According to a study conducted by Gallup a few years ago, only 20% of people can say that they genuinely enjoy their careers.
It’s important to define what the researchers mean when they use the term ‘career’. It’s not only paid work that counts. Whatever significant tasks people fill their days with, is included. Parenting, caring, volunteering and unpaid work are as relevant as traditional career roles.
The authors of the study suggest that career satisfaction may be the most essential of all five elements discussed in their book, Wellbeing. Even if we’re happy in our social relationships, have good health and reasonable financial security, career unhappiness eventually takes its toll on other areas because we spend so many hours of each week at work.
Conversely, those who are happy at work are twice as likely to be thriving in all other areas of life.
Maybe one of the most concerning findings of the study is the impact of unhappiness on your health. Disengaged workers report substantially higher stress levels and significantly lower happiness levels during the working week in comparison to the weekends. These people literally live for the weekend. They have twice the chance of being diagnosed with depression and many other physical health factors are impacted negatively. The researchers go so far as to suggest that the transition from weekend happiness to weekday misery might explain why heart attacks are more likely to occur on Mondays.
Increasing career wellbeing is possibly one of the most important changes you can make to protect your health for the future but it’s not always easy to find the perfect role.
There are many factors that contribute to career wellbeing. Ultimately, only you can decide what constitutes a ‘dream role’ for you but here are the factors the researchers believe matter most.
1. Find work that is meaningful. People with high career satisfaction wake up every day and look forward to making a contribution. They have a sense of purpose and a clear set of goals.
Often they work longer hours than others, but the evidence suggests that this doesn’t necessarily inhibit overall wellbeing. In fact, the same people who work hard in careers that they love usually take more time to appreciate all aspects of life.
Contrary to what most people think, you don’t need to throw in your corporate role to be doing work that is meaningful. Meaning comes from understanding how to use your unique talents to be of service to others – and this is something each of us can do in our own way.
If you were born with natural leadership skills, meaningful work might be giving others the opportunity to truly shine. If you have the gift of empathy, meaning might come from making others feel that you understand them. If humour is one of your strengths, helping others see the lighter side of life might be meaningful to you.
It’s easier to find meaningful work in an organisation where your leaders’ values and company ethics match your own and even more likely when the organisation you work for becomes a force for good.
2. Play to your strengths. Our strengths are the personal characteristics that allow us to perform at our best. When we engage them, it doesn’t mean we ignore our weaknesses but rather that we emphasise our natural talents in order to do our best work. When we work with our strengths we build our self-esteem, positivity and vitality and we’re more likely to feel ‘at one’ with what that we’re doing. Time passes more quickly, we feel satisfied (and in turn, more motivated). The end result is that we feel engaged.
Get to know your strengths and look for ways to redesign your existing role so that you utilise those strengths every day. If that’s not possible, start looking for a role that’s a better fit.
3. Choose a good boss. The highest levels of career dissatisfaction come when people feel they don’t matter as individuals. The study states that there’s a 40% chance that you’ll be disengaged at work when your manager ignores you compared to a 1% chance if you have a boss who focuses primarily on your strengths.
This information is as useful for leaders as it is for everyone else. It doesn’t take much to interact in a positive way and the impact can be significant (increased performance, less sick days, higher retention rates etc).
When our leaders are real and human it also makes an enormous difference to our career satisfaction.
Next time you’re at a job interview, listen to your instincts and choose your boss carefully. He or she will have a significant impact on how much you enjoy your role.