When You Work Harder Than Everyone Else
The other day, I was talking to a friend who was bemoaning her workplace, which she described as suffering from a near universal lack of work ethic. She said her coworkers are nice, the work reasonable, but internal politics have created an atmosphere that favors a path of least resistance. People go to work, do their jobs adequately, and go home. Employees have a great work life balance, and they make very respectable livings – and my friend is miserable because she’s a high-achiever and thus, bored stiff.
I’m usually in conversations on the other side of this: employers demanding so much that people are stressed and exhausted. At first glance my friend’s easy job sounds like a good problem to have. But for those with a strong work ethic and desire to be challenged, being underemployed can be extremely frustrating.
If you’re one of those people, you know the feeling: you get that itch when there’s not enough to do or expectations are low. First you can’t respect your employer, and pretty soon, yourself.
Underwork may actually create more disaffection than overwork. One study found that those who aren’t professionally challenged rated work satisfaction a 49 out of 100, while those who are overworked rated it 57. When we’re not well utilized, we don’t feel valued or able to bring our best to our work. We lose creativity and drive.
So what are ways to challenge yourself and gain satisfaction from a less rigorous work environment? For many of people, leaving in the near term isn’t an option. There are ways we can fight our own stagnation and make the most out of any job.
- Volunteer to tackle new projects that get you excited.
One benefit to a low-key environment is that there is usually more time to throw yourself into new projects. It’s a chance to get creative, and to volunteer for something that causes you to stretch and grow. Plus, new experiences trigger the release of dopamine, which motivates us.
As an example, let’s say your business has been talking about offering a new service, but hasn’t been able to execute it. You happen to have an interest in that market sector and would love to get it going. This could be a perfect chance to expand your own role to take on new responsibilities.
No one will create the perfect job for you, except you. Ask around at your company to see if there’s a project to tackle that engages you. Don’t be concerned if it’s not in your job description. Instead, consider areas that are strengths, where you’d like to learn, and that are resume builders.
- Work on improving processes in your current job.
We often get locked into how we’ve done things in the past, and processes that have developed over time. Here’s a chance for you to take a hard look at how things at your job could be done better, more efficiently or in a more cost-effective manner.
White space in a calendar is coveted by busy professionals. It’s time that can be used to be strategic, creative, and tackle the larger questions. Put on a strategic consulting hat. If you have the opportunity, devote some time to improving work processes and procedures that make your life easier, and even better, make you look good to your leadership.
- Devote your time to growing your skills through professional development.
Consider downtime a valuable opportunity to focus on honing your skills. Enroll in a workshop, attend a conference, or tackle that ever-growing stack of business books on your shelf.
Or dip your toe in the water to learn something entirely new that you’ve been wanting to get into for a long time. Take the first course of an MBA or register for an executive leadership program. Funnel that extra time and energy into learning, and you’ll be growing personally and expanding your perspective.
As the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
- Build your own brand.
Finally, there’s so much talk out there about having a personal brand that you can carry with you in your career. We no longer depend on organizations to define us – smart professionals do it themselves. But here’s the thing: branding yourself takes time. So if you have time, why not invest it in yourself?
Get strategic about networking, and expanding the number and quality of people in your sphere of influence. Do focused research into your next career move, and get yourself out in front in that space at conferences, events, and with influencers. Contribute articles or blogs. Talk to friends and trusted colleagues about potential opportunities. Expand your social media footprint.
Use the time you have to think ahead, but take your time. Even if your current job is stunting your growth, be careful and strategic about your next move. Don’t make one bad move turn into two.
Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
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