You’ve likely seen the life formula:
Happiness = Reality – Expectations
If you’re unhappy at work, the implication is clear — the reality of your job has turned out to be different or worse than what you expected when you landed it, filled with happy thoughts of potential. As you spent time in the job, many things shaped your reality. Priorities shifted, budgets were cut, org charts reshuffled, workloads increased — plenty of things happened that were out of your control. And when we think our job sucks, we usually also think we need to go elsewhere to make things better.
But what if a company change isn’t truly possible or honestly desired?
The phenomenon of “quiet quitting” has gotten a lot of press lately. Gallup’s 2023 “State of the Global Workplace” poll indicated that six in ten employees have psychologically disengaged from their jobs. Doing the bare minimum is a sure sign that someone no longer expects to find satisfaction at work; but making improvements is in our control if we approach change with a growth mindset.
Here are six tips on how to increase your own satisfaction without leaving the firm:
1. Understand the root causes. You may have some obvious problems and complaints, but do you really understand what lies beneath your discontent? Start with an internal assessment — if you feel bored or unhappy with your job, look carefully at the dynamics, and try to understand what’s driving those feelings. For example, it could be a lack of control over your schedule or using only outmoded skills.
It helps to gather data and be as specific as possible. Talking with a career coach or trusted advisor can help you articulate the nature of the problem; journaling is a more private approach. I also recommend the exercises in the books Designing Your Life (Good Time Journal) and Designing Your Work Life (Good Work Journal). Each asks you to log daily activities for several weeks and analyze that data for patterns and meaning.
Reflection is meant to help you better define the problem and reframe it so you can see new possibilities and solutions.
2. Face workload issues head-on. Don’t wait for higher ups to assign all your work, instead take the initiative to be responsible for the projects and assignments best aligned to your potential. This is particularly true if you have a new manager (demonstrate your helpfulness) or are in a declining environment where layoffs have occurred and/or expected in the future (demonstrate that you’re essential).
Likewise, if you’re over-loaded and burned out, you may need to set boundaries; this means initiating clear, direct communication about priorities, timelines and scope of work; ensure that you have agreement about what you can realistically achieve.
3. Get involved and gain visibility. Consider putting your hand up for challenging or stretch projects, things that will grow your skills and help you gain momentum and credibility. To do this successfully, it means embracing the fact that internal networking is as essential as networking outside your organization. Successful internal networking recognizes that everyone has varying degrees of authority and influence. “Influence that matters acts on the people with the authority who are making decisions, often by providing an informed opinion on the pros and cons of the decision in question,” say the DYL authors in Designing Your Work Life. Getting ahead means working both with and around the formal org chart, developing relationships with those who have influence who willingly advocate for you.
4. Lodge complaints skillfully. If you have legitimate grievances, consider how best to air them and, equally important, bring ideas for solutions with you. It might help to visualize a role reversal — if YOU oversaw this project (department, etc.), how would YOU handle the problems? Generating ideas for solutions demonstrates both your creativity and your desire to make the organization better.
5. Take charge of your personal development. Volunteer for things outside your typical role, things that might also serve your ancillary interests (example: volunteering to organize and lead a roundtable on women’s leadership development). Seek out more training, certifications, industry knowledge/connections and other skill-building activities. When you consider your accomplishments, include “what have I learned?” as a key benchmark of growth.
6. Balance personal to professional. Volunteer outside your organization for causes where you have strong interest; even in a very busy schedule, making the time to pursue your personal passions can give you perspective on the world beyond your current job.
Increasing your job satisfaction is possible if you carefully examine your personal drivers of satisfaction, reframe your expectations, and begin making deliberate changes to gradually reshape reality into what you want.