Make your work work for you

As we approach the end of the program, we delve deeper into the way you energize yourself – or not – through the work choices you make. We spend the biggest chunk of our life at work – one third of it to be exact if you work fulltime, and possibly even more. How often do you stop to evaluate the effect this huge chunk of time spent at work has on your overall well-being?

Making work choices (also known as ‘job crafting’) may sound like an anathema – a job is a job, you might think, and you just have to get on with it. The truth is, as always, subtler. Even within a large corporation there is greater leeway in designing your job than you might think. The choices we make significantly impact the quality of our life, including our mental, emotional and physical energy. Job crafting is proactive, and the motivation is first and foremost about enhancing your own well-being.

Take a look at the areas we highlight below. They all provide food for thought about your current position. If you dare to follow your dream, even if in a small part, which of the ideas listed below could you incorporate into your work life to make you feel even better about the way you spend one third of your life, throughout your adult life?

Do what you like

How much of your work or job offers you joy or fun? If this sounds like a contradiction in terms – ‘since when is work supposed to be enjoyable?!’ – think again. Joy and pleasure in one’s role promote health, motivation and productivity. Stress is reduced and job satisfaction increases. Fun also promotes a better culture of learning – you naturally want to become more proficient at what you enjoy doing; and it promotes better connections between teammates, through enhanced mood and a sense of work being an enjoyable part of the day to look forward to.

People who enjoy their jobs are more likely to be optimistic and motivated, to learn faster, and to make fewer mistakes and better business decisions.

Success and achievement are easily attainable, and it becomes relatively effortless to get into a ‘state of flow’ in your work. When you enjoy what you do, everything – from planning to execution – feels much simpler and is often more creative, too. Conversely, if you struggle with your job and have little sense of fun or joy in what you do, you could exhaust your energy and hit burnout quicker than you think.

Not everyone is going to get a well-paid job where they can enjoy every aspect and feel like they are having the time of their life. But we can all proactively seek to increase those parts of our job that make us feel like we really, truly love what we do. Here are a few pointers to think about:

  • Make an honest, quick mindset check. Where do you stand on the scale below as regards your beliefs around work?
  • How weary or enthusiastic do you feel overall about your work?
  • Can you identify something (or things) you love doing in your work, and do a bit more of it every day?
  • How often do you take a break to do something you enjoy and appreciate however small it may be?
  • If you really, truly dislike your work and do not enjoy your daily tasks, how actively do you think of what would bring you more joy? And how actively do you set about finding it (or inviting it into your life)?
  • How much time do you dedicate to doing enjoyable things outside of work?

Do what you are best at

A job is a collection of tasks assigned to an individual in an organization. Every job includes tasks that are less attractive or enjoyable to fulfil; that is a given, even in the most rewarding of jobs. Within a formally prescribed role, however, you may feel motivated to customize your tasks in a way that recognises your current talents and addresses your need for future development.

Crafting your job to incorporate your talents can include

  • Taking on more or fewer tasks – for example; choosing to focus on those tasks that you know you can perform faster and more effectively, swapping tasks with colleagues, to allow them and you to use your talents in the best possible way, or taking on additional tasks that reflect your passion
  • Changing the way you perform tasks – for example, finding or developing a new or better way to do your work, using your unique abilities, knowledge and creativity
  • Dedicating different amounts of time to what you currently do, for example spending more time on tasks that are less stressful and more enjoyable, or dedicating your best-focus moments of the day to the tasks you are less motivated to do, so that you can finish them faster and more effectively, or reflecting on new skills you’d like to acquire and choosing or accepting tasks that will enable you to do that.

Facilitating more alignment between the demands of your job and your own capabilities is likely to promote greater engagement and joy at work. If you are not already doing that, could any of the suggestions above be an idea for you to try?

Do what is important to you

Most of us need a job; that much is true. But we would all be better off taking the time to specify what we really want instead of suffering in a role that is more mentally and emotionally draining than worth its yield in monetary income.

The work that matters most is the work that helps you to create what you ultimately want to create and become who you want to become. It is not a one-off event, but a process, and it will take on different forms at different times. Research shows that employees who thrive are those who are clear on what matters most to them. They incorporate these values into the way they plan their career, what they commit to and what they say ‘no’ to. Their values and their vision serve as a guiding compass, even if in the short run.

Doing what matters most can be risky. It carries with it a distinct potential for failure, for conflict, for discomfort – exactly the features most of us seek to avoid in our natural search for comfort and safety. We tend to develop habits and patterns that keep us safe, but stifle growth and change. Stepping out of the comfort zone to reflect on what truly matters to you can be risky, but with it comes the potential for growth and impact – for self and others. A fulfilling life is infused with doing meaningful, joyful things that light the fire inside you, and simultaneously add value to the life of others.

Below are a few questions for you to reflect on when considering meaning and purpose:

  • If you did not have to work for money, would you still want to be doing your work, even partly?
  • If the answer is no, then what work would you like to do if money was not an issue?
  • How clear are you on your values, goals and passions? And how much time do you take to actively reflect on these from time to time?
  • To what extent does your job reflect these values, goals and passions?
  • How much benefit does your work bring to you and to others?
  • Can you define what success or happiness looks like to you?

Do it with those who energize you

The basis for relationship crafting – the part of job crafting that relates to human connections – is the understanding that human interaction impacts our energy levels and wellbeing to a large degree. If you ever had to work with a highly judgemental, dismissive and critical colleague, you would understand this concept well. Conversely, if you have a sense of camaraderie in your team and look forward to the daily collaboration, you can appreciate just how energizing human encounters can be.

Relationship crafting in your job can involve;

  • changing who you work with on different tasks
  • prioritizing who you communicate and engage with on a regular basis
  • choosing who you would like to mentor, or be mentored by
  • being mindful about who you choose to disengage or move away from, or work less with
  • seeking to socialize with certain colleagues beyond the work frame.

You may not be able to work 100% of the time only with those people you have an affinity with, but perfection is not a requirement. Relationship crafting calls for mindfulness about the type of people who energize you, trust you, encourage you and make you feel good about yourself and your abilities. Such connections are empowering, strengthening and inspiring – all the more reason to include more of them in your working life, and in your life generally.

Take a moment to consider the extent to which;

  • You make friends with people at work who have similar skills or interests
  • You choose to mentor new employees (officially or unofficially)
  • Your opinion is sought and taken into consideration regarding projects, priorities or activities with and within the team
  • You feel comfortable to simply be you with your teammates, without having to play a role
  • You proactively disengage from people who belittle, judge or discourage you.
  • You show care for colleagues in need.

Do it your way

Doing the tasks at hand in your own way addresses the need for autonomy. It means that you are able to trust your skills, knowledge, experience and intuition regarding the best way to perform the job. It is yet another way to create meaning in your role, which in turn enhances job satisfaction, performance, and motivation.

Autonomy is a basic human need. Doing it your way, however, is not about arrogance or indifference to others, nor is it about working in isolation, doing what you want whenever you want, especially not if you work within a team. Autonomy also requires an understanding manager or leader, who is willing to grant you the safe space you need. At its best, doing your work your way (while still remaining considerate of the needs of your colleagues) is about self-empowerment – having trust in your abilities and giving yourself permission to shape your work environment so that you can perform to the best of your ability. It is a win-win situation for you, your team and your employer.

Consider the following questions on ‘doing it your own way’:

  • How free are you to perform your tasks in your own time, outside the 09.00-18.00 time frame?
  • How fearful or micro-managed do you feel?
  • How encouraged and welcome do you feel to bring up new initiatives or suggest innovations?
  • How free are you to use your own tools to perform a task?
  • How free do you feel to learn and introduce new tools to perform your tasks?
  • How rigid and demanding do you feel your manager is towards you? And how rigid and demanding are you towards yourself?

If you wake up all too often with the thought of “thank goodness it’s Friday!” as opposed to “I love what I do!”, then the idea that we can find and create more meaning and happiness through our work is an appealing one.

Job crafting is about designing your work in a way that allows you to be more of who you are – with your unique talents, skills, passions and values. Even if these are expressed only in small parts of your daily routine, they contribute significantly to a sense of well-being, authenticity and meaning.

When you dare to ‘do your thing’, you express more of who you are and what you are intuitively meant to do. Then, not only do you live a richer and more fulfilling life, but you also enrich and contribute to the life of those around you.