How to Make Work More Satisfying

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
— Steve Jobs

For many of us, a large portion of our days is spent at work. In fact, the average person will spend a total 90,000 hours – or approximately a third of their lifetime – at work.

The sad reality is that according to a recent Pew study, 30% of American workers view their days as something to get through (“just a job to get them by”) rather than a source of real satisfaction, let alone an opportunity to grow and contribute.

90,000 hours is a heck of a lot of time to burn through.

While there are many external factors that contribute to worker attitudes and feelings of satisfaction, including salary, benefits, culture, community, feeling respected, etc., it is also clear that we each have control over how we view and think about our work. As the great psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

Work satisfaction is important for workers as well as bosses. Satisfied employees tend to produce higher quality work for more sustained periods. They bring a more positive attitude to the workplace, making them better liked and easier to be around. Satisfied workers tend to learn more about their jobs and seek new content and skills to help them perform at higher levels. They will have their input and contributions more readily sought after, making them likelier to be given interesting, challenging work and stand a better chance of being promoted into a leadership position.

The following are tips that can help you think more positively about your work and gain greater satisfaction from it.

  1. Work hard every day – We tend to connect more deeply with those things that we invest in, including time, effort and emotions. Start to see your work as something to devote more into, for your immediate and long-term benefit as well as the benefit of your coworkers, customer and others, and then get to work.
  2. Think about the beneficiaries – Ask yourself, “who, other than me, stands to benefit from my work?” Think about how your efforts and attitude can positively impact others in your workplace and beyond. If you produce a widget, imagine happy end-users. If you develop a program, consider how users’ lives will benefit. If you work in a non-profit, contemplate how your work, even if seemingly buried in a back office, can ultimately make a difference to another person or beneficiary.
  3. Set goals – Use goal setting to gain added clarity about what it is that you truly want and steps that you can take to get there. Make your goals measurable and achievable to ensure that you know exactly what success looks like and have the capacity to achieve it. People who set goals are typically more motivated and satisfied.
  4. Make a game of it – We all like to win. Turn work into a game that, if done correctly, will help you overcome the challenge and “win”.
  5. Change your attitude – Attitude can make all the difference in how we approach our work. Consider, for example, the difference in attitude between a workout warrior and someone who must attend to household chores. Even if they demand equal levels of exertion, the fact that one was self-selected and the other externally imposed often changes how we approach the task.
  6. Become a learner (content and skills) – View each day as an opportunity to learn new things. Maybe today you will learn new information that can be helpful in getting your work done. Perhaps through training or practice you will master a new skill or sharpen an existing one. Give yourself some form of credit each time you learn something new, so that you see yourself as working towards some form of workplace degree.    
  7. Share what you learn – Teaching others is a great way to deepen your own learning and passion while sharpening others’ toolkits. Start a weekly email to peers or a blog to pass along tips, successes and setbacks. Make your writing personal and raw, so that others can connect deeply with your experiences and want to join your “tribe”. Other platforms for teaching and sharing include video and podcast production.
  8. Pursue your passion – Wherever possible, find things in your work that you are passionate about and request the opportunity to do more of it. This may mean reaching a bit outside of your immediate job description but, if framed properly (as a way to increase job engagement, learn new skills and connect with members of other teams, for example) it could make work a bit different and a lot more fun.

Happiness and engagement at work is a choice. Sure, there are factors that we can’t control that can make our work intrinsically more enjoyable and satisfying, but the ultimate responsibility for such feelings lies squarely with us. We can spend each day thinking about what isn’t good about our work situation and how to get through it and to our next break as painlessly as possible. Or, to quote Seth Godin, we can aim to “set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”