The manic pursuit of happiness has left many people upset — worried they will never enjoy work unless they choose “the perfect career.” Some of us also believe we will feel trapped in a job where we aren’t “doing what we love.” But it’s not that simple — or desperate. In his New York Times bestseller, Great Work, David Sturt asserts that most of the fulfillment we experience comes not from finding that one-in-a-million position, but in making a difference in the job we already have.
For me, David’s comment about “making a difference” is the key to most employee engagement issues on the planet. No matter where you live or who you are, people need to feel they are adding value to something bigger than themselves. If they don’t, a lack of self-worth will quickly lead to depression and disengagement.
In Dan Ariely’s Ted Talk, “What makes us feel good about our work?,” he describes several experiments where people were paid to do a simple task with decreasing amounts of compensation. The groups were divided into three categories: those that had their work acknowledged; those that had their work ignored; and those that had their work destroyed after completion. In all the experiments, work that was ignored and destroyed were held in basically the same regard.
Additionally, those that felt their work had no meaning or offered no value were more likely to produce lower quality work or cheat, despite the money they were making. Those that had their work acknowledged did more for less compensation, at a higher quality and a greater level of care. The basic human need to feel that their work mattered had a massive impact on how engaged they were in their job and the results they delivered.
If you speak to any motivational speaker or self-help guru, they will tell you that self-worth — knowing that you matter — must come before you can truly care for anything else in life. Not surprisingly, this equally applies to the workplace.
To solve our American job engagement problem, each and every employee must ask himself or herself one question: “Am I adding value in my job?” If the answer is “no,” do something about it.
Speak To Your Boss
The first place to go whenever you are not feeling connected to the mission and purpose of your organization is your boss. If they can’t explain and help you understand how your work adds value to your organization’s overall objectives, you will have to seek your answer elsewhere in the company. If no one can connect the dots for you, then it may be time for a job or company change.
Research has consistently shown that a lack of job connection to a company’s mission and purpose has a significant impact on employee engagement. If your current employer can’t help you make that connection, it’s time for a change. But remember that moving on isn’t the same as moving forward.
Seek A Positive Change
When I was directing plays in NYC I would coach my actors not to make a move on stage to get away from something, but rather to go to something — to make a positive choice. This same principle applies to your job and career. If you don’t feel you are adding value in your current job or at your company, you will never jump out of bed each morning and deliver the potential you have in life.
Start looking for that connection elsewhere either in your current company in a different job or at another company in the same job. When you identify your target, make the move to get it.
You don’t need to change jobs to find happiness if you feel you are adding value to your organization and those around you. If other working conditions are not quite right, it is worth talking to your manager or HR to try to get them resolved before quitting. However, no matter how great everything else is, if you can’t see the value you bring to your company, you will never be truly happy or engaged in your work and you need to move to a better place for the sake of everyone — most importantly you!
This article was originally published on Huffington Post.
Published on Forbes, 16th January 2014