Still Hating Our Jobs

still hate our jobs

Written by Todd Putman and Lori Sparger

Well, nothing has changed. We all still hate our jobs.

Wait, that’s not quite right. A third of us are engaged at work. We love our jobs. But the other two-thirds, according to the most recent State of the American Workplace from the Gallup organization, are “actively disengaged” (16%) or “just there” (51%). Wow.

That’s a resounding vote of no-confidence in our current management practices. “The very practice of management no longer works,” says Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. He calls for “transforming workplace culture.” Embracing purpose and identifying employee skills, “strengths” in Clifton’s nomenclature, are solid goals.

The needle hasn’t really moved since Gallup’s earlier 2013 workplace survey. Sure, engagement has increased. It catapulted from 30% to 33%. But, not exactly time to put up our feet and celebrate. In fact, it’s time for something else. It’s time to recognize that levels of employee engagement are not exclusively an issue for leadership. It’s time to empower employees to take an active role in moving the needle themselves.

Some of the happiest, most successful people have the ability to move that needle. They share one special quality that helps them do it. It’s not a certain expertise or singular personality trait. It is an uncommon and very purposeful alignment of their exceptional skills, the values that guide their actions and true passions. When we see people who are driven and have a love for what they are doing these three areas—skills, values, and passion—intersect.

These people have an abiding belief in their work and a commitment to doing it at a high level. Sure, it’s work. But they don’t act like it, and they don’t talk about it that way. These are the highly engaged employees in Gallup’s survey. And it’s not simply because of their exceptional managers that they have reached this point. It’s because they have found a balance that empowers them.

And here’s the most important thing. Anyone with self-awareness and commitment can aim for that target, for their own intersection. It’s not particularly hard to align your skills, values, and passions. By developing the self-awareness to recognize those areas in yourself, what you love is what you could be doing every day if you have the clarity to recognize it and the imagination to envision it.

Let the companies keep working to define their purpose and to improve workplace culture. That’s all good. But to really move the needle on employee engagement, it’s time for employees to define themselves first. It’s time to say who you are and what you want and then embrace the job that empowers those things. It’s time to control your own destiny rather than leave it in the hands of the organization.

Working toward something beyond our reach is what people are programmed to do. It’s in our DNA. It’s why we explore. It’s why we discover. It’s why we ask why. The siren song of the unknown, the yet-to-be-experienced, that’s what inspires innovation, creativity, and progress. That’s what makes good great. And great is something we all have the capacity to be when we engage with the work in front of us.

We don’t really all hate work, not even the unengaged two-thirds of us. We just need to develop the self-awareness to position ourselves to do the exceptional work that matters to us.

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