Unfulfilled at work? Reengineer your job to be purposeful

3 minute read

Unless we can find fulfilment and even happiness in work we've got little chance of achieving an overall happy life, says author Kevan Hall. But, he says, by taking personal responsibility and embarking on some job crafting we can find purpose and joy in our career

Pencil illustration of a lady with long hair and beige jacket with a big smile and work folders behind her

Newspapers are full of headlines about quiet quitting, stress and burnout. We could be forgiven for assuming that all work is a chore, taking time away from things we'd rather be doing with our friends, family and other interests and causing unnecessary stress. 

However, work can also be a source for great personal fulfilment and even enjoyment. 

How we view work is a paradox and it's one we really need to resolve in order to have a successful career and a fulfilling life. Many of us dedicate around 40% of our waking hours, across decades, to our careers. Unless we can find fulfilment and even happiness in this important area, we've got little chance of achieving an overall happy life.

It's clear that the way we're going about it at the moment isn't working for most people. The 2023 Gallup report paints a bleak picture - only 10% of UK workers are truly engaged. It seems that the focus on climate surveys and top-down employee engagement actions are not working.

We need to shift the responsibility more towards us as individuals taking ownership for our own fulfilment, engagement and even happiness at work – it is our life after all. Your organisation can help create an environment where you can be empowered, but only you can take the additional step to engage yourself and achieve real happiness at work. Nobody else can do it for you.

So, how can you take ownership of your experience at work and reengineering it to be more fulfilling?

Find meaning in your work

Fulfilling and meaningful work aligns with our purpose, allows us to live our values, exercise our strengths and pursue our passions. If you can do all of these in one job you're very lucky. It's more likely you will need a portfolio of work and leisure activities that allow you to express the things that give you meaning.

If you think about the ups and downs of your career, the low points are usually when you couldn't find meaning in what you were doing – you were just going through the motions and doing work you didn't have a great deal of identification with. The high points are where you were able to express your strengths, values, passions and purpose.

Most people feel they have a purpose but few of them can articulate it, so spending some time getting really clear about what gives you meaning gives you a compass and a set of criteria for choosing the kind of work that brings you real fulfilment.

Reengineering your job

Armed with this clarity on what gives you meaning you can start to practise job crafting. Job crafting is where you systematically change the elements of your job to be more meaningful and satisfying. 

Some progressive organisations are empowering people to take more control over their own job design, but even if yours doesn't there are always things you can do to nudge your job in a more satisfying direction. 

Think about the ups and downs of your current job, the things that give you energy and take it away, the people you enjoy spending time with and the ones that bring you down. Can you spend more time on the things that bring you up, and less time on the things and people that bring you down?

Job crafting involves focusing on three key areas:

  • Changing your tasks: Prioritise what sparks enjoyment, minimise the things you don’t enjoy, and actively seek out opportunities to build more skills and take on greater challenges. 
  • Improving your relationships: Nurture positive connections with colleagues – shared laughter and purpose are great happiness boosters. Spend less time with the people who drag you down. Find out more about the people who use the service or product you provide, as this helps make your work more meaningful.
  • Attitude counts: Reframe your perspective. If all you focus on are the negatives of your job you are priming yourself to notice them even more. Seek out the positives and find opportunities to learn and develop. The more you focus on these positives, the more you will find them. 

Some people, for example, insist that they only work to provide for their families, nothing more. If this is genuinely your only motivation to work, then focus on what your income allows you to do with your family and the quality of life it enables - these are important things (though we would encourage you to find something more than this in your work. Perhaps learning, or the opportunity to mix with a more diverse group of people).

It's usually not hard to find a way to transform the least satisfying hour you spend at work with something more engaging, by changing your tasks, the way you relate to the people around you or the way you feel about it. If you can do that for one hour, why not two? Across a year or the length of your career this can make a tremendous difference to your overall happiness.

Research shows that engaged and happy workers are more productive, more creative, have more loyalty to their organisations. They're also less prone to stress, burnout and mental health problems. Fulfilment at work isn't a perk, it's a necessity – both for individuals and the organisations they work for.

If you truly can't find a meaning in your work and can't engineer it to be engaging, you probably need to look for another job or career. Life is too short to be unhappy at work. If you do this make sure you search out a job that has meaning for you based on your new understanding of your purpose, values, passions and strengths. 

By taking ownership of our experience of work, prioritising meaning, and actively crafting fulfilling roles, we can rewrite our relationship with work. Let's ditch the cynicism, find our purpose and craft our own fulfilment and happiness.

Kevan Hall, pictured below, is CEO of Global Integration and author of Find Your Purpose: Redesign your life and career. Global Integration offers programmes to help people understand their purpose and meaning at work, own their own engagement and help them connect their organisation’s purpose and values.

Kevan Hall headshot


Published 28 February 2024
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