Roughly twice as many workers today report being “actively disengaged” versus “actively engaged”. The idea of “work-life balance” suggests that, if we simply work less, we will be more happy. But it’s likely that if we feel drained by our work, there is also some kind of misalignment. There are 7 common culprits for this widespread workplace anomie.
Figuring out which one (or ones) of these issues is the primary source of suffering for you might offer you some clues. This awareness can help guide your next steps — it’s possible that only a minor adjustment is needed, or maybe a major overhaul to your work-life is overdue.
1. Dead end street
Have you stopped learning and growing? Maybe you have enjoyed some success in your career and you have moved up the ladder fairly quickly. You are great at your job and you do it well -- better than most. You have a level of mastery, so your job duties are not stressful. The issue is that now, you can’t see anywhere to go from here. You don’t have good mentors. Maybe you look up at the senior leadership of your company, and you have no idea how you get there, or you’re not even sure you want to. It doesn’t matter whether it’s because there’s a glass ceiling or because growth is stagnating in your industry, there simply aren’t opportunities for you to spread your wings, to experiment and expand your skills.
2. Impact frustration
You're putting in a lot of effort, investing your heart and soul in a business, a project or a cause. And it's not that the people around you are slacking on the job either. But you are simply not seeing the kind of results that you'd like to see. This could stem from a variety of root causes, ranging from poor organization structure to inefficient decision processes to a lack of accountability. But it all leads down the same wasteful stream, where tons of time, talent and resources are expended, achieving little to no impact, This can be maddening if you care about making a difference, and will eventually lead you to burnout.
3. Not your tribe
Even if we work only a standard 40-hour work week, we spend an inordinate amount of our waking hours at work. In fact, we probably spend more time with our colleagues than we spend with our family members. It could be that the people and the culture of your company don’t fit you well. You don’t have to go out drinking with your office mates every night or spend the weekend with each others’ families. But if you can’t have a good laugh together once in awhile, there may be an emotional bond with your co-workers that is missing. If that is the case, you’re probably not going to be as happy spending time in the workplace… and you certainly won’t look forward to Monday morning reunions when you’re not with “your people”.
4. Unappreciated gifts
We all have special talents and personal gifts to share with our colleagues and communities. These are the things that we are better at than most people, the things we do that make the biggest difference to others, to our teams, our organizations. They are the things that, in some way, we are uniquely qualified to contribute… whether it's an authentic way of inspiring people, adeptness at some specialized task, insight into improving process, or an interesting perspective on a problem. And whether we realize it or not, we feel a sense of frustration when those gifts are not required of us, or go unrecognized in our work.
5. Outmoded rewards
In the Western world, we tend to have an underlying belief that if we put in a certain amount of effort, it will lead to a predictable level of performance, which will in turn earn us some fair reward. As Daniel Pink talks about in Drive, that one dimensional carrot-and-stick model of motivation is outmoded. He points to three other non-traditional notions of what drives people -- autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Chances are, one or more of those may be missing for you. And maybe the rewards you’re getting just aren’t a good fit for you. Maybe you’re getting a cash bonus when you’d rather have extra vacation days. Or maybe you’re receiving public accolades when you’d prefer to be given more responsibility.
6. Mismatched values
Maybe you love your boss and you love your colleagues. The hours are decent. You get generous vacation time and the work is not too stressful. Your talents are well-utilized and you feel appreciated. You see your hard work generating tangible results. From all appearances, everything seems great, so you’re not sure why you're unhappy. Take a moment to consider whether your personal values are well-matched with the mission of your organization, or with the business goals of your clients. Often when there is something deeper that is causing that rumbling of discontent, it comes down to values. Do you agree at a core level with the WHY behind what you're doing every day at work?
7. All work and no play
You feel tired already purely in anticipation of long hours and long weeks ahead. Maybe your next vacation seems light years away. Your work takes up so much space that you have little time or energy left over for the rest of your life. Working too much is usually a tipping point factor… it is something that, combined with one of the other symptoms described above, pushes you to the edge where you need to make a change. Having greater integration of work and life does not mean throwing out boundaries, allowing work to consume every corner of your existence. What it does mean is having purpose-aligned work that (em)powers your life, rather than drains you of your life.
We often blame the feeling of being drained by our work on a lack of so-called work-life balance. Having “more balance” is held up as the Holy Grail. The somewhat misguided notion is, if we work less, we will be more happy. It’s true that some jobs are not structured in a way that gives us the flexibility we need to nurture our relationships or our health and well-being. But in any event, we all invest a lot of time and energy in our work in the world. For those of us who are purpose-aligned in our work, time spent working tends to goes by quickly, not slowly; work leaves us feeling excited, not exhausted.
If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, maybe 2016 is the year for a change. Maybe it is time to start making a life for yourself, because you're no longer satisfied with just making a living.