Published: 22 September 2021. Written by Marina Gask.
Finding it hard to summon up any enthusiasm for your job? Take some tips from careers that bring the greatest satisfaction and give your work-life wellbeing a boost.
‘Job satisfaction is all about feeling fulfilled and needed in your work,’ says Paula Gardner, business and careers psychologist at Scarlet Thinking. ‘It’s not the feeling of achievement from seeing your to-do list crossed off for the day. It’s about deep-down fulfilment and connection, which in turn leads to a boost in your physical health, immune system and, of course, mental health.’
‘Understanding and knowing your “emo-spatial” (emotional/spatial) needs will also determine how comfortable and satisfied you feel when working,’ says Laura Thomson, a workplace facilitator, Future World of Work consultant and co-host of the Secrets From A Coach podcast. ‘Are you someone who needs to feel fully connected and chat with your colleagues 24/7, or are you fine on your own as long as you can have a meaningful one-to-one when you need it and may therefore be happier working from home or in a hybrid work structure?’
Vitality’s Healthy Hybrid study in partnership with the RSA revealed that while only 16% of workers want to go back to working at a physical work location full time, a third anticipate this will be their employer’s expectation when lockdown rules allow.
Here are seven ways of working which could bring the most satisfaction – and some expert thoughts on how to incorporate the best bits of each into your work life.
Helping other people
Many of us are drawn to helping others and this is because one of our prime motivations as humans is to do work that gives us meaning in our lives. In fact, research shows that altruistic behaviour is associated with better health and a longer life expectancy, and a Hungarian study confirmed that helping and supporting colleagues enhances wellbeing. Using our skills to make others’ lives better can give us instant, meaningful feedback in the shape of someone saying “thank you”, or knowing you’ve made a difference to their life,’ says Gardner. Even if you are a small part of a chain, it’s important to acknowledge the pleasure of helping others.
If helping people isn’t part of your role you can volunteer within your workplace to become a mental health first aider following a one- or two-day course. Off the clock you can visit NCVO to find opportunities to volunteer at a food bank, shop for an elderly or isolated neighbour or help with environmental projects near you, and get that much-needed sense of doing something meaningful.
‘Humans are created to solve problems – it’s how we have evolved and a driving part of what keeps us going – think of all the work on the various vaccines over the last 18 months,’ says Gardner. ‘Roles that involve coming up with solutions to problems (the more complex and challenging the better) fulfil this deep need. However, we also need recognition for our contributions too, so if you are in an environment where solutions and answers go unnoticed and unrecognised then this may well negate that.’ Let your boss know you need feedback – or find a role where recognition is built in.
‘One of the things that gives a solutions-focussed worker a buzz is being able to see the sum of the parts and help to shape the future,’ says Thomson. ‘Having a big-picture perspective over all the little pieces of the puzzle is exciting and empowering. Transferring that to the role you have, understand that you’re part of the chain of events in your work. Think about the bigger picture rather than just the limited series of tasks that you have to complete.’
To enhance that bigger-picture feeling, get involved in organising charity and sports events that link people over and above their tiny team and if your company has a culture-steering team or company council, make sure you’re on it. If your need to solve problems isn’t satisfied in your job, try apps like Lumosity and Clockwork Brain Training to challenge your brain to find solutions.
Having more contact with animals
We all know that being around animals makes us feel good – meaning people who work with animals get that boost all day. However, even having an animal in your workspace can help. A study by the Open University revealed that getting an office cat or dog could reduce your stress levels and boost your productivity. According to a study in France by Wamiz, eight out of 10 employees say that animals in the office have a positive impact on their work.
‘Many of my clients have reported higher satisfaction working from home, just because their pets were around them,’ says Gardner. ‘Having an office dog or cat to feed, walk or play with also creates bonding over their care, and can add structure to the day.’ If you work from home or your office has a fur-friendly policy, consider getting a pet – alternatively, contact Borrow My Doggy to find local pooches to look after on a temporary basis.
Harnessing your creativity
‘A driving motivation of humans is to entertain and teach,’ explains Gardner. ‘We used to do this via cave paintings, and now we can use multimedia. There is a definite feeling of achievement in creating a story or a concept. If this can be linked to something meaningful, then satisfaction will be increased even more.’
When tasked with improving workflow results or practices in your job, put some effort into brainstorming and thinking outside the box. Employees may sometimes feel too intimidated to make creative suggestions publicly when their role doesn’t require it. An anonymous suggestion box either digitally or in the workplace removes social barriers by providing employees with the ability to share their ideas anonymously.
One study from Stanford University, California, found that walking has a positive benefit on creative thinking, so walk to work or get outside in your lunch hour. ‘You might get your best ideas during your morning walk rather than during an hour-long work brainstorm. So find opportunities to get creative and carve out thinking time. Creative types tend to benefit from flexible hours rather than working between nine and five.’
Spending time in nature
Connecting with nature is essential to our wellbeing and our ability to be productive. Incorporating elements of nature into work environments can reduce stress, enhance creativity, boost positivity and increase productivity.
But you don’t need to become a farmer or conservation officer to get these benefits. Taking a laptop into a park or garden can give some of the same effect. Even walking to work or getting outside in your lunch hour can enhance this feeling. One Finnish study found that city dwellers who strolled for as little as 20 minutes through an urban park or woodland reported more stress relief than those who walked in a city centre. Other research showed that simply having plants in the office could also make a difference.
Switch things up
While it might seem daunting, especially as we get older, research revealed that 82% of adults over the age of 45 who make a career change are ultimately successful. But while the numbers show that a shift is possible and that the life you’re living now doesn’t dictate your potential, neuroscientists have revealed that change registers in the brain in the same way as failure. Translation: change is scary! But with the numbers showing that over half of the UK workers surveyed are unhappy in their jobs and the ONS announcing earlier this month that job vacancies have hit a record high post-lockdown, there’s never been a better time to get out there and find career 2.0.
While you may think that improving on weaknesses is the key to moving forward, studies show that they are not as malleable as you might think – and focussing on them won’t be as fulfilling as trying to bolster your strengths. Try to think back to what you were doing in your career when you felt most successful or were happiest. Not sure? You’re not alone. Research shows that we all have blind spots about ourselves – so it’s important to ask your nearest and dearest the same thing.
Being more sociable
Social psychologists have found a sense of belonging is a very powerful motivator. Research has revealed that 89% of employees say that work relationships are important for an employee’s overall quality of life. The study also showed that even one friendship in the office can strengthen your connection with the organisation as a whole. Science has pointed to the cognitive benefits of engaging in even a small amount of workplace socialising – and the more you interact with colleagues the more productive you’ll be.
‘The need for connection cannot be overridden and even the most introverted person will get some benefits from having to interact, elucidate their thoughts into words and think of others,’ says Gardner.
Research by Ohio State University came to the conclusion that managers should consider non-mandatory social events and team-building exercises outside of the workplace that encourage friendships. On a daily basis, socialising can be just a chat with a co-worker in the kitchen while you make coffee, engaging in team-building exercises or organising the company quiz. If you’ve been working from home for months and now have the chance to return to the office, take it. While Teams and Slack are useful tools, connecting in real life and sharing the highs and lows of the working day cannot be beaten.
If you’re feeling unhappy or unsettled at work, Vitality offers mental health support with private health insurance. If you’re a Vitality health insurance member, log into Member Zone to access the mental health hub.