Very few people stay with the same employer for their entire career.
In fact, the median employee tenure is 4.2 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, you can’t always quit your job the second it stops being exciting, even during low unemployment. For various reasons — a high paycheck relative to the market, excellent benefits, flexible work options that make life easier — you might need to stick around at job that doesn’t really thrill you.
But there’s danger in working at a job when you’re not engaged. According to Gallup, engaged workers are 18 percent more productive and 37 percent less likely to be chronically absent from work. They also earn 18 percent more on average. Continue toiling when you’re unmotivated, and you’ll miss out on all those benefits.
So, what do you do when you no longer love your job, but you can’t afford to quit — and haven’t found a new job to take its place? Reignite your passion for your job by doing a little soul-searching.
1. Make a List
There are a lot of reasons to fall out of love with your job. Your first step is to figure out which reason is making you less than enthused about going to work in the morning.
Maybe you hate your boss or your coworkers. Perhaps the commute is killing you, or the corporate culture has changed and you no longer feel like you fit in. Or maybe the work itself is a problem – you’ve recently realized that you chose the wrong career, or you’ve grown out of your job and have new interests that are better aligned with another occupation.
Whatever your situation is, you can’t fix it until you can name it. So, make a list of everything that you don’t like about your job. Be as specific as possible and don’t censor yourself. Remember, no one will see this but you, and the goal here is to figure out what’s not working.
Then, turn it around and make a list of the things you do like about your situation. It’s OK if the answer is just “being able to pay my bills.” But it’s worth thinking about the positives, if only so that you can look for those things when you look for your next position.
2. Maximize the Positives
Assuming that there are some items in the pros column of your list, see if there’s a way to build off those things. For example, maybe you can use a telecommuting option to minimize the time you have to spend with a difficult teammate. Or maybe a less-than-exciting job allows you more free time than another, more engaging gig — and the answer is to use those morning and afternoon hours on a hobby or side gig that’s more interesting than your day job.
Don’t forget about perks you might not currently be using. Companies sometimes offer benefits and then neglect to message them. You might be entitled to education benefits or subsidized gym memberships or passes to museums and sporting events. By themselves, these things won’t make up for a meh job. But they might help — and if you’re entitled to these benefits, you might as well use them.
3. Cultivate an Internal Locus of Control
Do you think of life as something that happens to you, or something that you can affect with your efforts? The answer may indicate whether you have an internal locus of control or an external one. “Locus of control” is a psychological concept that describes whether an individual feels that their success is attributable to their efforts or to factors beyond their influence. While psychologists caution against characterizing an internal locus of control as “good” and an external one as “bad,” research has shown that subjects with an internal locus of control are often higher achieving and better paid.
“You’ll likely be happier and more successful if you have an internal locus of control rather than an external one,” writes Career News blogger Gina Belli. “It’s depressing to feel as though life only happens to us – as though we’re adrift in a river, coasting downstream in a boat with no way to direct our course or our fate. Instead, those with an internal locus of control see oars laying beside them in the boat, pick them up, and paddle. Doesn’t that sound more pleasant?”
Your tendency to feel like you have control over your environment at work and otherwise was likely formed in childhood, but you can develop a sense of control by focusing on the things you can change. So, for example, you can’t make your boss more supportive, but you can seek out support from coworkers, mentors, affinity groups, and so on.
4. Use Sports Psychology to Improve Your Outlook
Many people unknowingly demotivate themselves by using negative language to describe their tasks each day. You’ve probably done it yourself when you looked at your to-do list and thought: “OK, so I have to do X, Y, and Z today.”
What’s the problem with that? Well, it frames your tasks as must-dos, not get-to-dos, which makes it less pleasant to contemplate getting stuff done.
“The thing to realise and understand is that often in sport the only thing that keeps a competitor going is their heart – and if your heart isn’t in something, you’ll eventually give up,” writes Australian performance consultant Jeffrey Hodges at Sportsmind. “Communicating with yourself using negative motivation language is a sure way to lose heart, and you’re too good for that.”
Instead, Hodges suggests saying that you want to get these tasks done, as in, “I want to complete this report” or “I want to hit my numbers.” It’s easier to get motivated when you don’t feel oppressed by the weight of someone else’s requirements.
5. Make a Plan for the Future
It’s probably one of your least favorite interview questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” While you don’t have to know for sure where you want to be, it’s a good idea to think about your career goals from time to time. You might be surprised to discover that your current role isn’t really in line with your ultimate aims.
Not sure where to begin? Start by thinking about whether you’d want your boss’s job. If the answer is no, you’ve learned something important: whatever else you do, you don’t want to get promoted at your current employer — at least not in the department or team you’re in now.
Next up, start talking to people who love their jobs, and see if anything they say resonates with you. Your conversations could lead you to a better career path — and give you an idea of the steps you need to take to change course. Even if this process doesn’t immediately yield insight into your dream job, it will provide one important short-term reward: it will get you thinking about the future instead of dwelling on your so-so job in the present. And that might help you feel better about work right now.
6. Unplug From Work
Of course, there’s always the chance that after you spend some time trying to figure out why you’re not excited about your job, you’ll discover that you’re just burned out.
How can you tell if burnout is the issue? The Mayo Clinic lists a few signs, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disillusionment with work
- Changes in sleep habits
- Sleep disturbances
- Unexplained physical symptoms like headaches or stomach problems
If that sounds like you, it’s time to get some rest before you make a decision about your job that you’ll later regret. (In other words, don’t quit until you take a break.)
At Inc., entrepreneur John Rampton suggests going off the grid to recharge:
When you start to feel emotionally, mentally and physically drained, that’s usually a sign that you need to take some time off. While a two-week vacation sounds like the perfect solution, that may not always be feasible. You could, however, plan for a long weekend. Which, according to Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and the author of No One Understands You and What to Do About It, could be more beneficial. When it comes to stress-reduction, “you get a much greater benefit from regularly taking three- and four-day weekends.” While you’re away, don’t call the office or check your email. “You need to let go,” she says. “Each of us is a little less vital than we’d like to believe.”
And that’s a good lesson to take forward with you, even when you’re back at work: you don’t need to be constantly available in order to be a good employee. If you’ve gotten into the habit of checking email in the middle of the night and all day, every weekend day, it’s time to set some boundaries.
To be productive — and happy! — at work, you need time to recharge.
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