Finding fulfilment at work

Finding meaningful and satisfying employment has become one of life’s greatest pursuits. Those who find it tend to lead happier lives and are more committed to their jobs. As such, connecting employees with the meaningful aspects of their work should be a priority for employers. We caught up with Dr Joe Oliver, clinical psychologist and Unmind platform collaborator, to discuss this relatively new concept, and to understand how employers can help their teams to find fulfilment at work.

Until recently – around 200 years ago – for most people, work was an unpleasant experience. Conditions were filthy, tasks were menial, days were long. To-do lists consisted of hard, agricultural labour and toil – with very few tea breaks in between.

Then, around the turn of the nineteenth century, we figured out that machines could help us to do tasks en masse. This freed humans up to start working with their minds as well as their hands.

In that pre-industrial world, there were around 2000 trades – now we have around half a million to choose from. We expect from them not just money, but meaning and satisfaction, creativity and fun.

But even in today’s relatively enlightened and somewhat technologically savvy world, the expectation that the third of our lives we spend in work is nothing but inspirational is for many too great to fulfil. This explains, in part, why there are millions of people unhappily employed, and why Sunday evenings may descend upon us in a cloud of despair.

Career crises wear heavily on the souls of employees, and account for untold presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover for employers. We need to move away from the idea of a job for a job’s sake, toward a world where people enjoy their work and do it properly. This, in turn, builds happier workplaces and a more effective economy.

Now this isn’t an easy task. To help divine a route to success, we enlisted the help of someone who’s qualified to give directions. We caught up with Dr. Joe Oliver, a clinical psychologist and recent contributor to the Unmind platform, to explore the idea of fulfilment at work, and ways we might go about finding it.

So, what does it mean to feel fulfilment at work?

Fulfilment can mean many things. But at its heart, it’s about connecting work to a sense of meaning and purpose. Sometimes this can be a BIG purpose, like making the world a better place. But most often it’s small, such as building connections with people, having fun, or being challenged.

Why is it important for businesses to have fulfilled work forces?

Fulfilment is deeply connected with happiness – lasting, purposeful happiness. And people who are happy in their work are likely to want to engage with it in a more committed way. They are also much more likely to experience work as a source of well-being and satisfaction, rather than depletion, leading to increase overall well-being in life.

How can employers help to connect employees to fulfilment?

Employers that do this well find ways to establish contexts that support the growth of fulfilment. Employees are paid fairly, they have control over their job tasks and can reasonably moderate the demands of work. There is a strong sense of equity and disputes are resolved with fairness. In such environments, employers can work to set a vision for the team and organisation that is clear and engaging. From this basis, employees can engage in work tasks in a way that will be more likely to tap in to a broad sense of shared purpose and fulfilment.

What are your tips to finding fulfilment?

I take my time to appreciate the things in my work and life that give me fulfilment. The more I savour these, the more likely I am to set my course towards these sources of meaning.

I have learned to say no to things and focus just on my key priorities in my life. I find this difficult as I worry about both missing out and letting people down. But the more I say no, the more I’m able to create space for what I really care about.

I regularly check in with my values compass and ask myself, “If I were being true to what I deeply care about, what would I now do?” I’ve also learned to listen carefully and deeply to the answers that bubble up. Sometimes they can be unexpected.

Lastly, I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself and give myself a break. Which is to say, not beating myself around the head with the things I care about. It’s OK to make mistakes and not always be true to my values. In my own humanity, I have learned that this is key to finding fulfilment.

About Dr Joe Oliver

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Joe lives in south London with his family. He works as a clinical psychologist at University College London, as a course director for a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Post-Graduate Diploma. He also runs a business, Contextual Consulting, offering training, supervision, coaching and therapy, all in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He’s written 5 books and has a 6th on the way, due out in September.

To learn more about Unmind’s range of self-guided programmes, tools and resources, book a chat with one of our workplace mental health technology specialists.