Fulfilling Work: Idealistic Dream or Practical Goal?

Is it idealistic to even entertain the notion of fulfilling work? In an era where cost-cutting measures brought about by global competition have ousted job security, it may seem irrelevant. Working in employment services, I have seen the effects of a lack of safety net: many unemployed people take the first job that comes along and hang on for dear life only to discover, sometimes immediately, that’s it’s the wrong fit and they leave. Others who stick it out try to cover up feelings of dissatisfaction by repeating the mantra: “I should be grateful to be employed.” If you are faced with the immediate need for income, of course, take that job or hang on your current one while you can. But take heart in knowing that there is a way out of this vicious cycle: devote some time to understand what fulfilling work means for you. It is the most practical thing you can do because you would be aligning yourself with what the labour market now requires, and the closest thing to job security you can find.

In the early 1990s we witnessed a fundamental change in the labour market – technology changed the way we do business, primarily by opening the doors to global competition. The change appeared to be tangible in nature – companies began restructuring, downsizing, right-sizing and merging to remain profitable. Yet the essence of the change was intangible – a new “psychological contract” between employers and employees where employers no longer take on the parental role of providing job security. If you have been working for 25 years or more, the greatest challenge has been this fading of company loyalty. It has left you with a daunting task – how to manage your career in the face of constant change. The answer came in the form of a new slogan: “develop career resilience.”

We hear a lot about strategies for managing your career these days, some of which include engaging in ongoing learning and training (especially technical training), developing and maintaining a strong network and understanding the importance of marketing yourself to prospective and current employers. Although these strategies are important and valid, the energy and focus required to maintain this level of commitment to your career without sacrificing the quality of your life could only come from being engaged on a heartfelt level.

More than ever, it is critical to take the time to reflect on what your core values, your strengths, and your aspirations are in order to create what I call a vision of your right work. That vision can serve as a personal compass for you as you navigate through the turbulence of the world of work. Guided by this vision, you can make choices that move you in a direction that not only feels fulfilling, but allows your best work to emerge. Imagine being in a work environment where the company’s values are aligned with your own, where everyday you have the opportunity to use skills you love and that play to your strengths. While this may sound self-serving, it is not. It would allow you to contribute in a way that adds value time and time again.

Executives and managers have always known that the most productive employees – those from whom the best ideas emerge, from whom the greatest commitment is garnered, are employees who are naturally enthusiastic about their work. Enthusiasm is a key factor in hiring decisions and will continue to play a crucial role as employers consider opportunities for internal career development.

Faced with impending labour market shortages due to the retirement of the baby boomers and a shrinking birth rate, companies are paying attention to how to gain the commitment of the staff they do have in order to ensure productivity and retention. While they can no longer provide job security for employees, gaining their commitment means they are beginning to pay attention to ensuring that their staff is fully engaged by their work. Céline Renald of the Canadian Career Development Foundation said, “Successful business growth is increasingly dependent on reconciling companies’ operating needs with the personal needs of employees.”

Regardless of your current work status, if your work life has been characterized by slugging through one unfulfilling job to the next, it is practical as well as prudent to consider what fulfilling and meaningful work means for you. By tapping into the intrinsic motivation that flows from a vision of your right work, you would create a foundation from which to do your best work. This level of contribution is what employers are looking for today, and it will not go unnoticed. You can’t fake enthusiasm, and, more importantly, you deserve work that you can feel excited about.

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