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Written by Ralitsa Golemanova

If you’ve been working in an office for more than a week, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Our employees are our most important asset.”

Who has felt a tiny bit sick from it? Let me see some hands in the air.

While most companies do realize that without their employees, there is no business happening, most leaders find it hard to encourage the right kind of values in the workplace. The vertical divide, the level of stress and responsibility that managers face, the lack of understanding that people need to be appreciated and motivated – all of these factors prevent leaders from bringing a meaningful change in their teams.

Even when there is a budget for office parties and teambuilding activities, often these events remain superficial and coworkers don’t get much closer – between themselves or with their managers.

The way people communicate and connect in the workplace is a natural extension of the way they work together. If the communication is missing, collaboration becomes a hierarchical mess where tasks go to die.

Hey there. I’m Ralitsa, the Brand Storyteller at Swipes. If you’ve been looking for happiness at work in all the wrong, you’ll probably relate to some of my stories. 

Rewind: back to 2010

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In this workplace reality, I remember being enthusiastic about my first serious job in Belgium. I was about to be a Communications Officer in a midsize European association. Oh boy, the excitement!

But soon enough, I had to face the reality of bureaucratic work in Brussels, with all of its European fonctionnaires (employees of the European institutions) and eager for a political career interns. The picture was a sad one.

Inside my office was no different than the chaos of ambition and confusion apparent throughout the city. Competition, lack of a collaborative spirit, commands rather than requests coming from top level, unclear goals and tasks – it had it all. Finding the motivation to get up in the morning and spend nine hours in this environment was tough.

After a few more trials in Belgium, I felt that I didn’t belong there anymore. I couldn’t find meaning in my work – nor could I genuinely connect with teammates as disengaged and secretly unhappy as myself.

Looking for change

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Coming back to Bulgaria, the situation didn’t seem much brighter. My friends and acquaintances were either working at advertising agencies or international corporations, and both options were truly unappealing for me.

Every interview that I went to contained the question where do I see myself in five years. After that, my desire to work at this organization dropped below zero.

But as I had to start a job after all, any job, soon I found myself in the office of a media company, holding a contract in my hands. I was anxious and unhappy, I could not make myself sign it, so I went to the bathroom to think it over. Two minutes later, I was walking out of the building at the dismayed faces of my potential employers who could not believe that I’m quitting on them before I’ve even started.

All I could see was an ocean of unexciting possibilities. Nine-to-six job in a grey office with nice, but bored to death people who don’t see any meaning in what they do.

It was by chance and through a good friend of mine that I started my first job in a marketing startup. After being in the job market for three years – and getting more and more desperate about the prospects of 40 years in the working force – there was hope.

And here I don’t mean to praise startups as the only decent workplace for a young person. Not at all. After working at three budding companies, I’m well aware of all the personal and team challenges that this entails.

But there is something authentic and truly inspiring in working with people that are enthusiastic about their goals – and who manage to share this drive with you, while giving you the chance to make a real contribution. When you feel that your voice is heard, that your ideas matter, that your satisfaction is important for others, it’s inevitable that you join in with your heart.

What makes working meaningful?

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So, what are the basic elements of feeling fulfilled with your work?

Naturally, the field of work is of great importance – probably the most important, actually. Today more and more of us spend lifetimes looking for the right occupation. It’s a quite different setting from back in the day when your job was your father’s job – or your job was to cook and raise children. We have so much choice, we’re studying vague majors (like media and journalism) that don’t lead to having a certain practical skillset, and so we end up looking for the right one through trial and error. 

But even if you don’t feel you’ve found your “true calling,” working on something that makes sense to you, at least to some extent, is crucial.

Once you’ve checked that off the list, it all depends on the type of workplace you fall into – or choose consciously. And even though landing a first or second job might not be that easy and actual choices can be limited, each one of us has the responsibility to check whether the new team is a good fit. If it doesn’t feel right from day one, it’s not likely to change much by the end.  

And how can one know what to look for in a company?

Yes, gut feeling is important, payment and benefits too, but even with great salaries, a large part of Americans are still highly disengaged with their jobs.

But there are some rational criteria that matter greatly in the dynamics of a team:

  • What are the common goals? Team leaders and managers should have this clarity and make sure to share it generously with everybody.
  • It makes a big difference to know how your work and achievements contribute to these common goals. It’s again team leaders and managers who should take care of this, but it’s also up to you to ask and be truly interested in finding out and spurring change.   
  • Everybody should be clear what’s the path to the common goals – milestones, tasks and deadlines. Without this framework, chaos quickly takes over.
  • That said, the structure should be there only to reinforce the positive trends, not to create negative ones. Rules for the sake of rules have killed many a company.
  • Getting appreciation and feedback for your work makes you feel valued and important. It’s up to all team members to foster that kind of culture. A like a day keeps the office drama away!
  • If you want to feel connected with your team, go talk to people. There is a little shy child in all of us and we all appreciate an open, warm heart.

That’s surely not a full list of all the possible factors that contribute to feeling meaningful and fulfilled at work, but they are a good and solid start. If we all move towards them daily, there is a chance for a powerful change.

 

So what I mean to tell you is that happiness at work for you depends also on you, not only on the present external factors in your life and on the job market. It relates to your unstoppable search and continuing walking on when things look gloomy, being honest with yourself and others about what you want and what you can give, and consciously choosing to spend your days, weeks and months with the right people.

And moving on again when things get too comfy. Because you know that saying about development and the comfort zone… They don’t go well together.

 

As you can see, lately here at Swipes we’ve been digging deep in what makes people happy in their work. That’s why your ideas and personal paths to happiness at work will be highly appreciated. Make that comment section alive!

 

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