Updated: May 16
Are you happy at work? Do you feel valued? Do you wake up feeling energized and ready for the working day ahead?
Workplace dissatisfaction is an all-too-common reality for many people and you may find yourself among the growing number of people who are unhappy at work (Gallup, 2020). The good news is that you're not alone and that there are actionable steps you can take to turn your work experience around.
In the words of Psychologist Karlyn Borysenko in her book Zen Your Work, "If you are in a professional situation that you’re not completely happy with, that’s your fault. It’s not your boss’s fault, or your partner’s fault, or your colleagues’ fault. The buck stops with the person you look at in the mirror every day. You took the job you have and its responsibilities; accepted the pay; are at least half responsible for creating the relationships you’ve got with your coworkers, subordinates, and boss; and are responsible for the attitude you go in with each morning and the quality of the work you produce. Everything you have right now—both the things that you love and the things that aren’t so great—is a result of the choices that you have made. Those choices, most often, are a reflection of the story that you’ve created in your head regarding what is possible or what is most likely to make you happy. You are the only person who controls the stories you tell yourself."
Now you may think that's a bit extreme, but in reality and in most business cultures, the concept of a job for life "left the building" many years ago, along with the concept of a "gilt-edged career path" where your future lay in the hands of the organisation where you were employed. If you're not happy at work it is your right, and your responsibility to yourself and your family, to do something about it.
But, to be clear, I'm not advocating that you immediately resign or start looking for a new place of employment. What I am advocating is to work through a process of change where you create an understanding of who you truly are (your roots) - your values, purpose, strengths and skills; then use that understanding to set a goal for change (growth mindset) - identifying what happiness means to you in your work and your life; and then set out to make changes, either within your workplace or in your career to achieve your happy life goal.
This process of change is not trivial. It requires perseverance or "grit" as Professor Angela Duckworth describes, in her book "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance"... “What we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit—our passion and perseverance for long-term goals. An obsession with talent distracts us from that simple truth.”
The first step in this process might be to evaluate what it is about your current work situation that makes you unhappy. With that in mind, I have created a structured self-assessment exercise (available below), to help you gain an understanding of what motivates you at work. This exercise is based on self-determination theory (SDT), a motivational theory developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan in the 1980s. The theory focuses on the psychological needs that we have for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and how these needs influence our motivation and behaviour. According to SDT, autonomy is the need to feel that one's actions and choices are self-determined and not controlled by external forces. Competence is the need to feel effective and capable of achieving desired outcomes. Relatedness is the need to feel connected to others and to belong to a social group., a fundamental concept that can help us unravel the complexities of human motivation and behaviour in the workplace.
The exercise, which I call the Work-life Balance Exercise, contains 13 aspects of work-life, including elements of autonomy, competence, and relatedness as well as the practical aspects such as salary, safety etc. To complete the exercise you reflect on a series of questions for each of these 13 dimensions, and then rate your overall satisfaction of your work life for that specific dimension, on a scale of 1-10.
Once you have a picture of your current work-life balance you can then review those aspects of your work-life that you rated low (a score of 6 or lower), and consider what would make you happy or satisfied with that aspect (what a "10" would look like). You can then go on the consider any immediate changes you might want to develop in order to achieve that satisfaction level.
The Work-life Balance Exercise is part of the "Pivot toolbox" that I provide to my coaching clients and I have included a stand-alone version of the exercise here that you can use to create your own assessment of your work-life balance.
The second step in this process would then be to set out to understand yourself in more detail through a series of exercises, including exercises to establish your values, strengths and skills. These exercises will be the subject of later posts in this blog and collectively form your roots - who you are.
The third step in this process might then be to explore your contribution to society, your Life Purpose or to explore different life and work-life scenarios for your future . Those exercises are designed to help you plan your future life and career, based on your roots and your current situation, from the previous 2 steps
The final step is where you plan a project (or several) that you then "execute" in order to change your life according to where you decide your life should go. This is the focus on the "Growth toolbox" that I provide to my clients as a sort of personal project management system.
Is your work life in balance?
I invite you to evaluate your working-life balance using the work-life balance exercise from the Amberbuzz Pivot Toolbox.
To complete this exercise effectively, I recommend you take it in three parts:
Prepare your mind using a mindfulness or breathing exercise... or just find a quiet place to relax and unwind before moving to part 2
Complete the exercise (below). When you are done, I recommend taking a screenshot of the work-life cards and the goals you have identified for your records. Remember that with this version of the exercise, your work won't be saved otherwise.
Select one goal to work on in the coming weeks to start to bring your life into balance.
If you want to discuss your findings or this exercise further, I encourage you to sign up for a free coaching conversation with me.
Note for mobile device visitors: This app doesn't work so well in mobile view - I recommend you visit the site from a desktop browser in order to complete this exercise.
"No one can make you happy or successful at work if you don’t first make the decision to do it yourself. It all starts with your mindset and perspective. We just think it’s different because there are more people involved, so we have more people to blame when things are going wrong . . . and some of those people have the power to make decisions about how we spend our time (or if we have a job there at all!)". Karlyn Borysenko, Zen your work.