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Happy At Work: Be the change

istock Happy Employees

We live in a world where job security and a decent income are paramount. Once we have achieved both, we continue to strive for more and before we know it, we find ourselves mid-career wondering 'what now'?

From Baby Boomers through to Millenials, we are all looking for meaning in our daily working lives. Many of us however, become immune to the daily drudgery of our workday experience. It becomes acceptable. Financial responsibilities, moreover, keep us 'committed', 'chained to the wheel'. We come to believe that we are only truly 'living' outside of work, that it is simply a means to an end. But does it have to be? What if we could stay in our organisation and rather than accept the drudgery, we become the change agent for more meaningful work?

Quote: Be the change Ghandi

When exploring meaningful work, Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues interviewed janitors at a hospital regarding the nature and meaning of their roles. Some of the responses received were expected (its a means to an end, unenjoyable, its a pay check). On the other hand, a group of responses were surprisingly optimistic in nature (enjoyable, satisfying, motivating). A group of the janitors took a different approach and viewed their roles in an extremely positive light, which had subsequent effects on their happiness and well-being, in addition to the happiness and well-being of those around them. This finding supported the previous literature which had suggested a theory around how people view and approach their roles [1] and it suggested that individuals with a 'calling' perspective did something the researchers termed 'job crafting'.

Job crafting involves taking what you are doing and crafting it in such a way that you view it as as socially valuable and intrinsically motivating. IE The janitors with a 'calling' perspective viewed their roles as essential to patient safety and satisfaction, they focused on the true meaning of what they did in relation to the bigger picture. The janitors who approached their role as a 'job', were less intrinsically motivated and resigned to the fact that their job was merely a necessity for making a living. What's more is that those who possessed the 'calling' perspective had better life, health and job satisfaction compared to those possessing a 'job' perspective. [2]

So how do you adjust your mindset and start viewing your job as a calling?

  1. Be grateful. Start off by focusing on the things that you enjoy about your job ~ make a list. Gratitude has many benefits, sitting at the top of the list are improved physical and psychological health, increased empathy, enhanced relationships, improvements in resilience and overall well-being. Within the organisation gratitude has been shown to increase productivity and morale.

  2. Get involved in work projects and charitable activities. According to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman in his book Social: why our brains are wired to connect, the more social we are, the more we flourish in life. Beyond socialising, when we give (time or money) to charity, it is inherently rewarding and activates the reward centre in our brains.

  3. Learn new skills. The very essence of learning creates new neural pathways in our brain and the more we practice these new skills, the stronger and faster the impulses along these pathways become [3]. This provides a sense of achievement, leading ultimately to greater well-being.

  4. Job craft. Take a step back and consider what motivates you about your job. Ask yourself "how can I make my job/career socially valuable?" Draw a mind map with your job in the centre and correlate all of the individuals and departments your role benefits, in and outside of your organisation. Ask yourself if there is something more that you could be doing to make your role more meaningful? If there is, do it!

  5. Exercise. Yes, it's reared its head again. There must be a reason you keep hearing how good exercise is for you, but for more meaningful work? YES! Exercise has been coined a 'keystone habit' by Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in business and life (this publication I highly recommend). According to Duhigg keystone habits can pave the way for happiness and growth in all areas of life. [4] Amazing! More meaningful work; it's within our reach. All we have to do is tap into what intrinsically motivates us, follow the suggestions for adjusting our mindset and be the change. [1] Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985).Habits of the heart. New York: Harper & Row [2] Wrzesniewski, A., McCauly, C., Rozin, P. & Schwarz, B. (1997). Jobs, Careers and Callings: Peoples relations to their work. Journal of Research & Personality (31) 21-33. [3] Shen, J. (5/29/2013). Retrieved from: [4] Duhigg, Charles. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in business and life. New York: Random House.

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