How To Love Your Job
Isn’t it odd how so many of us confess to disliking our jobs, yet see no reason to do anything about it? Instead, we resign ourselves to spending five days out of every seven in a state of despondency, motivated only by the prospect of reaching the weekend again. Imagine for a moment feeling the same way about a partner or a spouse. Now, imagine gleefully looking forward to being apart from your beloved and dreading the prospect of having to spend time with them. If we were to publicly admit to such a thing, we would surely be urged to address it – and if there seemed to be no solution, then it would also seem wise to end the relationship. After all, it would be foolish to entrap ourselves in a distressing situation via inaction alone.
But when it comes to work, society enables us to feel differently. It’s somehow OK to hate your job, because work isn’t supposed to be fun. After all, we’re not there to enjoy ourselves, but to earn a living. So, if we feel a creeping sense of dread as Sunday afternoon fades into evening and the prospect of returning to the office looms closer, that’s absolutely normal. If we feel bullied or unfairly castigated by our boss, we shouldn’t let it get us down, because that’s just what bosses are like. And if our office seems like a soul-sucking place, well, what did we expect? The award-winning TV show The Office was successful not just because of its scriptwriting and acting performances, but because its central premise – a depressing workplace – is relatable.
Recently, however, the way we think about work has started to change. We’ve begun to appreciate that a fulfilling job is almost as important as one that pays the bills, and that no salary is high enough to justify spending the majority of our waking lives in misery. We’ve realised that stoical resignation or “manning up” is not the appropriate response to chronic dissatisfaction. This shift in attitudes can be seen in the rise of open-plan offices, new corporate roles such as “chief people officer” (CPO) and websites such as Glassdoor, which anonymously rate employers, not just on the salaries they offer but on their company culture, too.
Despite this, there’s still progress to be made, especially among men, whose old-fashioned attitudes towards work appear particularly entrenched. This year, a study commissioned by the men’s health charity Movember found that a stigma exists around discussing happiness in the workplace. Nearly half of all respondents said they would worry about colleagues making negative comments behind their backs if they were to admit to experiencing difficulty at work while more than a third said they felt it might hold them back from a promotion. What this means, in effect, is that countless men are putting up with jobs that make them stressed and miserable, for no other reason than a paralysing fear of the consequences of speaking out.
Are you one of them? If so, here are five ideas that might help you clamber out of that career crisis and speed you on your way to a job that you actually love.
Make your voice heard
One of the most common causes of frustration at work is the feeling that we’re somehow being ignored – that our issues are not being addressed and that our ambition and our talents are going unrecognised. All of these things may well be true, but before jumping to conclusions, it’s worth asking whether our colleagues and/or bosses know how we feel. Instead of speaking up when we have something on our mind, have we been waiting to be asked? We may be aware – acutely so – of every unreasonable demand or unrealistic deadline that comes our way, but without communicating our predicament there’s no reason to expect others to understand it, let alone show sympathy. Despite the evidence that open conversation is an effective way of tackling problems in the workplace, it’s clear that a significant proportion of men would rather stay silent. Movember’s recent survey showed that 30 per cent of male workers would be reluctant to open up about their problems in case it had a negative impact on their careers, the sad irony being that the opposite outcome is far more likely.
Find a vocation
The notion that a job should have a higher purpose beyond earning us a living is scorned by many as a millennial delusion, but is that entirely fair? We’re likely to be more productive, and less prone to job hopping, if we feel fulfilled by our day-to-day role. As to the question of what a satisfyingly meaningful job looks like, this is something we’re obliged to figure out for ourselves. The good news? It doesn’t necessarily involve immediately quitting our existing role. In fact, that’s probably one of the worst things we could do. If we’re dissatisfied with our current career path, it may be because we chose it while under pressure to earn money. Are we sure we want to risk putting ourselves back in that situation? Changing one’s profession is not a decision that should be taken lightly or impulsively, but after a prolonged period of personal reflection and research. It’s quite normal not to feel a strong inclination for any particular role or sector at the earliest stage; very few of us do. With so many jobs out there, the chances of knowing instinctively which one is just right are vanishingly small. Yet what we can do is explore new avenues through volunteering, evening classes and part-time qualifications. Over time, a deeper understanding of what makes us happy will emerge.
Is it reasonable to expect to be best friends with our colleagues, people with whom we may one day find ourselves in direct competition for a promotion? Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean we should reject out of hand the possibility of forming social bonds in the workplace. We might have precious little in common with our workmates compared to, say, the people we meet at the local board-game society meeting, or whatever else we happen to do with our spare time. The relationships we strike up with our work mates might be superficial, and the conversations dominated by circular small talk, but we are ultimately social creatures who crave a sense of community. Our workplaces, for the sheer fact that we spend such a disproportionate amount of time there, are perhaps our most convenient social spaces.
A workplace is – or, at least, should be – a meritocracy. The rules of such a system state that those who rise to the top do so through talent and hard work, while those who flail and sink do so because of a lack of it. This is largely a good thing, because it eliminates nepotism and rewards graft and natural ability, but it has the side effect of making us absolutely petrified of failure. To admit to having failed in a professional environment is to acknowledge our own mediocrity and to invite judgement from our colleagues, and so we do everything in our power to avoid it. We project an image of consummate professionalism at all times and if we cause something to go wrong, we scramble to hide it or to shift the blame. But even the best of us make mistakes, and by not allowing for the possibility of occasionally being late, missing the odd deadline or any of the other mishaps and oversights that one might broadly categorise as human error, we are holding ourselves up to impossible standards and guaranteeing that when we do fail, which we inevitably will, we’ll feel far worse about it than we ought to.
Learn to let go
Whenever we’re able to secure an extensive holiday, our top priority should be to (temporarily) forget about the responsibilities of our job – to relax. This is much harder than it sounds. It’s all too easy, while idling by the pool, to slip into the trap of worrying about how our colleagues are going to cope in our absence, whether we left adequate handover notes, or what’s going to happen to all of those loose ends that we left as we dashed from the office to the airport. These insidious anxieties tend to persist right up until the moment that we fly home and return to find that not only has the office not burned down, but everything seems to be running perfectly smoothly without us. While this can be a humbling experience – “Perhaps I’m not the central cog in the machine that I thought I was?” – it’s liberating once we learn to accept it. Loving your job means having the confidence to leave it well and truly alone.
Illustration by Mr Alessandro Gottardo