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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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How to Prioritize Your Work When Your Manager Doesn’t

Prioritizing work can be frustrating, especially if you work for a hands-off manager or a company that doesn’t give you clear goals. Most of us face this reality each and every day. The frequently cited research of Robert Kaplan and David Norton shows that more than 90% of employees don’t fully understand their company’s strategy or know what’s expected of them to help achieve company goals. Compounding the problem, recent research shows that global executives say they have too many conflicting priorities. In a world where conflicting and unclear priorities are the norm, how can you learn to prioritize your own work and still feel satisfaction from a job well done?

Take Ownership

First, check your mindset when it comes to setting priorities. Don’t assume that prioritizing your workload is someone else’s job, and don’t choose to see yourself solely as a “do-er” or a “worker bee.” It’s easy to point blame at our managers and organizations when we experience high levels of stress or an overwhelming amount of work. Recognize that consciously setting priorities is a key pillar of success. You can start by assessing how well you’re handling the increased workload that comes with being a leader today.

Filter Priorities

Select a couple of areas to set priorities in; this can help the brain to manage information overload. Researchers have found that it’s the overload of options that paralyze us or lead to decisions that go against our best interests.  Two criteria I use with clients to filter for priorities include contribution and passion. Consider your role today and answer the following questions:

 

  • What is my highest contribution? When we reflect on contribution, we consider both the organization’s needs and how we uniquely bring to bear strengths, experience, and capabilities. The word contribution captures a sense of purpose, citizenship, and service.
  • What am I passionate about? Motivation and energy fuel action, so when setting priorities, get clear on what brings you inspiration in your work today.

Determine Next Steps with an Organizing Framework

We can put the two criteria of contribution and passion together to create an organizing framework. The framework can help you to sort priorities and define subsequent actions. Consider this chart:

Quadrant I: Prioritize those areas of your job that hit this sweet-spot intersection of bringing your highest value-add and making an impact that you feel excited about. Look at the answers to the two questions above and see which projects, initiatives, and activities show up on both your high contribution and high passion lists.

Quadrant II: Tolerate those parts of the role that are important but drain your energy when you’re engaging in them. What are the possible discomforts, and what can you do about them?

 

  • Tolerate and accept that you aren’t going to love every part of the job. For example, you may be excited about having a larger role and team but less excited about the increase in managerial processes and administration that come with it.
  • Tolerate the fact that you may be on a learning curve. Perhaps a key part of the job includes something that isn’t yet a strength, such as presenting at town hall meetings or being more visible externally. Keep a growth mindset and push yourself out of the comfort zone.
  • Remember that there is a tipping point in this quadrant. For example, your highest contribution in a strategy role may never offer you the passion you feel when coaching people. The quadrant could highlight that it’s time for a change (which was my situation more than 15 years ago, when no amount of prioritizing was ever going to overcome the fact I was in the wrong career).

Quadrant III: Elevate those tasks that give you a lot of energy but that others don’t see as the best use of your time. Where are the possible points of elevation?

 

  • Elevate the value-add. Perhaps you see a hot new area, but the impact is less clear to others. Share what you are seeing out on the horizon that fuels your conviction, and explain why it’s good not only for you but also for the company.
  • Elevate yourself. Be mindful of areas that you still enjoy, perhaps from a previous role or from when the company was smaller. Maybe you love to fix problems and have a bias toward action, which leads you to get involved in things your team should be handling. Hit pause before diving in.
  • Ultimately, if the disconnect grows between what keeps you motivated and what your organization values, it may be time to move on.

Quadrant IV: Delegate the daily churn of low-value and low-energy-producing activities, emails, and meetings. If there’s no one to delegate to, make the case for hiring someone. You can also just say no, or eliminate those tasks altogether. The irony is, as we progress in our careers, things that were once in quadrant I now belong in quadrant IV.  If people still come to you for these tasks, redirect them graciously by saying something like, “It’s so great to see you. I know how important this is. I’ve asked Kate on my team to take on those issues, and she’ll be able to get you a more direct and speedy answer.”

Operationalize and Flag Priorities in Your Calendar

Look back on your calendar over the last month to see how much time you allocated across the four quadrants. I personally use a color-coding system in my calendar to quickly and visually see how I’m doing. (QI = yellow, QII = purple, QIII = blue, QIV = no color). At the start of a week, flag all QI priorities and give yourself a little extra preparation time on them.

Don’t settle for the status quo. As Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism shares, if you don’t prioritize your time, someone else will. And it won’t always be with your best interests or the greater good in mind. So take ownership and reclaim decision-making power over where you can best spend your time and energy. By doing so, you set yourself on a trajectory to produce meaningful results, experience more job satisfaction, and have increased energy.

Amy Jen Su is a co-founder and managing partner of Paravis Partners, a boutique executive coaching and leadership development firm. She is co-author, with Muriel Maignan Wilkins, of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence.  Follow Amy on twitter @amyjensu.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/01/how-to-prioritize-your-work-when-your-manager-doesnt?referral=00203&utm_source=newsletter_management_tip&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tip_date&spMailingID=17263888&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1021548187&spReportId=MTAyMTU0ODE4NwS2

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