Jobs and work: mostly everyone wants one. Mostly everyone needs one. But not everyone is happy or productive in one. In fact, job stress can be a leading cause of burnout.
In the graphic accompanying this article, a highly skilled individual who is in an unchallenging environment will be bored.
An employee who is challenged beyond his or her skill set (and, I might add, did not receive appropriate or adequate training) will be stressed.
But the worker who has found the perfect balance between his or her skills and the right degree of challenge on the job will most likely be happy and excel.
While I mostly agree with this somewhat simplistic approach to job satisfaction, there is a key consideration that is overlooked: why exactly are you working in the first place?
The reasons why we go to work are as diverse as the individuals in the workplace. While the relationship between our skills and the challenges of the job are important, our own personal reasons to “go to work” can have a powerful impact on not only our commitment and performance on the job, but also on our propensity to burnout.
Consider these reasons to “go to work”:
- Simply to get a paycheck: There is a strong likelihood that we will do the bare minimum that is required on the job – and we’ll probably be the first ones out the door at quitting time.
- We “have to” (even though it bores us): Boredom can arise because our skills are higher than what is needed on the job OR we view the work as comprised of routine, mind-numbing tasks. It is almost inevitable that we will display “presenteeism” on the job – we’re at work, but we’re not really “there.”
- We like our coworkers: Because we are human beings, it is impossible to separate the relationships that we have with the people in our work environments from our satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the job. But even though our relationships might be super, if the job itself doesn’t align with our career goals and aspirations, then we will ultimately have a nagging sense that “something is missing.”
- Our job aligns with our professional goals BUT it is an unethical or poorly led company: In this situation, we may simply be going to work in order to get the paycheck – but the building stress generally causes us to eventually believe that no amount of money is sufficient to keep us. But until we find another employer, our stress levels build from the cognitive dissonance between what we believe is right and the environment that thwarts our good intentions.
- We believe in the purpose and mission of the organization: There is a greater tendency to commit more of ourselves to the job – in other words, the organizational vision is aligned with our personal values so we believe that our work has a meaning beyond a paycheck.
These are just a few examples of reasons why some of my clients have “gone to work” – as well as some reasons why they left their employers.
Understanding why you, your colleagues, or subordinates come to work each day provides a profound insight into the best ways to motivate and lead them to their fullest potential. And when employees excel in their jobs, then the company overall reaps the rewards of higher productivity, better customer service, and greater employee commitment and loyalty.
Puleo’s Pointers: Understanding the Reasons Why We Work
As a career consultant for many years, I have often been surprised when I’ve asked clients about their career histories: why they are in their current field, what they want to accomplish, and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals.
Their responses have often surprised me – primarily because many individuals (whether in entry-level or senior positions) often don’t have clear-cut answers to these questions. They were quite capable of explaining their career history in terms of projects or events. They could easily express aspirations about their futures in their fields. But they were often stopped short when trying to identify what they were willing to sacrifice in order to reach those goals.
Once we understand the sacrifices necessary to achieve future goals, we get a better understanding of why we are working in the first place.
For example, let’s say that you aspire to a senior level position entailing extensive travel and long work hours BUT your reason for working is to provide a better life for your family. The key is to understand specifically what “a better life” means to you:
- If “a better life” solely means providing material comfort for your family, then you’ll probably do well in this type of position.
- However, if “a better life” means spending quality time (i.e., fully present and engaged) with your family, then the demands of this job contradict your real reasons for working.
- When the demands of your job contradict your real reasons for working, then stress and burnout are the likely results.
Finding a job and career that reflect your personal goals and values is critical in creating the life that you want – your job then becomes a powerful reflection of who you really are. Unfortunately, far too many people are in jobs that frustrate, anger, or even demoralize them. The only reason that they “go to work” is because they “have to” (usually for financial reasons).
A recent study revealed that 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs even though we spend an average of 90,000 hours “at work” during our lifetimes – that’s a lot of hours that cannot be replaced. To avoid being part of this unhappy 80%, take the time to fully understand what you expect from a job and what you are willing to sacrifice in return:
- Do the hours you spend at work reflect your own personal goals and ambitions – or is it time spent doing something that you hate in an uncomfortable environment?
- Is work a “means to an end” – and is it really contributing to your desired end goal?
- Finally, does your work make you feel good and proud at the end of the day? If not, maybe it’s time to reflect on why you’re working in this particular job, in this particular company, and in this particular way – know when it’s time to move on.
Understanding and acting upon our answer as to why we go to work is fundamental to avoiding burnout. Not only are we better able to create a new, more productive, and satisfying way to work, but also a richer, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling life as a whole.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com. You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.