Our attitude to work has undergone a shift. When times were good, if work wasn’t fulfilling we could find another job. Nowadays we have to value the job we have whether we enjoy it or not. We’re under huge pressure to make it work for us; to derive satisfaction without moving on. But how?
1. Reframe your wish list
There is no such thing as the ideal job, and embracing this reality can be liberating. Aiming too high can bring the danger of feeling immobilised. Which isn’t to say that we should ‘settle’ or ‘make do’ with our current job, it’s about reassessing our expectations. ‘All work is a compromise,’ says John Lees, author of 'How To Get A Job You’ll Love'. ‘But people tend to polarise their choices and see work in one of two ways: either “I have a job that I enjoy all the time” or “I have a job that is uninspiring and unmotivating”.’
The people who work best, he says, are able to acknowledge both versions. Aiming for an ideal can drain your ambition rather than fuel it, says Lees. ‘Let go of the model that says it’s 100 per cent or nothing, which is often a good excuse for not doing anything.’ Jobs are like relationships: they require give and take, and you might have to be prepared to put up with the dull or difficult parts because the rest makes it worthwhile. ‘Jobs can’t be enjoyable every day for five days a week, but maybe they’re fine for three days out of five,’ says Lees.
2. Core skills
With upheaval dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that some things never change, says leadership coach Ros Taylor. ‘Some constants remain. There’ll always be a demand for up-to-date skills. In the past, we’ve relied on our employers to train us. Many businesses have now frozen this kind of funding, but that shouldn’t stop you building skills in your spare time. It will mark you out as a self-starter and the act of taking control of your own career will empower you.’ When jobs are scarce, options associated with change are curbed. Asking for flexible working hours or switching career mid-stream may be unrealistic.
To combat the new tendency to rigidity, be aware of more subtle ways of taking control of what you do. ‘It’s about job-crafting, taking on areas that you feel suit you, almost creating your own job,’ says Professor Peter Totterdell of Sheffield University’s Institute of Work Psychology. He also refers to ‘idiosyncratic deals’ in which we carve out our own jobs over time. ‘This is something good that we can all cultivate, making ourselves indispensable by building idiosyncratic aspects into our job.’ Offer to review products, take the team photograph, manage the company Facebook page… Look for opportunities and make suggestions for change that you know you can initiate.
3. Think bigger
How we feel about our work reflects a cultural shift towards higher expectations. We continually hope our jobs will make us happy, even if they don’t at the moment. As Alain de Botton, author of 'The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work', says, ‘Our choice of occupation is held to define our identity, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gates of paid employment.’ Which makes us more likely to feel dissatisfied when work fails to fulfil our every need.
One answer is to stop assuming that what everyone else is doing is more rewarding. ‘It’s easy to look around and feel that, say, portfolio careers are much better than being stuck in one office,’ says Totterdell. ‘Yet from our research, portfolio workers feel they are less in control and have to take whatever work comes along, so be aware it’s all more of a mixed picture than you’d think.’