I came across an article written by Susan Adams in Forbes Magazine (May 2012) quoting a disturbing survey on worker satisfaction. Right Management (a subsidiary of Manpower, a large staffing company) ran a survey online for a 30-day period this spring. They organized responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. The results showed that only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied.” But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% said they were “unsatisfied.”
As a corporate consultant working with firms large and small, I’m sad to say that these statistics do not surprise me at all. I rarely get to work with the 19% who are “satisfied.” When we think about the amount of time we spend at work, for most of us a minimum of 8 hours a day, 5 out of every 7 days, for a whopping 1,920 hours a year, it isn’t good to find that we are feeling dissatisfied so much of the time. When we are dissatisfied, we can get depressed, feel sick, or become stressed out, and it can impact our relationships both personal and professional. Nothing good comes of dissatisfaction.
Or does it? Can we turn the dissatisfaction into opportunity? Can we make a decision to turn it all around and enjoy those 1,920 hours we spend this year? I believe we can. Let’s look at five steps we can take to recharge our careers, bring satisfaction back to our job and shake off those working blahs:
(1) Focus on what you do want, not what you don’t want. When we are dissatisfied in our jobs, we can easily put our finger on what’s bothering us: We hate the boss. The work is too hard. There isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. The culture is oppressive. The list could be one short, yet problematic thing, or it could be replete with things we can’t stand. Instead of focusing our brain on what we don’t like, or don’t want, turn it around. Take the time to focus on what you do want. What kind of environment would you like to work in? What kind of boss would you like to have? Paint a picture – both mentally and in writing – of what you would enjoy. Get clear on where you’d like to head next. Turn your attention to where you want to go. Put up a picture, write on 3 X 5 cards you keep nearby or develop a mantra about a future state that would be healthy for you. Turn the focus on your desired outcome.
(2) Make a list of things you enjoy about your job. Let’s face it – there has to be something that’s good. At a minimum, you are getting paid. Possibly you are learning something new. Or you like a co-worker, or the commute is easy. I once had a job I absolutely hated, but I was in a reverse commute where I was going against the major flow of traffic to and from work every day. For the entire time I traveled to and fro, I used it well. I listened to music I love. I bought audio tapes. I used the time to plan ideas for my next career. Find the things that you can feel positive about. Write them down. Every time you find yourself feeling dissatisfied or down, take out the list and read it. Orient your mind to what’s currently positive in the situation.
(3) Use the fact that misery loves company. But, instead of finding the miserable people at your workplace who will only validate the dissatisfaction, find friends or acquaintances who work elsewhere and are miserable. Ask them what they don’t like about their workplace, their boss, etc. Compare and contrast. Sometimes hearing what someone else is going through actually helps us to reframe our situation – “My boss isn’t THAT bad!” If you don’t have other miserable friends, find somewhere people are in a worse situation than you: Volunteer at the local nursing home. Bring toys into a children’s cancer ward. My mother used to always tell us not to feel sorry for ourselves because someone else was always worse off. It actually works to see those less fortunate. All of a sudden your job might feel a bit more satisfying!
(4) Learn stress management techniques. Ruminating over a difficult meeting? The boss is yelling at you again? Projects keep piling up? Use the STOP! technique. In the midst of the emotional turmoil, project a huge red STOP! sign inside of your brain. STOP the negative reaction and the negative thoughts. Have a song mentally ready that you enjoy (I like “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats). Be ready to sing the song to yourself. Instead of continuing to think about what upsets you, sing a song that gets you upbeat. Keep singing it as you deal with the difficult situation or go about your work.
(5) Remember, This Too Shall Pass. Life really is short. We waste so much of our time and energy rejecting things we don’t want and rebelling against situations. What if you decided to look at time as fleeting? This boss will go away someday, or you will go elsewhere. The economy will turn around at some point. Your situation will shift somehow, whether mentally or physically. Something will happen that shapes your experience in a different manner. When I look back, the most awful job situations I had turned out to be the best ones. If only I had viewed that time as temporary, I could have gotten even more out of them. This job is not your life. Your life is much more than this. Remember that.