Often when we’re feeling bored or uninspired with work, our first response is to dream about a new job. But here’s the sad truth: even if you switched gigs, chances are excellent you’d soon start feeling just as unfulfilled and uninspired in your new job.
Often the problem isn’t really our jobs, which are, after all, jobs -- if they were all giggles and joy we wouldn't pay people to stick out the tough parts. The problem is our attitude and the universal human tendency to get complacent with the status quo.
There are important exceptions, of course. Flee abusive or toxic workplaces immediately. If you find a new role that will stretch your skills and teach your something new, dive right in. And a massive raise is nothing to sniff at either.
But if the problem is simply that the freshness has gone out of your gig and you’ve grown uninspired by your work, there are simple but powerful steps you can take to re-engage and start having fun again at work, insists London Business School professor Daniel M. Cable, the author of the new book Alive at Work. Kira M. Newman recently rounded up several of them for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Share your best self.
Is the problem with your work your dreary, moaning colleagues? It’s easy to get into a situation where a few employees’ bad attitude brings down the rest of the office with contagious complaining. Cable suggests a simple exercise to start to break this cycle of negativity. It’s called the Best Self Activity and here’s how Newman sums it up:
Try "telling a story about when you were at your best-;when you displayed the qualities that you most cherish." Alternately, share your impressions of your colleagues’ best qualities. Who could be surly after that?
It sounds simple, but Cable insists sharing some of the deepest and best parts of themselves helps people feel more authentic at work. "Afterward they tend to perform better, make fewer errors, and stay at the company longer," Newman notes.
2. Rewrite your job title.
Your boss might not allow you to put it on your business card or email signature, but even if it’s just in your head, a new label can bring new life to an old job. "What if your job title were 'Heralder of Happy News' or 'Duchess of Data'? Would that change the way you felt about work?” asks Newman. Research suggests that, goofy as it sounds, it might.
"This tiny shift can help you feel less emotionally exhausted even when your job is demanding, because it allows you to express your identity and feel more comfortable communicating with others," explains Newman. So go ahead and crown yourself "Aggravation Eliminator” rather than IT help desk guy. Chances are good you’ll not just crack yourself up, but also spotlight the fundamental impact that makes your work worth doing.
3. Shift your focus from performance to learning.
Every ambitious professional wants to do well at work, but a relentless focus on performance can be the high road to burnout.
"What if we approached work as a learning opportunity?" instead, muses Newman. "When we feel safe to play and experiment at work, we tend to be more intrinsically motivated and more resilient... And we don’t sacrifice the bottom line, either. For example, salespeople who focus on learning tend to sell even more than their counterparts who focus on achievement."
How do you make this shift? Instead of just setting performance goals, try to rephrase some of your targets in terms of learning and improvement to give yourself room to play.