from people who actually know you. So, to expand your career opportunities, make sure more people discover you. (When your boss sees that competitors understand your value, your boss may start to value you more highly too).
Avoid Office Politics and Activism. Mind your own business and let “microagressions” roll off your back. Don’t get caught up in avoidable office politics. Focus on doing your job rather than weighing in on every office conflict or political/social outrage. Instead, focus on being a peacemaker rather than a social justice warrior. By building goodwill with others, you may have more influence in the office than someone who is always stirring up problems and dissension. You probably shouldn’t emulate James Damore. He is former Google employee who wrote the notorious Google Manifesto. To avoid unnecessary drama and stress, don’t follow his footsteps and be a workplace activist (unless you think there is a book deal waiting for you on the other side).
Take Pride in Your Work. Even if you are an employee, work to meet your own expectations not to please your boss. Take pride in your work. Continually gauge whether you are doing your best. Determine ways to improve. If you set high expectations for yourself and meet them, you can be pleased with yourself. If your boss is reasonable, she will be pleased too. If she isn’t, take comfort in knowing that you gave it your best. Don’t wrap your self esteem in performance reviews.
Broaden Your Outlook. Continually look for new skills that broaden your opportunities. Get hungry for new ideas and innovations. Don’t limit yourself to linear thinking. For example, you might be tempted to limit yourself to improving your skills for the next raise. Perhaps your immediate superior has given you goals that, if met, would lead to your promotion. I am not suggesting you ignore that. But, look beyond the next promotion.
Once an employee has reached that 10-15 year plateau, he should have mastered their basic professional skills. To advance, he will need to distinguish himself somehow. Perhaps that is some unique technical skill, experience in some niche industry, or maybe it is just having a winning smile. Once basic skills are mastered, it is important to carve out a niche and/or build a personal brand. This makes the employee more valuable to the employer and other would-be employers.
The Limits of Loyalty. A worker’s primary objective should be to make the most out of her current situation. Improve and advance. However, few people retire with the proverbial gold watch after working for Big Co. for thirty years. Those days are largely over. Don’t be trapped at a sub-optimal job because of an unwarranted sense of loyalty to the company. Sometimes loyalty is appropriate because the employee is truly being groomed for a greater role in the company. But, in the absence of that, an employee should not be so emotionally invested in a job that they cut themselves off from better opportunities.
Employers have been known to hold back emerging leaders. Employers can be like parents that can’t let their kids grow up. They still remember the kid wetting his pants or crashing their first car into the neighbors mailbox. But, kids grow up. So do employees. Don’t let misplaced loyalty, or a boss’s underestimations, hold you back from pursuing your goals.
Enjoy the Journey. Life isn’t career. Money isn’t everything. Keep your life balanced. Doing so will actually make you a better worker (whether you are an employee or entrepreneur). Setting goals and making money matter. After all, we work to make money so we can have nice things. But, at the end of the day, remember to enjoy the journey. So, in summary, if you want to not hate your job, the decision is yours daily.
Photo Credit: Goodluz – 123rf.com
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