Don’t love your work? Relax. You’re normal

Some people double the burden on themselves: They hate their jobs, and feel guilty because they think they should like their work. Nonsense, says this expert.

Do you love your work? In some circles, this is the expectation—that you should love your work and if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. But I’m telling you: If you don’t love your work, relax. You are normal.

This is true for developed countries (less than 50% of employees in the U.S. report enjoying their jobs) but also for the vast majority of workers around the world (more than 1 billion people earn $1.25 a day or less). Historically, the vast majority have worked and lived just to survive.

It is a privilege and a blessing to enjoy your work.

Some data to support this:

  • Only 48 percent of workers in the U.S. reported being satisfied with their jobs.
  • Fifty percent of workers report they left a job due to a disagreeable boss.
  • Less than 20 percent of the US workforce report they are emotionally and psychologically engaged at work. (Don’t confuse job satisfaction with employee engagement. Engagement results from several factors: involvement in decision-making, having your input considered, opportunities to advance, and supervisors who think about your well-being.)

Ask yourself: Of all the places I worked, in how many of them and for how long did I love what I was doing?

The purpose and nature of work

Work requires activity that someone else wants you to do and to do it in the way they want. When I coach people about careers, we start with what is wanted, not with what they want to do. Almost everyone, when starting his or her career, does work that has some unpleasantness.

Four categories of work experience

1. Hate. “I hate my job.” Some workplaces are less desirable; hence, our research on toxic workplaces. Sometimes we hate what we do or who we work with. The work is hard, unrewarding, and has little to do with your abilities or interests. People treat you like dirt. A lot is written about people hating their work, but the majority don’t hate their jobs. Research we conducted shows that 18 percent of employees work in a toxic environment, 23 percent believe they work in an unhealthy workplace, and 59 percent believe their workplace is normally stressful.

2. Endure. “I work here because I have to.” Many times we endure our jobs. We don’t like the work and we hope for something better. We can survive, but the work give us no satisfaction or purpose. Work drains us of energy to pursue other things we prefer to do.

3. Like. “Yeah, I generally like what I do—sometimes at least. There are things that bug me, too.” Not a bad place to be—sort of liking your job, sometimes. Many people in mid- or late-career say this. Work is still work, but they use skills to perform valuable service to others. The problem is that if you think you should love your job, you’re at risk of becoming dissatisfied.

4. Love. “I love what I’m doing right now. I’m learning a lot and I’m helping others.” If this is you, I’m happy for you, because many people never experience this. Be thankful and enjoy. Who knows how long this will last?

If you don’t love your job, relax. Take stock of the parts of your work (and your life) you like and be thankful. Learn what makes a task fulfilling or enjoyable and make these occasions more frequent. (It will take initiative and effort.) You are not fully in control of your life, the world, and what happens to you. But you are in control of growing and being thankful for what goes on in your life right now. Pursue this.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a speaker, trainer, author and psychologist who “makes work relationships work.” He is co-author of “Rising Above a Toxic Workplace,” and has created resources to help businesses avoid becoming toxic. For more information, go to http://www.appreciationatwork.com/toxicworkplaces. A version of this article originally appeared on TLNT.

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