For many of us, the disruption caused by COVID-19 has created an unexpected opportunity to reassess our working lives. Aspects of our working lives that perhaps we have never before questioned are now up for reimagining.

It has become very clear that for most of us, work is an activity not a location. But what exactly do we want out of the experience of working? Of course there’s the mortgage or the rent to pay, but most of us don’t work only for the money.

Research suggests that experiencing more meaning from our work largely comes down to changing our perspective. We all have the opportunity to be more intentional about how we think about work and how we define success.

Wonderful new possibilities emerge when we let go of inherited definitions to create new ways of thinking about our work. Changing the way we think about work and success can change the way we feel about our work. And changing the way we feel about our work can have a profound impact on us and the people we care most about. It leads to significant shifts in the way we show up at work – and at home.

This week in Hello Monday Morning, I invite you to consider some alternative ways of thinking about work to gain line-of-sight to the aspirations you hold for your working life.

 

WORK AS A JOB

We think about our work as a job when we are primarily focused on the perks it provides, such as salary and other benefits. Those who see their work as a job are typically more invested in their lives outside of the office and they see work as the means to do the things they really love.

If we are employed as a casual employee or a shift worker, the value exchange that defines our work is probably something like:

I give you a fixed amount of time each week to perform the specialised work you tell me to perform and you give me an agreed amount of money for each hour I work. The more time I give you, the more money I get.

If we are salaried employees, perhaps the nature of the value exchange goes something like this:

I give you my commitment to perform the specialised work you tell me to perform, no matter how many hours it takes me each week and you give me an agreed amount of money each fortnight plus money towards my retirement and per- haps the opportunity to earn a bonus at the end of the year. The harder I work, the more money, status, recognition and sense of worthiness I receive.

 

WORK AS A CAREER

Those who see their work as a career are not only motivated by the money they earn, they are also driven to seek out opportunities for development and advancement. People who see themselves as having a career often have a long-term aspiration for their working lives and work-related goals. This is a different version of value exchange.

 

WORK AS A CALLING

Those who experience their work as a calling are most likely to feel a sense of alignment between their chosen area of work and who they are as a person. They have a strong emotional connection to their work and generally experience strong levels of enthusiasm. Although people who see their work as a calling are much more susceptible to experiencing heartbreak as a result of work-related setbacks, research indicates that people who see their work as a calling experience more satisfaction than people who see their work as a job or a career.

 

WORK AS PRODUCTIVE PLAY

It’s a big fat lie that work is the opposite of play. The opposite of play is depression.

I personally love to think about work as a form of productive play – and this is certainly how I experience working when I am at my best.

 

WORK AS A MEANS OF GROWTH

Another way to think about our work is as a vehicle for our growth and self-expression. John Sculley, a former leader at Apple, once said, ‘the new corporate contract is that we’ll  offer you an opportunity to express yourself and grow, if you promise to leash yourself to our dream at least for a while.’

Work can be seen as an experience of discovery and personal development – a vehicle for the exploration of how our selves can best serve the organisations we are part of and the world those organisations occupy.

 

WORK AS SOURCE OF WELLBEING

There is a growing body of evidence that tells us that work can be a source of wellbeing. Positive experiences at work play an important role in our mental health and overall happiness. One of the ways work can directly contribute to our happiness is through the production of the four main ‘feel-good’ chemicals that boost our mood – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.

Dopamine is released when we feel we have accomplished something.

Serotonin is linked to feeling important or significant in life – and work can be a vehicle for feeling that our life really counts, and that we are contributing in meaningful ways to something bigger than ourselves. Research shows that our work is more likely to be a source of wellbeing when we feel that, through our work, we are helping to make life better for customers, colleagues and other stakeholders.

Oxytocin is released during physical contact with another person. Oxytocin supports us to build trust and foster good relationships. Oxytocin has been found to reduce cardiovascular stress and improve immunity. Experiencing moments of warmth and connection with colleagues and customers through our work can elevate our oxytocin levels.

Finally, endorphins help to reduce discomfort in our body. In addition to physical activity, laughter is a great way to release endorphins. By taking a playful approach to our work, we can experience the uplift of endorphins.

 

WORK AS LOVE MADE VISIBLE

The expression ‘work is love made visible’ was first used by the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran. In 1923 he published his book The Prophet which contained a collection of prose poetry fables, including the following words:

When you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born. And what is it to work with love? Work is love made visible.

In my own working life, I aspire to create harmony between all of my big loves – my love for myself, my love for my family and friends and my love for my work.

 

WORK AS A PATH OF SERVICE

Finally, we can also think about our work as a path of service. We can serve our colleagues, our organisations and the customers and communities they serve. We serve the fragile ecosystems we inhabit to help sustain all forms of life.

I don’t subscribe to the view that to serve is to sacrifice. It is my belief that we best serve by bringing forth all that is within us – not by slaughtering even the tiniest part of ourselves. And, that to be of service is our highest calling.

Just think about the possibilities that will emerge as more people begin to think about work as an opportunity to serve – and as a pathway to doing what they love from a place of love.

The highest aspiration I hold for my work is to embody my essence to generously serve in order to uplift life.

 

Self-Fidelity Practice To Play With

This week I invite you to take some time out to reflect on these questions:

How do I choose to think about ‘work’?

What is my highest aspiration for my working life?

 

There will be plenty of signposts directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way.

Arianna Huffington