By Yvonne Milosevic
Everyone wants to feel fulfilled and engaged by their work. But the truth is, most of us will go through periods in life where our job seems meaningless. Thanks to the pandemic— and overall dumpster fire known as 2020—for many, that time is now. But leaving your current position isn’t the only answer when work feels pointless. So, unless your job is crushing your soul, try doing these five things instead.
Address the cause of this feeling.
First, try to figure out why your job seems meaningless right now. We can’t all be first responders and front-line workers, but our job can still matter. Are you bored, or have you hit a ceiling? Do you feel unappreciated or underpaid? Are you exhausted by long hours? This exercise may help.
Think hard about what has brought meaning to your life in the past. Make a list of your core values, then ask yourself whether your job is serving those values. Once you identify the source of your dissatisfaction, you can create an action plan to change things for the better.
Focus on small things within your control.
The past year has taught us that we can’t control any of the things that have turned the world upside down, from COVID to the global economic crisis to racial injustice. “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, obsessing over the big things that you can’t influence is bad for your mental well-being,” write a pair of researchers in the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, try to act on whatever aspect of the situation is still in your control, no matter how minor.”
Try job crafting.
The idea behind job crafting is to switch up how you think and approach your daily work. Finding new ways to incorporate your passions, interests, or special skills causes engagement and job satisfaction to go way up. By either adding or dropping responsibilities outlined in your official job description, you actively shape your role into one that brings more meaning to you and your organization. This simple change in perspective allows you to instill more value into your work—even if you consider many of your responsibilities boring or process-driven.
Create moments of enjoyment to offset micro-stresses.
Our workdays are filled with tiny aggravations, or “micro-stresses.” Things like sleeping through your alarm, a dismissive word from a colleague during a meeting, or when your partner forgets to do the grocery shopping. Each seems insignificant on its own. But collectively, they drain us like an app running in the background saps your phone battery.
Counteracting these stressors is easier than you think. “Just as micro-stresses eat away at you, micro-moments of pleasure can help you find your way back,” author Karen Dillon explains. So go for a walk or call up a friend for a chat. Savor that first cup of coffee in the morning. Reducing news consumption can also do wonders for improving your mood. Try picking up a good book instead.
Looking outside of yourself to help others is a surefire way to turn things around when your job feels meaningless. “In a perfect world, you want to align your purpose with the mission of your organization, and you want to feel like the work you’re doing is for the greater good,” says Dillon. “But if that’s gone—even just temporarily—look for small ways that your purpose can be personal.”
She suggests things like mentoring a younger employee, picking up the slack for an overwhelmed team member, or seeking volunteer opportunities outside of work. Helping others is incredibly gratifying. One study found that people who volunteered or supported others during the pandemic tended to feel happier. If you can tap into those emotions, you’ll be able to refocus and find renewed meaning in and outside of work.
Now, if your job still feels meaningless after all of these efforts, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. This post will show you the best way to explore career change despite the pandemic. That way, when COVID-19 is finally behind us, you’ll be ready to stretch yourself professionally and take that next big step in your career trajectory.