Do you feel stuck in your current job? Do you have to drag yourself to show up at work each day? Are your colleagues griping to you about their jobs? Do you feel unmotivated at work? Do you feel that you are trapped on a hamster wheel and each day you are falling deeper into a rut?
You are not alone.
A recent Gallup report on American workplace shows that two in three employees are disengaged at work and four in five responded that they are not being managed in a way that would motivate them to produce their best work. Few employees show faith in their company’s leadership. Hence, unsurprisingly, 51% of the surveyed employees are searching for new jobs or watching for openings. The same pattern has also been found in other countries, with less than 20% of active job engagement in most countries (i.e., ~10% in Western Europe and even less in East Asia). In other words, most of us may be showing up to our jobs but may feel indifferent about our work. We may not be positively engaged and may not be committed to our employers.
While ill-equipped managers and other environmental factors may contribute to the problem, what could you do to increase your job engagement and get out of the rut?
1. Identify your strengths and get in your “flow”
Reflect back on your activities, tasks, and projects in the recent two weeks. Which of them made you feeling confident and excited when you were working on them? Which of them left you with more energy? Which of them left you being curious and wanting to dive in further?
What are the types of activities that get you into the “zone” or in the “flow” — Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described it as:
“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”
Have you been in the “zone” during the past few weeks? What were you doing? Perhaps try writing down “where”, “when” and “what” you were doing that had led you to experience the “flow” recently.
After having identified your strengths and “flow” moments, how do you see using these strengths being helpful for your current job? Are there opportunities that you could use these strengths at work? What new skills can you learn to further leverage these strengths? Could you approach your manager to discuss these opportunities and find ways to develop these skills?
2. Find a mentor at work
If you are not receiving enough coaching and support from your immediate manager, have you considered finding a mentor? Many companies and professional organizations have mentorship programs. Alternatively, seek out someone whom you are already interacting and working with now. Someone whom you respect and trust; and likewise, the person trust and believe in your potential so that he or she could serve as your sounding board and provide helpful advice or genuine feedback.
3. Set attainable goals
Sometimes we may stay stuck in a rut because we focus on the negative situation (e.g., lack of job advancement, unsupportive manager, or toxic working culture) but are unclear about our ultimate goals. Write down some of your career goals. Then take a step back and see if you could map out manageable and concrete interim actions to take immediately. What are some resources and support that you can explore leveraging? It may involve taking an online course to learn new skills or checking out your company’s career center or speaking with a career coach. What are steps that you can take now and over the coming 1-3 months that could help you?
If you have difficulty taking steps to move forward, what’s holding you back? Don’t only focus on external circumstances, look within yourself — what keeps you in it. Is it a fear of failure? Is it shame? Is it self-doubt? Is it your inner critic? When trying to move past a negative situation, understanding the source of your responses (or non-response) and ways to escape (e.g., procrastination, distractions, and pre-occupations) are good first steps towards uncovering the underlying issues and getting yourself unstuck. Try journaling or talking it out with a friend to sort out your thoughts.
Ultimately you may still decide to leave your current job but addressing and confronting the root cause of your current dis-engagement at work may still help you in finding the appropriate next steps to achieve your long-term career goals.