The U.S. has an employee engagement problem. The statistics tell us that one-third of our employees are disengaged from their work. Stress and burnout are high, we have the worst work-life balance of any industrialized nation, and it’s negatively affecting our health along with corporate productivity. Human Resources Today says the cumulative annual cost of employee disengagement is about $605 billion in lost productivity.
What’s going on? Is the lack of engagement—a.k.a. “love” for our jobs—caused by some missing connection between the company mission and the work our employees produce? Are employers failing somehow to keep their workers from getting bored with their jobs? Are people just not taking enough time off and burning out as a result?
With unemployment at record lows and plenty of jobs out there, why are workers stuck in jobs where they’re disengaged? Is there a way to fall in love with your job? Before we tackle how to fall in love with your job again, let’s establish why this matters in the first place.
The High Cost of Worker Disengagement
From an employee perspective, loving your job should mean that you enjoy the work you do. While jobs come and go, we hope the actual work you do has meaning, whether it helps you live a good lifestyle or is a passionate expression of your life’s mission.
Let’s face it: a job takes a lot of time and energy. Feeling bad about going to work can affect every part of your life, including your health and relationships. The science shows that if you don’t love what you do, you could gain weight, have a lowered immune system, and be at risk of serious illness.
Disengaged employees cost employers big money. Surveys show that 70% of workers lack full engagement in their jobs. Why does it matter that so many people just don’t care about what they do every day? It affects profitability. Companies with engaged employees outperform competitors by nearly 150%.
It seems like employers and their workers are all on the same page. We all have a vested interested in loving our work. If everyone wants the same thing, why can’t we achieve it?
What’s the Problem with Work Today?
Do you remember the first day at your job? You were probably excited about meeting new people and experiencing a change in routine. You may have felt like this job was the one that would change everything for the better, whether through a financial boost, a chance to advance, job security, or just a better work environment. Over time, you may have even felt like you had achieved all of those things, but now, it’s all gone wrong.
Here is the truth: No job is perfect. Even the best jobs have boring days. There is work drama in companies of all sizes. Businesses are made up of people and people are imperfect. Having a Pollyanna approach to your job is just as wrong as thinking it is always bad all the time. The truth is that most jobs are a mix of good and bad. It is how you cope with this reality that can make or break your experience.
If you’ve been in a job for a long time, it’s possible to simply become sick of seeing the same people in the same place and working on the same tasks. You could even experience burnout, which is a real medical condition characterized by depression and disengagement.
No matter what causes your disenchantment, it’s important first to understand your feelings. One of the toughest things about falling out of love with your job is recognizing the problem. Entropy can cause you to just plod along from paycheck to paycheck. Or you could overreact and quit in response to a triggering event. Both reactions lack the mindfulness of recognizing the situation and responding rationally instead of shutting down or fleeing the scene.
Some of the typical signs that you hate your job include:
- You dread Mondays like you dread going to the dentist. You may even find yourself establishing a pattern of calling off work on Mondays just to avoid going to work that day.
- You watch the clock obsessively. If you’re counting down the minutes till 5pm the way NASA does before launching a space probe, then Houston, we really do have a problem.
- Work is negatively affecting your personal life. If you go out with friends and all you talk about is work drama, that’s bad for you and your relationships. Is your spouse sick of you complaining about your job?
- You feel sick a lot. Are you having headaches or insomnia? Are you binge eating or drinking, or do you not feel hungry at all? Any of these things can be caused by anxiety, stress, or the frustration of hating your job.
You’ve heard the cliché, “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The expression is a popular misconception because working isn’t something most of us do voluntarily. We all have financial goals associated with working and getting a paycheck. It’s a safe assumption that many people don’t go to their dream job every day. Instead, they do what’s required to make the mortgage. Even if you love your job, it’s still work, which by design fulfills basic human needs.
But it’s true that loving your job can make the time fly a lot faster while also making it fun, challenging, and financially rewarding. There are jobs that simply pay the rent and there are jobs that are mission statements. The mission statement jobs are the ones that that grant intangible, as well as tangible, rewards. People love their mission statement jobs because the jobs make them feel like they’ve accomplished something important or done some good in the world. Mission statement jobs may be boring sometimes, but you know why you’re there.
Jobs pay the paycheck. Mission statement jobs are the jobs we love, the career paths we enjoy, and they are fulfilling beyond the paycheck.
The bad news is, according to the U.S. workplace engagement statistics we cited in a prior paragraph, it appears most of us are missing that sense of mission in our jobs.
What if you used to love your job but don’t anymore? What if you’re bored at work, don’t love it, but need the money so you can do other, more important things. Is there a way to care about the job you’re in, no matter your situation or career path?
How Employees Can Get Their Groove Back
Finding the love or even the tolerance for your work again takes effort. It’s easier to fall into patterns than it is to consciously break them. Here are some things you may want to try in order to get your work love back on track:
- Take some time off. One of the best ways to find happiness is to relax a little from the daily stresses. Getting out of town to take a few days off will give you an unexpected energy surge. This is especially true if you’re feeling burnout symptoms. Taking a vacation can be like restarting your computer; everything can be refreshed, including your perspective about the job you’re in.
- Sit down and map out what you like about the job. Taking the time to consider what you still like about the job is a smart way to focus on why you’re there to begin with. Mapping out the pros of the job may help you focus on those elements and shift you away from negativity. Ask yourself:
- Does the job let you work from home periodically?
- Is the money great?
- Are you being challenged in a positive way in some parts of the job?
- Could taking on a new project help you get your mojo back?
- Does the job add something important to your resume?
- What is this job teaching you?
- Take action based on what you’ve discovered. Far from being powerless in your job, you can change one big thing at work: your attitude. Small, incremental changes to how you do the job could prove to be transformative. Try focusing on the best (or better) parts of the work you do by mapping out every day what you can do differently to make the job better. Even the simple act of jotting down your goals and what you hope to gain from the job when you take it can make you realize that you are in control of your work life.
- Manage the drama at work by pulling back from social circles that sap your energy and make you tired, stressed, or angry. Try setting boundaries by closing your office door (if you have one) when you’re working on an important project. Keep conversations short and avoid gossip like it’s Ebola. Politely decline invitations to get together after work. Focus on one or two work people in your department, and and leave any drama-filled, soap opera star employees alone.
- Find a BFF at the office. Did you know that studies show having a best friend at work can make you happier and more productive? Having even one friend at the office means you’ll feel a stronger sense of belonging, which is a fundamental human need. Even better for employers, employees that have a BFF are seven times more engaged than employees that don’t.
- Learn to disagree in a way that isn’t harmful to you. Telling your boss that he or she is wrong may not be the most prudent way to manage your relationship. Adopt a little self-interest and ask yourself what benefit you will receive by disagreeing. Is it a moral issue? Can you go with the flow and accomplish the task even if you think it’s not worth your time? If you decide this is a battle worth fighting, try expressing your respectful disagreement gracefully without emotional overtones.
- Practice patience and try not to be overly emotional in your interactions with others. Being miserable all day is not something that anyone should do for long. It’s bad for you and the business. Try taking a deep breath and staying focused on doing the work professionally. Adjust your mindset and your habits to try to focus on positive rewards throughout the day. Try taking breaks to walk around the building and improve your attitude. Or focus on a fun event planned for after work partway through the week.
The goal is to find your joy again by making strategic changes on the job that will make it a more positive experience.
What to Do if You’ve Really Lost the Love
Staying healthy at work means being happy.
If identifying the problem and trying to work around it doesn’t make you feel better, maybe it’s time to consider a change. Figuring out the right job is a process that requires an understanding of what really makes you happy. Analyze your unique job skills, your job history, and what truly motivates you.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine a better fit for your job environment:
- Do you like collaborating with a team?
- Do you prefer working in a startup environment?
- Are you comfortable in a leadership role?
- Are there new skills you need to learn?
- At what income level would you be able to live comfortably?
Figuring out what you want in your life and your job takes some thought and maybe some discussions with your network of family and friends.
If you’ve tried everything to fall back in love with your job but can’t, maybe it’s time to talk to the folks at Artisan Talent.