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Work

Thriving in the workplace

We spend a lot of our lives at work, here's how to make the most of it.

Health Agenda
May 2017

Australia is a nation of hard workers. Around 5 million full-time workers put in more than 40 hours a week, with 1.4 million of us clocking up more than 50 hours. For some industries, like mining, construction, agriculture and tourism, a gruelling 70-hour week is the norm, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’, sounds great, but that feeling can be difficult to achieve, and maintain, so how can we make our working hours more rewarding?

The Happiness Index by job site Indeed surveyed 35 countries to find the happiest workers. It ranks Australia 11th, with Colombia, Mexico and Russia taking out the top three spots. The UK was 22nd and the US 23rd, with Japan the least happy. Relatively poor countries dominated the top end of the job happiness list, which is the opposite of most general happiness surveys where rich countries tend to top the list.

According to Indeed's research, the top five ingredients for a fulfilling workplace are: work-life balance, quality of management, culture, job security and advancement, and then compensation and benefits – which consistently placed behind the others.

Remembering the why

Dr Michael G Pratt, a Professor of Management and Organisation in the US, says creating meaning in your work can lead to fulfillment, whatever you do. In an interview with the American Psychological Association he references an old story of 3 bricklayers who are asked what they’re doing. One says, ‘I’m putting one brick on top of another’. The next says, ‘I’m making 6 pence an hour’. The final bricklayer says, ‘I’m building a cathedral’.

“All of them have created meaning out of what they’ve done but the last person could say what he’s done is meaningful. Meaningfulness is about the why, not just about what,” says Dr Pratt.

Christopher Paterson, Managing Director of Alchemy Career Management, a firm of business psychologists, agrees; knowing why you do what you do for a living is important. “If you’re a return-to-work mum working three days a week your reasons for working are different to a graduate starting their career,” he says. “Be clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing and don’t take on other people’s whys. Look at what is important to you.”

Finding the sweet spot

Paterson says there are three elements to finding your career ‘sweet spot’, which can make a job more satisfying.

“First, it involves doing things in our job that we love to do and second, doing what we’re really good at. So, compared to your peers and colleagues, what do you do better than anyone else and what are your core skills?

“Thirdly, the sweet spot is about what opportunities there are in your role, in the team and in the business.”

If these 3 things don’t align for you, maybe it’s time to consider a change. Whether you feel able to mix things up a little at work or look for a whole new role, Paterson says you can use your professional and personal networks to find new opportunities for fulfillment.

“In your workplace, there is a pool of people that have a lot of answers. They’ve done things you want to do and achieved what you want to achieve but we don’t reach out and ask questions enough.”

He recommends using social media tools such as LinkedIn to connect with your broader network of contacts, but also to simply reach out and speak with colleagues. The people around you may be the key to any number of opportunities that will improve your life.

Learning and growing

Job fulfillment doesn’t have to mean climbing the corporate ladder or gaining promotion after promotion. It also comes with personal development and feeling as though you’re gaining new skills.

“Advancement, learning and taking on new responsibilities matter. We call that the enrichment career – you may be in the same role for years and that’s okay if you’re learning. That will contribute to job fulfillment,” Paterson says.

Despite your best efforts, you may have to be in a less-than ideal job that's necessary to pay the bills. But all is not lost. Although work forms a large percentage of our waking hours, it doesn’t have to satisfy all our needs – in fact 71% of people are looking to pursue passion projects outside of work, according to a report by the NBN broadband network and The School of Life (a Melbourne-based group dedicated to developing emotional intelligence).

The report shines a light on the role of what it calls the ‘side hustle’. It says 1 in 4 people already have a side hustle, from lifestyle blogging to photography, baking or leading tours around their city.

That side hustle may be a way to see your passion project become your main occupation – a stealthy way to find a job you love – or it may be a way to find balance and to re-invigorate yourself outside of work, so you're better able to face your job.

Are you fulfilled at work?

Paterson says you should take a few moments every 3 to 6 months to run through this checklist:

  • When you wake up on a workday, how enthusiastic are you? 
  • How do you react when something goes wrong at work? “If you’re at your best, you deal with those challenges with confidence and poise and bounce back quickly. If you’re not in the sweet spot, the challenges become more acute and difficult to overcome,” says Paterson.
  • How often do you suffer physical or mental symptoms of dissatisfaction? Signs of unfulfillment include frustration, social withdrawal, suffering a series of colds, or regularly having stomach pains and headaches.

Negative results signal that you should consider mixing things up. If possible, talk to your manager to see if you can put a development plan in place, or consider where you would be happier taking your next career steps. If not, look for other parts of your life where you can find more meaning instead and try to look at work as just a job, to do as well as you can.

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