Former Harvard prof: 'You have the power to increase your job satisfaction'


If you don't routinely wake up psyched to clock in at your day job, you're not alone.

Nearly 70% of U.S. employees are actively disengaged at work, according to a 2018 Gallup organization poll of over 30,000 adults.

But "you have the power to increase your job satisfaction," says Vijay Sathe, professor of management at the Drucker School of Management in Claremont, California. In his current role, and during his decade-long tenure as a professor at the Harvard Business School, Sathe has become an expert on deriving happiness from work.

One way is to enter a state of mind known as flow: When your morning 10-mile run feels effortless, or when you're in the zone learning a new song on the piano, you experience deep enjoyment from being immersed in what you're doing. That's flow.

"When in flow, your sense of time is altered, you tend to forget yourself, and you feel a strong sense of being in control," Sathe writes in his book "Manage Your Career: 10 Keys to Survival and Success When Interviewing and on the Job."

Here's how Sathe suggests you facilitate flow at work, too, to find more satisfaction and fulfillment.

Challenge yourself

Even if your job isn't your passion, you can still achieve a deep state of enjoyment by taking ownership of your work, he says. That may mean looking beyond your assigned duties for opportunities to develop new skills, and seek out exciting challenges. "There are too many people who assume what they're given is it. They never proactively try to change their situation," Sathe says.

While it may be tempting to coast and remain in your comfort zone, if you're not challenged by your work, chances are you won't be satisfied by it, either. And it's up to you to raise the stakes, says Sathe. "If you find yourself in this comfortable state, you need to raise your level of challenge and skills to experience flow," he writes.

It helps to be proactive. If you work at a corporation, for example, learn about other divisions of the business: "We all have limited time, but invest 5% of your time talking to someone in marketing, for example," he says. By having these conversations, you may discover a way to better serve your organization, or even develop an interest in a new skill, Sathe says.

Sathe also suggests networking when you have no motive: "Asking someone to chat when you have no agenda makes the conversation less transactional. Your only motive is to learn and discover new things. That genuine interest will help you build more meaningful relationships."

Look for a greater purpose

In addition to seeking out a challenge, recognizing your service to others can help you derive satisfaction from your work. Sathe did research on financial advisors and found they felt fulfilled when their clients expressed gratitude about how the advice they got helped them to pay for their children's schooling or changed the trajectory of their lives for the better.

"When you think about your job, the only thing that's a given is the results you produce," he says. In other words, while there are many external factors outside of your control, you have some agency to craft those results.

You can find purpose in small ways, too. Chatting and offering guidance to less experienced colleagues allows you to pay it forward and make "a bigger contribution to the wider world," Sathe writes.

By challenging yourself and searching for a greater purpose, you shift the focus to something bigger than yourself, and ultimately, that's what will help us find satisfaction at work, Sathe explains. "Finding something that is not only challenging, but engrossing and selfless, has the power to liberate."

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