If we’re bored and burnt out, how realistic is it to find joy at work?

If pizza lunches, ping pong tables and office drinks aren’t the answer, what is? And should we even be searching for it?

In their lifetime, the average person will spend more than 84,365 hours at work. That’s a hell of a lot of time, so it’s no wonder that improving workplace wellness and employee satisfaction is a business worth over £48 billion, and counting.

The way we feel about our careers has never been more conflicted. We’re more ambitious than ever, but after the uncertainty of the pandemic, amid an ongoing cost of living crisis and with the rise of trends like quiet quitting and rage applying, it feels like most of us are at a crossroads with how it comes to work. We might be fulfilled by certain aspects and enjoy the day-to-day on the whole, but we also have deep-rooted complaints that corporate pizza lunches, ping pong tables and office drinks won’t fix.

While globally, 74% of workers claim to be satisfied with their jobs, according to a recent UK YouGov poll just 17% of British workers say they love their job. More than 76% of workers are frequently tired, and one-third of all employees in the UK – almost 10 million people – feel undervalued at work.

But the real question isn’t how we can find more joy and happiness at work, but whether we should even be striving for it in the first place. 

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According to Dr Jonathan Lord, a senior lecturer in human resources management and employment law at University of Salford Business School, the current workplace trends suggest that joy and work aren’t really that compatible.

“Job satisfaction has historically been heavily linked with younger workers. But post-Covid, things have changed in the workplace, with the trend of quiet quitting becoming increasingly prevalent,” he tells Stylist. “Disengaged employees who are psychologically unattached to their work and organisation are understandable, especially in a modern world.”

More and more, employees are reporting that they struggle to make friends at work, are burnt out, under-stimulated and are rejecting hustle culture. In comparison, a recent Gallup survey found that autonomy, influence and a sense of meaning are all factors associated with lower stress and fewer work-related illnesses, regardless of how many hours we’ve worked.

How to find more joy at work

For Dr Lord, the key is finding the right job, not simply picking up a salary while doing the bare minimum in an undervalued role. However, he acknowledges that this is being made increasingly more difficult, resulting in people being stuck in jobs they struggle to find joy in. If the Great Resignation taught us anything, it’s that drastic decisions don’t always work out in our favour.

Indeed, even if we can afford to change careers, jumping ship fails to address the real issue that can manifest from one job to another after a short period. As he explains, this lack of joy in work can be put down to factors such as someone’s mood outside of work, their inability to speak up about what they want, poor communication with co-workers and a lack of motivation.

So where does it leave those of us who are still striving for greater career satisfaction?

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“Something needs to change, but is the answer really to quietly quit?” asks Dr Lord.“Sometimes the best solution is to actively address burnout and job dissatisfaction properly, not through disengagement and minimal work input. Maybe work has never been all that joyous, but a key element driving quiet quitting is that many people are tired of stressing about work.”

While it is difficult to control your wellbeing at work, Lord suggests focusing on more honest conversations in the workplace. “A recent study from SHRM found that 59% of people credit communication as the driving factor for an improvement in workplace culture,” he adds.

And if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by negative judgments or criticism you receive at work, it’s important to set boundaries and construct your own acceptable standards.

As Lord says: take the laughs and moments of light relief when and where they come and know that you can still influence the culture in your organisation, feel more at ease and develop a greater capacity for thriving.

Images: Getty

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