Here are ways to make the most out of a less-than-perfect job

Emilee Geist

If you’ve smacked into a plateau, you’re not alone. According to research published by Gallup last fall, only 40 percent of American workers said they’re in good jobs. Add the pandemic to the mix, and things have only gotten worse. A poll by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at […]

If you’ve smacked into a plateau, you’re not alone. According to research published by Gallup last fall, only 40 percent of American workers said they’re in good jobs.

Add the pandemic to the mix, and things have only gotten worse. A poll by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, an independent nonpartisan research institution, in June revealed that only 14 percent of Americans are happy — a five-decade low.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. These authors weigh in on how you can make the most out of a ho-hum role to not only survive, but thrive, even in a so-called dead-end job.

Define joy, find meaning

Carson Tate, author of “Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job” (McGraw-Hill Education, out Oct. 6), said employees should identify what they need to be more fulfilled, stimulated and joyful at work. “Change starts with you. But first, you must know what you want,” she said.

In Tate’s research and work with clients, she identified five ways to channel your energy in order to love your job and design it to find meaning in your work:

• Acknowledge and ask for the recognition and appreciation due to you
• Align your strengths and skills to support the accomplishment of your company’s goals
• Organize your work in a way that aligns with your life and the goals of the company
• Develop knowledge and skills that motivate and inspire you and can advance your career
• Cultivate authentic relationships with the team
“You can find your worth in your work through your interactions with other people by being on a team united around a common purpose or expressing common values and beliefs,” said Tate. “Substance can be found in the context or nature of the work, the tasks you perform, the organization’s mission or commitment to the environment, sustainability or community service.”

Work it

Make a list of what you would like to get out of your employment, said Gorick Ng, author of “The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career off Right” (Harvard Business Review Press, out April 2021).

“What types of people do you want to meet?” he said. “What skills do you want to build? What topics do you want to learn about? What do you want to be able to put on your resume? The better idea of what you want, the more effectively you can pounce on opportunities.”

Learn as much as you can

Every job has growth opportunities.

“You can learn through training courses, coaching, job shadowing, mentoring, and from observing others,” Tate said. “And do not discount the learnings that can occur when you witness ineffective or unproductive behaviors. Knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do.”

Volunteer and expand

One of Tate’s clients wanted to support women in her organization by becoming a mentor, but it was outside her responsibilities. So, she contacted the chair running the internal women’s group. Tate says that this was smart.

“Ask yourself, who do you want to connect with to create an opportunity for more significance in your work? Or who do you want to connect with who has a skill you want, or has a position in your company you want to have?”

Network internally

An internship early in her retail career proved to be a savvy move for Hilary Jane Grosskopf, leadership strategist and author of “Awake Apprentice: A System for Transforming Your Job Into a Creative Career” (Awake Solutions Press). But after a busy year, her manager abruptly stopped giving her new projects. “I was frustrated,” she said.

Grosskopf initiated lunch plans with co-workers from other departments. “I asked if they needed help with their tasks and projects. I ended up making a lot of new connections and gaining new experience.”

Ultimately, Grosskopf met her future manager who hired her for a higher-level position.

Exceed expectations

“The most important thing anyone can take from their job is the sense of having made a difference,” said Gary Hamel, author of “Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them” (Harvard Business Review Press).

“Commit yourself to exceed expectations. Others will notice, but even if they don’t, being exceptional is its own reward.”

Care about co-workers ​

“The key to any relationship is empathy,” said Hamel. When you have a one-on-one online conversation, ask your colleague, “How are you doing? Be patient. Let them unload. Listen intently. The crisis has imposed incredible burdens, and we can’t bear them alone. All of us remember the people who were there for us during difficult times. You can be that person . . . perhaps the actual job isn’t fulfilling, but employees can compensate in other ways by having deep, robust professional relationships.”

Focus on the destination

Ng recommends thinking about your situation as your own hero’s journey. What quest are you on? “What does success look like a year from now? Five years from now? Ten?” said Ng. “Double down on the things that are propelling you toward your destination.”

Chalk it up to experience

Jonas Altman, author of “Shapers: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change the Future” (Wiley), said that regardless of the type of job, it does provide two essential things.

“One is the means of survival (food, clothing, shelter) . . . But the second is a lesson: Performing this kind of job teaches someone that they’ll do whatever they can to never hold a similar one again. Dignity is something we desire.”

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