How to fall (and stay) in love with your job.

What made you apply for the job you have now? Was it passion for your area of expertise? Adoration of the organization that hired you? Maybe you simply needed to put food on the table. Regardless of what initially attracted you, at some point or another you’ve probably felt less than enthused about the work you do. That doesn’t make you a bad employee; that’s just human nature.

We’re wired to appreciate newness. Though intimidating, new experiences, new people, and new responsibilities can also be exciting and interesting. But those things stop compelling us as we grow accustomed to them. The funky workspace or thrilling travel opportunities that once delighted us become so routine we barely notice them. Inevitably, new eventually becomes old and we become bored. Or… is it inevitable?

Shifting our mindsets

Last year, the creators of the NPR podcast Hidden Brain explored what it means to be genuinely engaged in our work. They spoke to Yale University psychologist and professor Amy Wrzesniewski who provided key insights on how we can learn to love our work.

In a study she conducted with a group of hospital janitors,  Wrzesniewski noticed that employees who considered their jobs to be a “calling” tended to have higher job satisfaction than their peers who thought of work merely as a 9-5. Rather than seeing their work as a series of regimented tasks, the more fulfilled janitors focused on how their responsibilities contributed to larger goals. Wrzesniewski observed that the janitors who described their work as challenging or having a significant impact on patient well-being were considerably happier than those who described their tasks literally or said their work was low-skill.

Wrzesniewski’s research demonstrates the importance of how we frame our jobs to ourselves and to others. Even though all the hospital janitors in her study performed the same tasks, their levels of job satisfaction varied greatly depending on how valuable they considered their work.

Finding and preserving the spark

So how can we find value in what we do? A good place to start is by thinking of the bigger picture. Examine how your role fits into the objectives of your team, department, unit, or organization. It may sound cliche, but each employee truly is an integral piece of a puzzle. And it’s not just about your bosses and colleagues. What is your organization trying to achieve as a whole for its customers, users, partners, investors, community, and for the planet?

Humans are driven by purpose. We excel when we find meaning in our work, even if it’s not glamorous or high-paying. You might think all you do is send emails, fold shirts, install flooring, or deliver food all day, but you’re doing so much more than that. You’re helping, whether directly or indirectly — you should be proud of that. And if you don’t feel your work is positively contributing even in a small way, it may be time for you to make a change.

You can also look at it from a personal perspective. What are you getting out of your job? Most, if not all jobs, allow us to hone particular skills. Sending emails all day encourages you to become a more effective communicator. Folding shirts improves your organizational and spatial skills. Installing flooring is great physical exercise, and delivering food gives you the chance to explore your city or town. Reframing our job descriptions like this can be a powerful way of rekindling our interest in our work.

The impact of well-being on employee satisfaction

It’s hard to come into work feeling enthusiastic and positive when you’re stressed about finances, coping with illness, or struggling with other personal issues. That’s why our digital employee well-being platform contains over 2,000 useful resources on topics that affect us every day, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, professional development, and eldercare. If your organization doesn’t already have access to LifeSpeak, ask your HR team to book a free walk-through today.