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Feeling disillusioned with your work? Other than the money, not sure why you pitch up at work every day? You’re not alone. Reflecting on their recent State of the Global workplace report, Gallup indicates the 85% of employees around the world are not engaged, or are actively disengaged at work, representing an estimated cost of $7 trillion in lost productivity. The majority of these employees are ‘not engaged’, which doesn’t make them the worst performers in their organizations, but it does suggest that they are indifferent to the organization’s work or success. As Jim Harter points out, this does not equate to employee laziness. The far more probable cause is a lack of recognition of, and investment in, employee motivation and engagement. The result is employees who show up to work and offer their time, but not very much more.

This type of data is more often interpreted from the organizational perspective: what can the business do to increase employee engagement in order to improve results? This is an important question, but there is another obvious perspective that is less often tapped into with real depth: what about the individual? What impact does it have on a person to be spending the majority of her waking hours on work that is not engaging or meaningful to her? What would become available to a disengaged employee if his work became a source of satisfaction and purpose? These questions underlie – consciously or unconsciously – the career moves that many experienced individuals find themselves negotiating. Of course, everyone wants to be paid well or, at least, what they are worth. But beyond that is a more fundamental human drive: to be seen, to be appreciated, to feel of value. Work can either kill that drive or liberate it.

But, as anyone who has experience of holding an ungratifying job knows, changing the game is not as simple as recognizing that you’re unhappy (though, for many people that recognition is itself a major eye-opener). A balance is required between interior reflection and action in the world. Most self-help programs focus on one or the other. In working with clients in such situations I have found it helpful to draw on Ken Wilber’s four quadrant analysis. Essentially, we are all continuously engaged with four quadrants of reality:

  1. Our own individual interior: eg. thoughts, feelings values. As you read this post, for example, you are having some form of emotional and intellectual response that is entirely personal and invisible to anyone around you.
  2. Our own individual exterior: eg. body, actions, physical energy. For example, right now you are involved in the action of reading, but your heart is beating, you are holding a particular posture, neurons are firing in your brain.
  3. Our own collective interior: all humans – even hermits – form part of some kind of collective. And every collective has shared values, cultural norms or common feeling. As you read this, you have a cultural context of which you form a part. You have a perspective on what I am writing that is partly based in your social values.
  4. Our collective exterior: we are all embedded in systems and meta-systems greater than ourselves. As you are reading this online, you are connected to a technological system called the internet; outside your window you witness the manifestation of weather and climate, and in some way or another you are currently paying for data, thus playing a part of a broader economic system.

Though you will have a subtle bias towards one perspective – a ‘native perspective’ – none of these quadrants is more important than the others. They all arise concurrently and with equal value. So, in deciding how to engage with a significant topic like choosing a new career direction, I ask clients to pay attention to all four quadrants. Part of this process requires an evaluation of what is important to that client – basically answering the question ‘Why do you work?’ – and another aspect will be the commitment to action.

Here are some suggestions if you find yourself seeking work that will pay you well enough and provide you with meaning:

  1. Consider the types of things that you are passionate about, the pursuits that energize you or that increase your wellbeing when you are engaged in them. Basically, identify what kind of activities make you happy – don’t think in terms of ‘jobs’, think in terms of enjoyment and gratification. For now, don’t eliminate any of them for being ‘unrealistic’ – this is an exploratory exercise and every contribution is valuable.
  2. Make a list of jobs or work that incorporate these activities or draw on skills or aptitudes that you use in these activities. If you think of a job that correlates with a personal passion but requires a skill that you don’t currently have, identify that missing skill, write down what would be required to acquire it, and find out where you can learn that skill at what cost.
  3. Talk to friends and colleagues who are happy in their work. Ask them to share how they found that work, what guided them to it and how they would go about finding a new job if, for some reason, this one came to an end. Also look back at point 2 and check whether anyone in your current network is involved in one of the lines of work identified in your list. And expand your network by connecting on social media with new contacts in your target areas – LinkedIn, facebook and twitter are great places to start, though each of those platforms have more or less relevance depending on your industry.
  4. Determine how much money you need to make, consider your work experience, explore market opportunities, and come up with a plan. This plan will partly include the steps above as your refine and repeat the process of honing in your dream work and build on network connections. Most importantly, build an image of what your life will look like when you have work that satisfies you and offers you the lifestyle you desire. This vision is your compass – create a physical impression of it if that helps you – and can act as your anchor in the bigger picture as you deal with the practicalities of career change.

This process may sound simple, but the challenges involved are many and unique to every person. It will not always be easy, which is why I always recommend working with a coach or mentor of some kind, but I truly believe that happiness at work is your right. Claim it.

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