With two out of every three people reporting they’re actively disengaged in their jobs it’s clear many of us are functioning, but not flourishing at work.
You know that feeling where you don’t hate your job enough to leave, but you also don't wake up eager each morning to get into work. Instead you feel blanketed in a heavy mist of greyness that leaves you drained, dissatisfied and exhausted.
And it’s easy for this greyness to start seeping into every part of your life.
This is where I found myself several years ago. While on the outside I appeared reasonably “successful” – big important job, loving family and friends, good health and more money than I could spend - each morning I was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed. Despite all I had to be grateful for, the soulless shadow cast by a job bereft of personal meaning, challenge and engagement was sucking the energy, joy and light from my world.
Sadly, my story is not unique.
Eighty-three percent of men and eighty-five percent of women recently reported that when it comes to their wellbeing they are “just functioning”- or worse “languishing” - at work.
And while many employees report they would be more productive if they felt their bosses genuinely cared about them, in the end I discovered it was easier to take responsibility for my own feelings of engagement at work.
So what are the five tested, practical strategies I used to finally show-up, shine and succeed in my work, no matter what my job description said?
1. Find your purpose
Best-selling author and courage coach Margie Warrell suggests finding the intersection of your talents, your passions, your values, and your skills and expertise so that what you do every day is meaningful. Think of it like this: I was passionate about bringing out the best in people, but after a career dedicated to marketing, I couldn’t afford to retrain in human resources without compromising my family’s financial wellbeing.
Luckily purpose is rarely about all or nothing. Rather, Margie suggests it’s about looking at where there is overlap between what you’re good at, what you care about, where there’s value and a need in the marketplace that creates opportunities, and where you have some experience and skills.
I was able to find purpose in my existing role as the marketing director for a small team by focusing on how to use my passion for the field of positive psychology to bring out the best in my employees. I wasn’t changing the world, but it quickly became evident that I could make a positive difference in the lives of my team.
2. Build your levels of grit
Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains that “grit” is the passion and perseverance to stick with your long-term goals. Let’s be honest, just because I had new hopes about the way I wanted to work, didn’t mean anyone else in my organization was rushing forward to help turn my purpose into reality.
One strategy Angela suggested I use to cultivate more grit at work was to ensure the goals I was setting were personally interesting and meaningful in the world. When you’re able to connect passion with action it gives you a sense of purpose and energy that researchers are finding prevents burnout and promotes resiliency.
Responsible for repositioning my organization’s brand at the time, I started looking for ways to align our advertising and marketing with messages about creating positive change in people’s lives and the world around them. As a result we delivered what appeared impossible at the outset, competitive differentiation for the first time ever and a job that I really enjoyed doing.
3. Create tiny habits to make lasting changes
BJ Fogg at Stanford University has found that by scaling back bigger behaviors into really small actions you can create dramatic shifts that last. Initially trying to find the energy and time to make the changes in my work that would support my new-found purpose and build my grit, felt impossible to fit in to a schedule already overloaded.
So I decided to apply BJ’s formula for tiny habits by: scaling back change to one very small step; sequencing this step by adding to the end of a habit I already had - “After I (insert existing routine), I will (insert new routine)”; and then celebrating the completion of the step with a heartfelt “Awesome!” to create a jolt of positive emotion to help the habit stick.
Hungry to learn more about the science of positive psychology to use for my team and our brand positioning work, I created a tiny daily habit of exploring one new piece of research each morning when I first got to work. I created the formula: “After I turn on my computer, I will ready one journal article”. And while my heartfelt “awesome” was nice, I gained an extra jolt of positivity by sharing what I’d learnt with my boss or my team and exploring how we could apply the idea in our work.
4. Set clear boundaries
Best-selling author and resilience, wellbeing and productivity coach Valorie Burton recommends setting and keeping clear boundaries with your boss and colleagues if you want to remain productive and happy at work. I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that not everyone at the office was excited about the more positive direction my leadership style and branding strategy was taking. Change, for most of us, can be challenging.
In order to honor the purpose I’d now chosen, Valorie suggested asking: “What are the boundaries I need to protect my own peace, joy and serenity at work?” Then noticing the areas where I felt the most frustrated, stressed or overwhelmed currently and being honest with myself about the conversations it was time to have.
For example, my boss felt my new management approach was much “too nice” and repeatedly instructed me to be tougher on my team. Nervously, I finally sat down and explained to him that while I appreciated this was the way he liked to work, it didn’t feel authentic for me. As I gave him examples of how my approach was still delivering the results we needed, it became clear that my new positive style of leadership was a boundary that would finally be respected.
5. Practice self-compassion
Self-confidence expert Louisa Jewell, suggests looking at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. Of course not everything I tried to improve the way I felt about my work was flawlessly executed. Like a baby first learning to walk, at times I clumsily stumbled over my own good intentions.
Louisa believes it’s important not to judge yourself harshly, nor to try and protect your ego by defensively focusing on only your best qualities. Instead, she suggests embracing the fact that to err is indeed human and to gain a realistic sense of your abilities and actions and then figure out what needs to be done differently next time.
By compassionately coaching myself - just like I would any other team member – I was able to see my near misses and mistakes as learning opportunities. Finally freed of the fear that failure would be fatal, I was able to stop playing it safe and show up to do what mattered most in my career.
And in no time at all, the color started returning to my world.
As a result of finally finding ways to show-up, shine and succeed in my work I was able to embrace the raw, messy, magic that is work and shape it in ways that authentically and consistently brought out the best in myself and in others. I went on to negotiate roles that better suited my interests, was given unexpected promotions and pay raises and was allowed to have every Friday free to play with my kids.
If you’re ready to move from functioning to flourishing at work, join Margie, Angela, BJ,, Valorie and Louisa for a special free podcast series starting September 29th on the practical strategies you can implement to help you show up, shine and succeed at work. Reserve your free ticket here.