It's become clear to me that the lowest-risk way to boost job and career satisfaction is to work at improving the current employment situation. I am delighted (usually several times a week) to hear my clients report that as a result of following my suggestions the situation at their current jobs has improved significantly, and that they no longer feel desperate to find another job or identify a new career. Delighted for two reasons: first, because the clients feel a lot less stress and are happier, and second because desperation is certainly not the best state to be in when launching a "career exploratory."
Practically all the clients who come to me disatisfied with their work share a negative mindset that boils down to a feeling of not having control. They may have tried a number of ways to make things better but nothing seems to work. The fact is that process of improving the situation in one's current job / career can be attacked from a lot more angles than is generally realized. Here are a number of different approaches to brightening the work picture:
1) Improve your relationship with your boss - Back in October I posted a number of suggestions on how to enhance this essential relationship:
2) Focus on what's good/advantageous about your current position - This recommendation flows directly out of my core philosophy: that the experience you have in any situation is formed more by the way you look at and think about the situation than the situation itself. I have yet to encounter a client who can honestly say that there is nothing positive about their work. List the positive aspects of your job, review them frequently, and actively search for new ones. True, you may have a boss from hell or be assigned to mind-numbingly boring tasks, but what about such things as a decent paycheck, reasonable work hours, relatively short commuting time, enjoyable co-workers, adequate vacation time, benefits like health insurance or a retirement plan, etc., etc.
3) Avoid negativity - The flip side of the point above. It's tempting to dwell on everything that's wrong with a job you dislike, but that dwelling is only going to make you feel worse. Relatedly, minimize your contact with chronic complainers and distance yourself from gossip-mongers.
4) Upgrade your work environment - Whether you have a cubicle or a corner windowed office you can brighten your mood by making your work space a more inviting, nicer place to be, whether with family vacation photos, flowers, an ashtray that your first grader made, or a little aquarium (or, if your space is really limited, a goldfish bowl). Straightening up a messy work space also can help.
5) Connect with more of your fellow workers - Research shows that when people have friends at work they are more satisfied with their jobs. Making friends sometimes requires effort, reaching out with an invitation to lunch, a heartfelt compliment, or a question that shows you're interested in the other person.
6) Work smarter - You can improve your work-related mood by tackling the least pleasant or hardest tasks first, getting them out of the way so that they're not hanging over your head. And if you're feeling overwhelmed, break your workload into manageable pieces: instead of thinking about how you're going to get the nine things that need to be done finished by Friday, ask yourself which one of those projects should get your attention first, and focus exclusively on it.
7) Go beyond the expected - Particularly if your job feels boring and unchallenging, think about what in addition to the basics you could be doing, or what you could learn. Anything that allows you to acquire new knowledge and skills will make your work life more stimulating.
8) Ask for more frequent feedback - Don't wait for the annual performance review. Asking your boss, co-workers, and (if you have them) clients what you could be doing more of or better will give you some targets for which to aim, ideally spurring you to efforts that can be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps, higher regard from others.
9) Get healthier - It's not surprising that many people cope with work they don't like by stopping by a bar after work, lighting up a joint when they get home, or wolfing down a pint of Ben and Jerry's before bedtime. Those things can certainly can provide temporary relief, but a much sounder long-term plan is to improve your diet (no donuts at the coffee break!) and to start exercising regularly. Smaller, but still valuable, steps: stretch a couple of times during your workday, or get outside for some fresh air and sunshine.