How to Find Meaning at Work — Even When Your Job Feels Miserable

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It wakes you up in the middle of the night. Your palms sweat and your mind races. Toss, turn. Toss, turn. Until finally the alarm goes “bing!” and you face the source of this anxiety. What is filling you with dread? I know. The anticipation of going to work.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Studies suggest that many of you are gripped by more than just dread — you are actually walking into hazardous work conditions. Nearly one in five workers say they face a hostile or threatening work environment. Grim stuff, right? It does not have to be.

Even if you are not in a position to make sweeping change, you can take steps to lift this kind of workday dread.

It starts with taking micro-actions each day. These can add up to macro-level change — helping to create a kind and fulfilling workplace for yourself and the people around you.

Here is how to start:

Seek out meaning
Set aside time and write down what work makes you feel most satisfied. What tasks do you get lost in — the good kind of lost? Next, really think about the work you are doing and how it is helping your team reach its goals. If you feel like you are unclear on this, use what you have on your list so far as a conversation starter when asking your manager for guidance.

Support the team
A little team spirit goes a long way. Investing in the people around you, supporting them, and building them up will make the days more fulfilling. (And usually more fun.) After all, success is rarely achieved alone. It comes from connecting with your team and working towards something together. Our team at Aha! honors this through something we call “hatitude.” But whatever you call it, research shows that peer-to-peer recognition is proven to benefit employees and companies.

Grow your skills
Think about how you can proactively grow your skills — even if it means looking beyond your day-to-day duties. You might consider reaching out to cross-functional teams to learn more about what they do and how you could contribute. You could also talk to your company about learning opportunities. See if they would be willing to pay for you to take a class or attend a conference. This might not be in the budget, but you never know until you ask.

Look inward
Misery can be contagious. If you are bringing it to work with you each day, others will feel that and react with even more misery. So dig deep and really think about your own actions and attitude. How could you bring more kindness to the workplace? How can you replace negative behaviors, such as gossiping or complaining, with positive ones? Shifting your attitude will not just impact yourself but everyone around you.

Remember why
If all else fails, remember why you go to work each day. You might not feel invested in the role or company — but I bet you feel invested in your own life goals. Many of you are working so you can support your family, pay off debt, or save up for retirement. Some of you need to build experience in your field in order to land a more fulfilling role. On the days you feel truly dreadful, remind yourself how your job is helping you reach these kinds of goals.

Not every day is perfect and certainly no job is perfect. But no one should have to live in dread.

This is why I encourage you to focus on the areas of your day that you can control. Step by step, you can help build more meaning, growth, and happiness at work.

Over time you might find that you are waking up with less stress. And who knows — you might even start looking forward to the “bing!” of your alarm.

How do you build more meaning at work?

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