4-Part Mini-Series: Work Fulfillment
Whose “Job” is it?
I feel fortunate that I cannot think of a time in my career when I did not look forward to going to work. Surely, some days were more challenging than others. But, overall, I have always had a passion for the work I do; enjoyed collaborating with others; and felt grateful for the opportunities to bring knowledge and add value to the teams and organizations I joined. Little did I know I’d be writing about fulfillment years later.
“Real fulfillment comes from within,” according to a study by PwC. According to its findings, 82% of employees believe it is their own responsibility to determine how to make work more meaningful for themselves. In fact, 42% reported that they are their own greatest barrier to finding fulfillment at work, as compared to senior leadership (31%), their teammates (11%) and manager (16%). These findings support the notion that, while organizations (Part I) and managers (Part II) play a large role in helping us find meaning and fulfillment at work, it is our “job” to make it happen.
“Success without fulfillment is failure.”
~ Tony Robbins
Focus on the “Why”
Interestingly, gaining meaning and fulfillment is less about “what” you are doing, or where you are doing it; it’s more about “why” you are doing it.
Millennials are great at this. It’s as if they know from birth that they will choose a career path that aligns with what matters most to them. This is in contrast to most baby boomers who entered the corporate world thinking this was the path they were supposed to take, or perhaps, it was the only one they knew existed. However, baby boomers have started and continue to recognize the value of aligning their work with what matters most to them and that it likely changes at different stages of life. The answer to the question “Why am I doing this” or “what impact will this make” is what drives meaning and fulfillment and is a contributing factor to why more and more loyal corporate citizens are leaving their corporate life in pursuit of a career that is more aligned with their core values or passion, or that enables them to find meaning and fulfillment from other sources, perhaps simultaneously to doing the same or similar work.
Research has taught us that it is not just the external, visible and tangible motivators (e.g., money, promotion, title) that increase meaning and fulfillment. In fact, employees are willing to forego almost one-quarter of their entire future earnings if they are promised a meaningful job for the rest of their working lives (HBR, 2018). A few of my colleagues have taken new roles that offer greater challenge, learning and development, and opportunities to make an impact – therefore, greater levels of meaning and fulfillment - despite equal or lower pay than their current job.
Career: Work that utilizes strengths and provides learning and development opportunities
Community: Feeling valued, cared for and connected to others
Cause: Having a meaningful impact by the work you do
How Can You Find Greater Meaning and Fulfillment?
Career: Think back to why you were hired by your present company. As a candidate, you demonstrated strengths which differentiated you from others. It’s reasonable to expect that you still have those same skills today. By now, you may have developed them even further and possibly even developed new skills. What we know for sure is that “there’s no quicker path to workplace boredom than feeling like you’re not using your full potential.” (Forbes, 2018)
I recently had an individual contact me who said she needed help looking for a new job. She told me she wasn’t getting promotions or pay increases she deserved. She continued by saying that she was bored. There it was – the real reason she was calling. She is now a client. Together, we are exploring her values, motivations, interests and aspirations, all as input into exploration of potential career paths and her next job.
What can you do to find greater fulfillment?
Play to Your Strengths. Look for projects, cross-functional teams or other opportunities where you can offer your expertise. They may be in in your department, another business or in a centralized function for the organization as a whole. Your manager may have ideas as well, so don’t shy away from talking openly with them. Be proactive. What’s the downside?
Work Towards Your Professional Development Objectives. Opportunities for challenging, meaningful learning experiences that lead to your growth and development will enhance your feeling of fulfillment. What are your professional goals and what skills do you need to further develop for you to be successful? Explore development options, both internally and externally, and their associated costs.
It’s possible that you will find support at work for at least one of the options. Talk to your manager. Certainly, the greater alignment between your professional and work-related development objectives, the greater likelihood of getting a thumbs up from your manager.
It’s worth a try.
With that said, consider what you can do yourself, at work or on your time. There are many ways to develop, formally and informally, many at a low and no cost. Invest in yourself. You are worth it.
Seek Out a Mentor. Mentors can be a good source of development. Carefully select a mentor who is equipped to provide guidance. A mentor can provide you with career guidance; help you navigate a challenging situation; share knowledge in their area of expertise, and more. It is up to you to find the right mentor for what you are looking to develop and to build and maintain a strong, ongoing relationship with them.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already
mastered, you will never grow.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Community. Being part of a ‘Community’ – feeling connected to, valued and cared for by others, has been shown to increase meaning and fulfillment at work. Experiences with people who do not make us feel valued or cared for does just the opposite.
Build Positive Professional Relationships. BetterUp found that nearly 80% of survey respondents would forego a 20% pay increase if it meant having a manager who cared that they find meaning and success at work.
Let’s consider something we can all relate to – meetings. Have you ever had recurring meetings scheduled with your manager that they either repeatedly cancelled or were late for? It’s possible that did not make you feel as valued or that your work was as meaningful as what was keeping them from yours.
One of the companies I worked for lived by their strong values related to community, relationships, collaboration, teamwork, and respect. In support of this, a ‘no tolerance’ policy for meetings was put into place. Laminated signs stood visibly at the center of the table in each conference room listing a set of meeting guidelines. A meeting would be immediately cancelled if all those invited were not present at the time the meeting was scheduled to begin or if any one of the attendees did not the meeting objectives. For those who were on time and prepared for the meeting, these behaviors did not make them feel valued or that their relationships mattered, and interfered with the ‘community’ that was being built.
With a greater sense of community, belonging and connection to others comes greater
meaning and fulfillment. Be proactive in building positive relationships. You can do so by having
two-way conversations, actively listening, be respectful of others and showing them their value.
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
~ H.E. Luccock
Cause: Individuals who believe that their work is meaningful and that it makes an impact are 52 percent more likely to feel fulfilled at work than those who do not. Below are some ways you can make an impact at work and, as a result, feel more fulfilled:
Shift Your Mindset. Have you ever worked very hard on a project, a paper or presentation, an innovation, or anything of significance, that was a huge success – and did not receive any credit for it? Remember, what you worked hard on is “what” you did. The key to finding meaning and fulfillment is to focus on the meaningful impact your work has. Once you shift your mindset to “why” that project was being done, you will no longer have the need for public recognition or any other external validating factor.
Understand Your Purpose. Many people talk about their purpose - contributing to something bigger than themselves. Purpose helps you overcome obstacles, persevere through challenges and serves as your “north star”, keeping you on track and engaged. If you don’t yet know what your purpose is, it’s a great time to create one.
Toot Your Horn, Regularly. By doing this, you are not looking for validation. You are reminding yourself of the things you’ve accomplished and most, importantly, taking stock in the impact you have made. Sometimes it really does take hearing yourself say your contributions aloud for their significance to truly sink in. If someone else happens to hear you, well, that’s not so bad either.
Review Your Work Accomplishments Each Week. Taking the above a step further, listing your accomplishments at the end of each week is a routine that will push you to reflect on the things that went well and the things that didn’t go as well as you would have liked. By doing this, you will identify improvements you can make going forward and can plan for how you will make them. Making even small changes can create great value and have a large effect on the impact you can make. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, learn from it and do it even better the next time.
It’s Time for You to Take Action – It’s Your “Job”!
You now have a variety of suggestions to help you gain meaning and fulfillment at work. Now, it’s up to you. So, get started – greater meaning and fulfillment awaits you.
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
~ John Wooden
Seek projects, cross-functional teams or other opportunities where you can utilize your strengths.
Invest in your learning and development by creating and executing a Professional Development Plan.
Find a mentor to help you grow.
Build relationships that foster community.
Shift your focus from the “what” and “how” of your work to the “why”.
Create your purpose – your north star – to stay on track.
Review your accomplishments weekly to remember all you have done and the impact you have made.
If you are
Searching for meaning and fulfillment at work, or
Preparing for or engaged in a career change or job search,
Together, we will build a strategy and action plan to achieve your goals, build your skills and more!