5 Tips For Finding Joy in Your Work

Posted on June 25, 2013

5 Tips for joy at work  - managementHave you ever met someone who just loved her job?  Someone who doesn’t mind working late and regularly starts early. That person that does their work steadfastly and without complaint. I’m not thinking about a rock or movie star.  Don’t think of glamorous positions or even high earners.  This about that restaurant server who shows up with a big smile on her face and makes you feel like you’re family when you’re eating in “her” restaurant. That waiter who thinks there is more to enjoying a meal out then having food served to you.

It’s that couple that cleans your office and whistle while they do it. They smile as they go about their work and take on all tasks they meet without hesitation and although you are an office building full of people, they know your name.  They always ask about you and your life. They notice when you go away on holiday and are always willing to stop and chat when they find you working late.

When I start to get cranky and whiny about my job, I think of them and what they do. I don’t think of them because I think my job is better, but because they “know” their job is better and that they are excellent at it.

I’ve often heard the expression, “your job defines you”, but I think it’s more accurate to say that we define our jobs.  We are the ones who decide that the work we are doing is valuable and worth doing well. We determine what it takes to be successful. We decide when we’ve had enough.

I recently heard an interesting discussion about the value of work life balance. We‘ve all been told, no doubt countless times, that it’s important to our health and well-being that we achieve work life balance. The perspective is that working long hours or not escaping work on the weekend isn’t good for you. Being engaged at work is important to your overall well-being, but don’t be too engaged.  Find that balance. Nigel Marsh, author of “Management - 5 Tips for joy at workForty, Fat and Fired” and more recently, Fit, Fifty and Fired Up argues that work life balance is critical and that it is too important to leave up to employers. Things like dress down Fridays and flextime masks the essential challenge that some jobs or career choices are simply not ever going to be compatible with the demands of having a family and small children.

Marty Nemko, career coach, makes the case against work life balance. He asks the question, is what you’re doing with your time valuable? He argues that the concept that family is primary is only true in terms of the quality time you spend with them. Furthermore, he states that children benefit from having role models who value productivity and has gone so far as to say that working parents make better role models than stay at home parents.

No matter what perspective you bring, work and life should not be on a teeter-totter. Rather than treating them like competitive teams, we should see them as a marriage. There has to be give and take. Consider how much time you spend working.  Whether you are working from home or working at another location, you give over a vast majority of your time to that activity, so treating it as posing a conflict with your life means you are constantly at war with yourself.

Why wouldn’t we instead strive for the joy in work? Why not decide to look at all the time we spend at work as an opportunity to do something you love. Getting that attitude of joy in our work doesn’t always come naturally.  Sometimes it means you have to take steps to bring the joy back or use a few old tricks to get you on track. The following are some of the tricks I use.

Fake it until you make it: Sometimes you just have to fake yourself out. For anyone whose done a lot of phone work, you know that even though the person on the other end of the line can’t see you, if you smile, they will hear it in your voice. It seems our brains notice the physical even if our minds don’t mean it. So, be positive. Decide to smile and approach work as if you love it, eventually you may forget that you were faking it and start loving.  This works well in the short term but if the problems are deep, you may need to look to additional solutions.  `

Muscle your way through: This approach is essentially about grinning and bearing  it until you are past the bit you hate.  Sometimes projects come along or times of uncomfortable change and you need to just survive the worst of it. You may not be able to smile your way through or pretend that you’re enjoying it, but if a job is worth having it may be worth the effort of getting through the bad times. This is when you focus forward and think about your long term vision.

Find a pet project: This approach is really about reminding yourself why you wanted the job in the first place. Look at what it would take to make you happy and engaged and see if you can find a way to introduce that work to what you are doing. Understanding that you can’t always introduce new projects you might want to consider new approaches to doing your job.

Look at your skills: Since you can’t always control the projects you work on or even the approaches you use, consider your skills.  Are there basic skills that you can work on to achieve a different level of joy from your work or perhaps a job that will bring you more joy?  A writing course, an IT course or perhaps its about tweaking your organizational skills.

Take a walk: Sometimes taking a break gives you a new start on your work and you can come back and look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes a longer walk is required, like a good vacation. If that doesn’t work, consider a one-way walk out the door.  There are times when your work simply doesn’t fit you anymore. Just as getting the right cultural fit was important when you were hired it’s important to realize that both you and your organization can change and many incremental changes over time may mean the fit is no longer good enough.

What tricks do you have to keep the love of work present? Is there such a thing as work-life balance and do you even want it?

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