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What to Do When Your Heart Isn’t in Your Work Anymore

In an ideal world, our work lives would be completely fulfilling, full of meaning, and intrinsically motivating. But what if they’re not?  What if you’re stuck in a job or a career that you once loved, but your heart isn’t in it anymore?

More people fit this profile than you’d think. According to a 2017 Gallup survey, only one-third of U.S. employees feel engaged at work; that is, only one of three workers brings a consistently high level of initiative, commitment, passion, and productivity to their job. That leaves the majority of employees less than satisfied with their work.

And truth be told, there could be any number of reasons for this sense of malaise. You might feel stuck doing the same thing over and over again. You might question the ultimate meaning of the work you’re doing. You might feel micromanaged or that company leaders don’t know or care about your learning and growth. Or maybe your own growth and development since starting your career has caused you to change your passions and priorities in life.

I see and hear examples of career malaise all the time — in my work teaching and training people in companies, in discussions following my corporate talks, and in conversations with my family and friends. Though the tendency among some of us in this situation is to simply grin and bear it, current scientific research suggests ways to reimagine — or reenvision — an uninspired professional existence.

Assess what you want out of your work — at this point in your life. Not everyone wants a high-powered career. In fact, according to research by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski, people tend to fall into one of three categories: Some see their work as a career; others see it as just a job; and still others see it as a calling. It’s this third category of people, perhaps unsurprisingly, who exhibit higher performance and a greater sense of satisfaction with their jobs. The key for you is to determine what you care about now — what drives you, what you’re passionate about, what truly motivates you — and build from there. It’s quite possible that what drove your career in your 20s is no longer appealing. Don’t force your 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old self into your 20-year-old sense of ambition. Even if you don’t find your true calling, you will at least increase the odds of finding a meaningful work experience.

See if parts of your job are “craft-able.” There has been considerable research on the idea of job crafting, where you tweak certain aspects of your job to gain a greater sense of meaning and satisfaction. Research by organizational behavior scholars Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski has shown that people can be quite imaginative and effective at reimagining the design of their job in personally meaningful ways.

For example, if you enjoy analysis but not sales, can you adjust your responsibilities in that direction? If you love interacting with others but feel lonely, can you find ways to partner more on projects? One participant from Berg, Dutton, and Wrzesniewski’s research redesigned her marketing job to include more event planning, even though it wasn’t originally part of her job. The reason was quite simple: She liked it and was good at it, and by doing so, she could add value to the company and to her own work experience at the same time.

Or, consider this activity: Imagine that you’re a job architect, and do a “before” and “after” sketch of your job responsibilities, with the “before” representing the uninspiring status quo and the “after” representing future possibilities. What novel tweaks can you make to redesign your job, even slightly? Sometimes even the smallest adjustments can lead to qualitatively meaningful changes in your work experience.

Ignite your passion outside of work.It might be a latent hobby you’ve told yourself you don’t have the time for, a personal project that isn’t related to your job or career, or a “side hustle”where you can experiment with innovative or entrepreneurial ideas on a smaller scale. Having an outlet for your passion outside of work can counterbalance the monotony of nine-to-five daily work. These inspirational endeavors can even have unintended positive spillover effects at work, giving you energy and inspiration to craft your job or reengage with parts of work you actually like.

If all else fails, make a change. Think about changing your career like you’d think about changing your house. When you originally bought your house, you had certain requirements. But since then, your priorities may have changed or maybe you have simply outgrown it. Do you move, renovate, or stay put? You can think the exact same way about your job and career. Have your priorities and needs changed? Can you tweak or “renovate” your job? Or do you need to move on?

Of course, if you choose to change your career, you’ll want to think it through and prepare yourself before jumping in with both feet. Network with people in professions you might be interested in, get your finances in order, and test out the new career (perhaps on the weekend or at night) before making the change. It can feel daunting to change everything so suddenly, but it’s important to consider the option if you’re truly feeling a deep sense of malaise at work.

The most important thing, though, if you’re finding your interest waning at work, is not to lose hope. You can find ways to ignite your passion again — or at least make slight changes so you won’t feel so hopeless. You’ll likely be surprised at how resilient and resourceful you are as you walk down the path of career renovation.

Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. His forthcoming book, Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence is to be published by Penguin Random House in January 2017. For more information visit andymolinsky.com and follow Andy on Twitter @andymolinsky.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/07/what-to-do-when-your-heart-isnt-in-your-work-anymore?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert&referral=00563&spMailingID=17628354&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1060720754&spReportId=MTA2MDcyMDc1NAS2

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Bring in Outside Experts to Mentor Your Team

Organizations depend increasingly on independent, temporary workers, even for mission-critical work. We call this subset of freelancers who do strategic work in companies or nonprofit organizations agile talent. They contribute technical expertise that an organization does not already have to a critical project or initiative. By providing temporary support, they make it possible for organizations to resource their critical activities more cost efficiently.

Many of the benefits of agile talent have been widely reported. But a benefit that has received less attention is the contribution they can make as mentors to an organization’s full-time staff. Tapping into your outside experts to help in the development of internal employees is a valuable way to address the needs of both. Experts are often looking for ways to help junior people in their profession, and younger employees are hungry for training and development. For example, research by Google, reported by Jolt, points out that less than 20% of tech employees in Silicon Valley believes the training they receive fits their goals and needs.

A practical framework for mentoring is based on the career stages work of Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson, former professors at HBS. Their research has found that high-performing professionals tend to transit through four distinct stages of development:

  1. Apprentice: Helper and learner; establishes a reputation for trust, teamwork, and cultural congruity.
  2. Individual contributor: Builds recognized functional expertise; makes a significant independent contribution; demonstrates accountability and ownership for results.
  3. Mentor/coach: Contributes through others as a formal manager, an idea leader, a project owner, or an informal employee developer.
  4. Sponsor/strategist: Sets or influences strategic direction and important decisions; exercises power on behalf of the organization; prepares future leaders.

Stages 3 and 4 are developmental stages where mentoring skills are typically developed and sharpened. And, it turns out, agile talent in stages 3 and 4 is often eager to provide coaching and mentorship to junior professionals working with them.

But it’s not only their career stage that makes agile talent potentially excellent mentors. For example, successful agile talent is, almost by definition, entrepreneurial. They are actively involved in building their business, developing their strategies, growing and maintaining strong customer relationships, and creating a service offering that’s attractive to their market. This type of entrepreneurial mindset is extremely helpful and is very often lacking among full-time employees who don’t have significant market or competitive contact.

How can an organization encourage the mentoring of employees by their critical outside experts? We suggest five steps that leaders can take.

Establish Informal Coaching Relationships

Experts are often brought onboard an organization to solve a crisis. When this is the case, it may be difficult to arrange for a formal coaching relationship with members of your full-time staff. And it may be difficult for agile talent working remotely to provide mentorship to those on-site. But when circumstances are more supportive, stage 3 or 4 agile talent may be eager to support the development of young high potentials or junior professionals in your organization who would benefit from a coaching relationship. In past work, my arrangements with outside experts always included time for them to teach me as well as work with them. These experiences were some of the most valuable of my career.

Provide Channels for Sharing Knowledge

Managers tap these outside experts for help because of their knowledge and experience. Beyond the project contribution, technical and functional experts should be asked to share their expertise and educate the team on best practice insights and new innovations in their field of expertise. A brown bag lunch with the team, for example, helps to build the team’s relationship with these experts and reinforces collaboration and engagement. More-formal methods, such as after-action reviews, are useful too.

Involve Experts as Part of the Brain Trust

Smart project managers know that bringing a team together to collaboratively solve tough problems both builds teamwork and improves performance. Extending this participation to agile talent is a potentially powerful opportunity for young professionals to see new or alternative approaches to problem solving. And it is very likely to lead to closer relationships and greater developmental engagement between outside experts and internal staff employees.

Engage Experts in Providing Developmental Feedback

Many years ago an HBS colleague asked me if I was interested in developmental feedback. I was, and his comment was tough to hear: “You are talented but sloppy. You need to be more organized and disciplined.” It was one of the most helpful bits of advice I’ve ever received. While painful to hear, over the past couple of decades I’ve learned to appreciate the clarity and sincerity of his comments. It put me on a developmental journey that has made me a better professional. In the years that have followed, I’ve consistently done something similar, asking my students and consulting clients if they are interested in feedback. They almost always are.

Connect with Experts’ Networks  

Agile talent is often connected to different networks than the internal team members with whom they are working. I’m frequently asked: Who has interesting ideas? What are you reading? What are the innovations you find most exciting? As a result, I spend a fair amount of time introducing people to one another and suggesting networks to join or individuals to meet. We encourage managers and team members to seek the advice of outside experts and to explicitly have the conversation about who is worth getting to know and where interesting or innovative things are happening.

We live in a time when keeping up technically and professionally is increasingly important and difficult. Mentoring is one of the important tools that managers have to contribute to the development of their team. Utilizing agile talents as mentors and coaches is a way to multiply the value of an organization’s investment in outside experts.

Jon Younger is the founder of the Agile Talent Collaborative, a non-profit research organization, and works with several start-ups in the on-demand staffing space. He is the co-author of several books in talent management and HR, including Agile Talent (HBR Press, 2016). He teaches in the executive education faculties of the University of Michigan and the Indian School of Business. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/01/bring-in-outside-experts-to-mentor-your-team?referral=00203&utm_source=newsletter_management_tip&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tip_date&spMailingID=17082340&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1002089593&spReportId=MTAwMjA4OTU5MwS2

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