When you first moved your things into your office, you couldn’t wait to put your talents to use and impress your new colleagues with your dedication and drive.
But at some point, that passion to succeed did a slow fade. Instead of killing it on projects, you found yourself going through the motions, bored and uninspired.
You’re not the only one who spends the workday feeling this way. A 2014 Gallup report determined that 51% of employees were “not engaged” at the office—in other words, they don’t feel invested in their work, and they’re not getting anything meaningful out of it. Another 17.5% of employees described themselves as “actively disengaged.”
“It’s normal to have times when work just doesn’t seem fun anymore,” says Beverly E. Jones, an executive consultant and author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.” “But there’s a lot you can do to become more engaged.”
Before you decide it’s time to jump ship, hang tight—there are less drastic ways to rekindle your excitement. These seven tactics can help you discover the joy in your job and make your nine-to-five meaningful again.
1. Reboot Your Daily Duties
It sounds counterintuitive: if you’re not enthusiastic about your job, why would piling more work onto your plate crank your motivation?
That’s the genius behind a concept called job crafting: taking on new and different responsibilities to expand the boundaries of your job. It’s a new term for something career experts have long advised. Tackling fresh challenges stretches your comfort zone and forces you to learn to grow. That kick-starts your drive and makes your work more interesting, says Kerry Hannon, career and finance expert and author of “Love Your Job.”
While it’s great to volunteer for projects you hear about in meetings, you’ll get more out of it by coming up with something that’s your own and presenting it to your manager. Since it’s your idea, you’ll be more invested in it, says Hannon. Plus, taking initiative shows that you’re thinking bold, and that can improve your professional rep and help you move higher up in the company.
To brainstorm boundary-pushing ideas, Hannon recommends reading trade websites and setting up Google alerts, which will notify you of the latest news in your industry. “Being in the know can inspire you to think of projects you might be able to nominate yourself for—or start on your own,” she says.
2. Build Mood-Boosting Movement Into Your Work Schedule
Hunched over a screen or sitting in a conference room most of the day means that energizing oxygen doesn’t circulate through your body. What registers to you as disinterest in and unhappiness with your work might actually be signs that your body craves activity, like a post-lunch walk.
Science backs up the benefits of a midday reboot: A 2015 study found that a 30-minute lunchtime stroll three times a week for 10 weeks boosts enthusiasm, increases relaxation and tames on-the-job tension. Additional research shows that walking during the workday ignites creativity and the flow of ideas.
Can’t get away for a half hour? Ask your manager or team members if you can schedule a walking meeting, suggests Jones. Even a 10-minute stretch session in an empty conference room can make you feel alert again.
Keep your energy cranked by resisting coffee refills (caffeine can make it hard to sleep later) and vending machine trips, as sugar typically causes blood sugar levels to spike—then plunge. Instead, fuel up with foods that contain lean protein and complex carbs. Office-friendly sources include yogurt, nuts, peanut butter packets, hummus, air-popped popcorn, and of course, fruits and veggies.
3. Max Out Your Company Benefits
It’s common for workers to think about employee benefits strictly in terms of health coverage and vacation days, says Sarah Flaherty, LearnVest HR business partner, but that would be a mistake. Benefits are key pieces of your compensation, and you should make sure you are maximizing what you get out of them. “Your employment package often goes well beyond base salary,” says Flaherty.
Some perks offered these days include different types of insurance, gym subsidies, cut-rate tickets for shows and travel, profit sharing, and a 401(k) match program.
“There are often little-known benefits that employees may not be familiar with, such as programs that provide confidential professional counseling services or tuition reimbursement,” says Flaherty. “Another example that I’ve seen is an extension of healthcare benefits such as covering the cost of IVF or an adoption assistance program that covers the costs associated with adoption—such as agency or legal fees.”
Taking advantage of these benefits can help you see your job in a different light—instead of a gig that’s become a bit uninspiring and routine, your nine-to-five life actually opens up opportunities for you that help you and your family grow and stretch your boundaries, not to mention save money.
Feeling more fulfilled during your workday again may simply be a matter of investigating all the benefits you have access to. “Employees should be sure to pay attention to communications about benefits all year round—not just during benefits season. It is also helpful to leverage the benefits expert in their company if they have any questions about what is being offered,” suggests Flaherty.
4. Practice Positivity
It’s hard to resist listening in on a gripe session about higher-ups or swapping war stories concerning difficult clients. Gossip helps bond you to your coworkers, and it feels pretty harmless (when it’s not about you, of course).
But there’s a downside. Too much gossip can be negative and toxic, sapping your emotional energy and lowering morale without you realizing it. If you’re already feeling blah about work, hearing about backstabbing coworkers or company infractions “makes you feel worse,” says Jones. Research also shows that badmouthing can leave employees more cynical about their jobs, which further sinks your happiness and sense of fulfillment.
Though it can be hard to resist, try to keep the negativity to a minimum. You’re not powerless against the office gossip machine: A study published in Sage Journals demonstrates that you can neutralize it by changing the subject or by preemptively making positive comments.
For example, if a coworker starts bashing another staffer, interrupt her by voicing a positive comment about him, or change the subject entirely by asking about her weekend plans.
5. Refresh Your Desk
You might boast to colleagues that you know exactly where everything is on your desk despite the fact that it’s covered in piles of paper. While a little clutter can actually boost your performance by helping your brain zero in on what needs to get done, that mess can also be a motivation suck. A Princeton University study shows that excessive clutter competes for your attention, which makes you more distracted and less productive. The more visuals your brain has to sort through, the more overwhelmed and fatigued you become.
While you don’t need a totally pristine desk, the fact is, reducing most of the loose papers, folders and objects in your visual field keeps you more organized and focused, which helps you do better at your job and feel more in control. “When you get rid of old papers or emails that are hanging around, it’s very liberating,” notes Jones. Clearing clutter from your workspace also clears it from your brain, and that can clarify your goals and motivate you to dive back into your work and accomplish more.
6. Tackle Tough Office Relationships
Sometimes it’s not the job itself that’s the problem but the people you spend your workday with: the complainers, the scarily ambitious, the petty-minded staffers who make a big deal out of things that don’t matter. Navigate too many difficult personalities day after day, and no wonder you’re unhappy.
If a colleague is genuinely causing you grief on a regular basis, Hannon recommends inviting her for a one-on-one talk. “You’ll need some backbone here, but be positive and do your best to be polite,” she says. “Calmly explain that it’s not OK to treat you this way or act the way he or she does. It’s possible the person is unaware that what he or she is doing is upsetting you, and will apologize and back off.”
If that doesn’t work, or if the person making your work life miserable is a higher-up, talk to your manager or human resources about the situation. Be careful about asking if you can be reassigned. “It’s not always easy for your manager to rearrange work assignments,” says Jones, and inadvertently, you might be branded difficult yourself. “Unless there’s a crisis, I’d start by asking your manager for guidance about how to work more effectively with that person,” she adds. “Then, as a next step, ask if it is possible to modify your assignments so that you work with them less frequently.”
Above all, Hannon suggests framing the situation as something solvable. “Describe what’s been happening in detail, and explain how the situation is taking a toll on your ability to do your work,” she says. “Focus on the potential solution rather than dwelling on the problem.”
7. Pursue Purpose in Your Job
Maybe your work lends much-needed help to others. Perhaps the money you earn allows you to afford a nicer life for your family. Or your job taps into skills you’ve worked hard to develop, and you feel proud when asked to use them. Whatever it is, even the worst job can offer benefits that fill you with real purpose and meaning. Keeping this in mind will lift your spirits, making you more invested.
It’s not as hokey as it sounds. Research shows that people who feel that their work is meaningful are happier than those who have a high income. If you truly can’t think of something uplifting you get from your gig, take it upon yourself to create that meaning—say, by starting a mentoring program, making yourself available to younger employees who are just finding their footing, or organizing an office blood drive.
“It’s easy to lose track of what the point is or how you’re contributing or helping people, but if you’re actually providing a service or doing some good, that’s a contribution,” says Jones. “Focus on the meaning, on the contribution.”