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How to keep things fresh at work

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However fulfilling our work, there may be times when it starts to feel a little stale. Even the most sprightly can struggle to stay invigorated with an overflowing inbox, the usual monthly report and another lengthy project meeting to attend.

For this month’s guest article, freelance writer and HR specialist Nicola Greenbrook explores why the job we love can sometimes hit a rocky patch and offers some valuable antidotes.

A new job is a bit like starting a new relationship. There’s the attraction phase (job hunting and networking), the dating stage (the exciting first few weeks and induction) and then the disappointment stage (the ‘what have I done, I want to go back to my ex-job!’ panic when you’re confirmed in post). Thankfully, the stability stage follows (at last, knowing everyone’s name and what your job actually entails) before the commitment stage (in for the long haul, chasing progression).

But, what if it feels like you’re permanently stuck in the disappointment stage? What do you do if the stability stage isn’t quite as comforting as you'd like it to be, and the commitment stage is a bit musty and in need of a freshen up?

According to a Personal Group survey reported in The Week, just 41% of of Brits are happy most of the time at work, a decrease from 51% in 2017. It makes for gloomy reading, but 26% report that they are almost never happy in the workplace at all. So, what can we do to go from disgruntled to delighted?


Stop, reflect and diagnose the issue

If you’re feeling dissatisfied but can’t quite put your finger on exactly why, now might be a good idea to take stock.

• Ask yourself some direct questions and answer yourself honestly. How long have you felt like this? Was there a trigger point you can recall? Is there a root cause or several factors making you feel demotivated? Is it just work, or are there bigger life issues at the heart of it? 

• Get to know yourself from the inside out and consider your core values, key work motivators (i.e. reward, recognition, teamwork, culture) and the things you’re truly passionate about. Then, see where your current role falls short of meeting your requirements and assess what you can do to fill the gaps.

• Book in time with your HR or Learning and Development team, and consider taking a personality test to analyse what it shows about the kind of work you truly enjoy doing (and what you’re doing now). Seek guidance from a mentor or a life coach if you feel a more detailed exploration is necessary.


Speak up

If the job you once loved dearly has lost its spark, don’t suffer in silence or let your disgruntlement intensify.

Schedule in an informal meeting with your manager outside of the formal review process, and ensure you prepare to avoid a moan-fest. Clearly outline the issues with a positive mindset and be willing to present and discuss solutions. Ask for their perspective on how they think things are going - it may help to remind you what your individual work (however brain-numbing it may be) contributes to the bigger picture and the charity’s overall goals. 

This meeting is different from negotiating a pay rise. It focuses on solutions to rejuvenate and refresh your approach to your work and maximise your performance and overall contribution, with their support and backing. It could help you stay - and prevent them losing you.


Look inward

Working in charity and not-for-profit requires a clear external focus on the needs of your service users, but have you taken a moment recently to consider how the work you do impacts your colleagues, internally?

According to Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, authors of ‘No Hard Feelings', focusing on work relationships rather than the actual work you do can provide a useful reminder of your day-to-day impact. 

If you're in need of a boost, think about how your own personal efforts have impacted or helped internal projects; Liz suggests writing down three ways your work has helped your colleagues, to get you in the right mindset. 

Make the effort to foster strong relationships at work; arranging lunch and the odd coffee or even simply stopping for a non-work chat every now and then could help you feel happier. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 'when employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business'.

Finding a ‘work goalkeeper’, someone to keep you accountable for your work goals and general progress, could also help keep things pristine. Marshall Bright and Anna Davies, writing for Refinery29, suggest finding ‘someone who's just as psyched for you to achieve goals as you are’ can be a good way to crank up your workplace motivation.

Spice up your work

There’s no better way to freshen things up at work than to launch yourself into a new project or initiative, one that runs alongside the day-to-day. 

• Talk to your manager and suggest projects you can be involved in (or lead on, if progression is a motivator) that could make a difference internally and to your own motivation. Ask to shadow your manager/director at a client meeting or volunteer to join a committee.

• Rather than simply attending, set yourself a purpose and a target; offer to take the minutes to brush up your skills and show off your writing ability. Ask a question or join in the debate. Agree to take away an action point and deliver on time to the best of your ability. Show 'em what you're made of.

• Have you considered going to a work networking event on your own? It’s great to have a colleague to lean on and natter with, but going solo could improve your focus, help you find a topic you’re really interested in and seriously boost your confidence (and your networks).

• Finally, explore any opportunities for secondments in another department or ways to collaborate with another charity to deliver on a project or contract. Absence can make the heart grow fonder after all.


Step away from it all...

When everything gets far too much, sometimes the best thing to do (temporarily) is step away. Tim Herrera, writing for The New York Times, advises that ‘when all else fails and you just can’t find that spark of inspiration, fall back on a tried-and-true strategy: Take a little time away from your job’.  Why not book in some annual leave or enquire about your organisation's sabbatical policy?


And finally…

Here are some more quick-fire tips that could help put a spring in your step.

• Give your desk a spruce up. A good scrub, a plant and a photo in a lovely frame can help create an extension of your personality and an encouraging space.

• Listen to a podcast en route/at lunch.It could get you in the zone and excited again about your specialism/expertise and what used to make you tick.  

• Set up a lunch club.Whether it's a book club, Netflix dissection group or foodie crew, having something inspiring to look forward to can provide a much needed boost.

• Inject your wardrobe with newness.Dress to impress… yourself. If you look disheveled and out of sorts, you’ll feel it. If budget is limited, get your old boots fixed and polished, invest in some accessories to jazz up a plain top and visit your favourite charity shop.  

• Reward your team. Give out weekly/monthly prizes (funniest joke, best socks etc) and consider the other 75 ways to fall in love again with your job (by Kevin Daum for Inc.).


Adopting these strategies could help you and your job stay together, happily coupled, and destined for a brighter future. It could be time to go on a date again - with your job.  

Nicola Greenbrook - HR Specialist & Freelance Writer 

 Contact Nicola, check out her brand new website, or follow her on Twitter. 


More from Nicola Greenbrook:

► How to handle the holiday handover
 How to manage stress at work
 How to negotiate a pay rise in the charity sector


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