Our current working culture has glorified working long hours, after hours, and taking on as many responsibilities as possible as a way of proving our worth to our employers. You’ve probably heard of ‘hustle’ or ‘grind’ culture, this idea that we should always be doing as much as we can and not taking breaks, or have down time or even switch off from work when we’re done. But it’s damaging our mental health and wellbeing, affecting our work-life balance and it’s setting us up to quickly become exhausted and resent our jobs.
While we as employees have a responsibility for our wellbeing and contentment at work, there are some things that employers can do to help - so management, HR, executives, directors, founders, owners - employers keep reading!
3 motivational drivers to promote contentment at work
A big motivational driver for us is autonomy, that’s how much we feel in control of what we do and our choices, and at work it’s how much say we have on what we work on and how we work on it. It’s empowering to feel in control of what we do, but sometimes we’re not in control of everything at work, so where’s the balance?
Autonomy can be created at individual and team level, mutually assigning tasks, discussing roles, workloads and even the location. To ensure we’re giving autonomy as employers, rather than expressing demands or seeking control, notice how these conversations are taking place. Is there more advice or more questions? Asking questions gives the space for choice, whereas offering advice can close that space leaving us feeling controlled. Now, we won’t always be able to choose exactly what we’d prefer or we might find that sometimes being told is necessary, but that’s life - one of those childhood life lessons, we don’t always get what we want. Creating the space for autonomy is also about communication and compromise. Communicate your needs, listen to how that can work, and discuss with an open mind to come to feasible solutions between you and your employer.
As humans we have a desire to learn, to improve and to master, to feel like we’re progressing. Progress could be big goals like working your way up the career ladder, or simply breaking down smaller barriers that stand in our way of progress, like working with a team that’s progressing towards something, or trying the tasks we’re not so confident in.
Creating competence within teams and as individuals using feedback, constructive criticism and praise allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment. Being told we did a good job, that a meeting went really well or that we’re valued as part of the team can really boost our sense of competence. This harnesses our motivation and keeps us progressing to keep getting that kind of feedback. Constructive criticism is important too, outlining areas for improvement, suggestions for next time or what doesn’t seem to work helps us to progress. But if it’s overly negative or vague it can be demotivating. Balance feedback by offering constructive criticism and praise, speaking with empathy, to highlight progress that’s already been made and how to keep making it. As employees we may need to ask for more feedback, but remember you’re human and make mistakes, listen to the feedback and always ask questions for clarity to make sure you understand.
We’re really beginning to grasp the importance of relatedness, our willingness to connect with others, interact and care for other people. Us humans love to be seen as helping, we like social interactions (even the introverts among us like a few), connection helps us to feel satisfied in life.
Creating relatedness at work is about ensuring employees can build connections to each other. Connection at work can help us feel satisfied even on days where everything is going wrong. It gives us that outlet to complain a bit (something we all bond over, more so that discussing the good bits), we can laugh together, have off topic conversations, feel part of a team and valued. Connection helps us feel secure at work, and everywhere else too. But relatedness is more than just bonding with others, it’s understanding our significance to tasks, the significance to the whole team or organisation's larger objectives, feeling part of something bigger than just us and our needs. Talk about the outcomes of people’s efforts with the whole team and how the work helps others. We tend to work harder and feel more motivated towards pro-social behaviour (behaviour seen to be helping others), and are left feeling satisfied.
Now, these are by no means the only things we can do to cultivate contentment at work, but it’s a great start. While work perks and salaries will impact how we feel about our jobs, it’s helpful to look into the less tangible perks to help us navigate this narrative of finding ‘happiness’. The important part to remember is that we won’t always feel happy in our jobs and we won’t always feel content even, as employees or employers. But when we find our work satisfying, feel competent and have some control, connected to others and contributing to a bigger picture more days than not, we’re probably on to a winner!
Communication is key
There’s a key ingredient for cultivating a healthy working culture, that encourages motivation and contentment, and moves away from this grind culture. One that you probably focus on already, but it’s actually still a leading cause of work-related stress.
Communication is the key to a healthier working culture, and something we can all improve to see the benefit. It’s not just about talking more, or keeping people up to date, or checking in with employees often - although that is important and highly beneficial.
When it comes to internal communication, be clear and concise, make a good use of tools (phone calls for urgent things, one-line emails for quick questions, meetings for discussions), don’t get caught up in Zooming for every possible communication, the zoom-fatigue is real and even more so since the pandemic.
Communication in the workplace also means respecting boundaries and building trust. Encourage an environment where we’re not expected to answer every email immediately, where there’s trust between employers and colleagues, where we’ve got a good sense of autonomy. It helps workers to implement a more productive work-life balance, where we can actually switch off at the end of the day, and therefore are encouraged and able to be more productive during working hours.
It also means allowing the space for emotions at work - and we don’t mean having more tissue boxes laying around so people can cry more. It means acknowledging that we might be having a bad day, or under stress at home, or worried about a sick relative. Encourage employees to talk about how they are, it doesn’t need to be deep but this belief that we must remain professional and therefore hide how we are can become toxic - we all face ups and downs everyday why pretend like we’re fine and allow these challenges to distract us or cloud our judgements. Acknowledging emotions in the workplace allows us to bring empathy to communication, meaning we can continue to communicate effectively rather than getting uppity or annoyed with each other.
Cultivating a content working culture: is going to take societal effort, on top of employers and employees to make changes to the current culture. And not everyone will jump on board straight away, so be patient. Help others understand the need for an even work-life balance and the importance of prioritising wellbeing at work, as well as in our personal lives.