At a time when there are five people searching for every job opening and the Stress in America survey shows that concerns over job stability are on the rise (stressinamerica.org), one can imagine that many people show up at work these days wishing for a change but feeling content just to have a job at all.
A major source of stress on the job is "low control," so if workers also feel low control over their very work lives, the stress could feel overwhelming. Years ago, I studied career change following job loss, and not too surprisingly I learned that people who coped best with job loss had already begun to consider their next career move prior to the layoff. And although I still believe it is smart to plan ahead or to let trusted friends know if you'd like to make a change, a reasonable place to start in these uncertain times is to increase your current satisfaction at work.
Within the field of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman has written about three kinds of happiness — pleasure, engagement and meaning. Consider ways you might increase work satisfaction using these three types of happiness.
Assuming most unhappy workers are not able to negotiate a change in work tasks in order to increase pleasure, one might have to consider more personal means of increasing pleasure on the job. People experience pleasure differently, but consider these ideas as a starting point to devise changes of your own:
* Share a laugh with your co-workers, whether it be a story from the weekend or a cartoon from the paper.
* Plan breaks with people you enjoy or use lunch to enjoy a favorite meal (or both).
* Can you listen to music at work? If so, why not bring in your favorite tunes?
In addition to increasing pleasure, the acts of taking breaks, sharing a laugh and listening to music are all great stress-reducers. You might have to try a variety of ideas, but be persistent until you see some benefit.
In order to raise engagement at work, it might help to examine the ways you feel a sense of accomplishment there. You are likely to find your skills and interests play a part in your accomplishments, so ask yourself:
* Is there a way to match my strengths and interests with a need in the organization right now?
* Can I increase engagement by focusing on the needs of a customer, by changing my style on the phone, or by setting personal performance goals?
* Can I offer a solution to an everyday problem that never seems to get solved?
As with pleasure, these questions might not increase your particular sense of engagement, but if you persist, you might reach manageable goals that help you move past the status quo.
We find different causes or missions that draw us to give of ourselves in meaningful ways, but for many, the workplace does not provide that sense of mission. Again, try to shift the focus to something you do have control over. For instance:
* Remind yourself of the overarching goal of the company and of the role you play in accomplishing that mission.
* More practically, if your organization sponsors volunteer activities or fundraisers, look for a way to serve in such situations as a way to increase meaning at work.
* Ask yourself if others are also dissatisfied at work, and look for ways to improve their experience on occasion.
The term in Positive Psychology for the convergence of pleasure, engagement, and meaning is "living the full life." If you try to live the full life at work, dreams about your next job might begin to pale in comparison.