6 Ways to Make Your Job More Fulfilling
This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.
How much satisfaction do you get from your job?
If you’re like most people, your answer to that question depends at least in part on how meaningful your work is. There are many sources of meaning at work, and they’re different for each of us. Some find meaning in working for a cause they believe in; others find it in making processes run well or building their skills. These suggestions can help you connect with what matters to you and discover (or rediscover) how to make your time at work more fulfilling.
1. Change something that bugs you.
You’re fed up with a haphazard process for responding to customer complaints. Or with a peer’s habit of shutting down your ideas in departmental meetings. Or with so much perfectly good food getting tossed after catered events when some people in your community don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
It’s easy to think you don’t have the time or the power to fix a workplace irritant. But you might be surprised by what can happen when you focus energy on changing something. Even small victories feel good.
- List your pet peeves. They could be anything that adds friction to your workday: a process that takes too long, a policy that’s too complicated, or a co-worker’s disrespectful habit.
- Pick one to focus on. Consider how much time it might take to fix, how much you and others stand to gain by addressing the issue, and the resources you need.
- Envision a solution and potential ways to get there. Ask yourself, What would “better” look like? What steps might be involved in getting there? How could I measure progress? If you need help, enlist a trusted colleague or friend.
- Block time in your calendar to take the first step. Doing so will help ensure that you actually follow through.
You’ll probably hit roadblocks — there’s a reason that the problem hasn’t already been fixed. Instead of feeling defeated, reflect on what you learned, congratulate yourself for trying your best, and celebrate the progress you made. Making progress on something feels amazing. And it makes you look good to higher-ups, who tend to recognize proactive problem-solvers as real leaders, and to colleagues who may have been bugged by the same thing and appreciate your attempt to help.
2. Connect directly with customers or end users.
As you go about your day-to-day business, it is easy to forget the impact your organization’s work has on people. You don’t get to hear them rave about the delicious salad dressing your company makes or watch them easily schedule a dentist appointment using the software you helped build. And as you progress in your career, you may move further away from your customers — instead of chatting with people at the cash register, you’re reviewing reports at corporate headquarters.
Observing or communicating directly with those your organization serves can shine a light on the difference your work makes and spark new ideas. For a fresh injection of inspiration, you might:
- Visit a store or field office where your company interacts with customers.
- Ask colleagues who work directly with customers if you can accompany them to a client meeting or sit in on a call. If not, talk with your colleagues about what they’ve seen and heard.
- Attend a conference (in person or virtually) where clients and potential clients congregate. Mingle with them to get a feel for their daily challenges and their experiences with your company or competitors.
- Follow clients and customers on social media and sign up for newsletters that cater to them.
- Build a customer feedback mechanism (such as a survey) into a product you’re involved in.
- Catch up with your organization’s marketing department. They may be able to share videos or written case studies of customer success stories, “personas” or profiles that depict various customer types, or customer survey results. If they’ve got focus groups scheduled, ask if you can observe.
3. Cultivate a workplace friendship.
Surveys show that people with strong social connections at work perform better. But that’s not the only reason to initiate or strengthen a workplace friendship: Over time, small doses of connection and camaraderie — lunchtime banter, sharing photos and memes, offering words of encouragement when you’re having a bad day — add up to a steady source of fulfillment. One customer success manager told us how she reached out to a peer in sales to schedule a regular breakfast chat. They informally swapped ideas and got to know each other better as they scarfed down pastries. Six months later, they had implemented some of their ideas — and cultivated a friendship that made work a lot more fun for them both.
Who’s someone in your company you’d like to get to know better? Invite them to coffee or lunch (virtual or in person, depending on your situation). If you both find it fruitful, consider setting a recurring get-together. And if it doesn’t work out, reach out to someone else — perhaps a newer employee who might be particularly open to forging ties with colleagues.
4. Identify and pursue a new learning goal.
Feeling bored lately? Maybe you haven’t learned something new in a while. Everyone has a deep-seated need to keep learning and growing. When we stop, we stagnate.
You don’t need to change roles, sign up for a class, attend a conference, or hire a coach — although those are perfectly viable ways to learn, and many organizations provide resources for employees to pursue them. Opportunities may be hiding in plain sight. You might:
- Contact colleagues who are experts in areas you’re interested in. Maybe they’re the go-to source for troubleshooting certain software or their job focuses on writing, a skill that you’d like to improve. Express your curiosity and ask for their advice or books or podcasts to check out. Report back to them after trying out their advice. See where the relationship goes. Who knows — you could even strike up an informal mentorship.
- Join and contribute to an employee resource group, a committee, or a project with another team. This may provide you with the opportunity to learn about an issue, practice new skills, and make personal connections.
5. Find ways to live your values at work.
“Live your values” sounds grandiose. But much of life is made up of small gestures and actions. Centering the everyday things you do on the principles that you aspire to is a realistic and effective way to feel more satisfied with how you go about your work.
For example, maybe you’re big on reducing waste, so you recommend that the company place trash cans in communal areas instead of putting one under every employee’s desk (a tactic known to cut down on corporate landfill). Or maybe you believe in owning and learning from mistakes, so you make a habit of openly sharing some of yours with colleagues — and reacting to theirs with compassion and curiosity, not judgment.
For some people, a job is a way to take care of the basics so that they’re free to live their values outside of work — for example, by volunteering for a cause they believe in or caring for a family member in need. If that’s the case for you, making work meaningful might involve setting clear boundaries that allow you to devote time away from work to what’s most important to you.
6. Express appreciation genuinely and frequently.
Studies show that thank-yous at work aren’t common enough (and employees wish they were). Less frequently discussed is that letting your team and colleagues know you value them also may boost your happiness. It can be a surprisingly effective way to counteract stress, remind yourself of the good things happening around you, and strengthen your connection to others.
Your appreciation will be more fulfilling to you and others if you put thought into people’s preferences and personalize what you share. For example, instead of a mass email congratulating your whole project team on a recent win, consider how your colleagues like to be praised (e.g., 1-on-1 or in public, in writing or verbally); what each person contributed that you’re thankful for; and the specific impact of their work. Apply this approach on an individual level and the burst of joy it provides may surprise you.