My biggest challenge is to make my work fulfilling and rewarding.
— Assistant Quantity Surveyor
The vast majority of the Biggest Challenge at Work responses focused on dealing with other people: employees, management, coworkers. Only a handful of people confessed to the challenge of dealing with themselves.
Wouldn’t it be great if every job-weary employee immediately googled “employee-engagement + self-help”—instead of gossiping, shopping on Amazon, or doing whatever else job-weary employees do? Our disengagement epidemic would cure itself!
Therefore, as far as I am concerned, every one of the extraordinary souls who chose to look after their own engagement deserves our close attention. The one above, however, uttered such a quintessential cry for help that I had to answer it right away.
How can we help this Assistant Quantity Surveyor (AQS) discover meaning and purpose in his daily to-do?
First off, what does a Quantity Surveyor do? Is there something about the job itself that keeps it from being rewarding and fulfilling?
A British government website nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk explains that,
“As a quantity surveyor you would play a key role in a building project, managing the costs from the early design plans, through to the building’s completion. You would make sure that projects meet legal and quality standards, and that clients get good value for their money.”
It further states that a quantity surveyor works 30-40 hours per week and that the starting salary is £20,000 per year (about $28,800 USD).
On the face of it, there is nothing especially offensive about this job description. It looks like a clean professional gig with a clear upside of making clients happy. So, to help our AQS with his challenge, we must now ask what kinds of things, in general, he finds rewarding and fulfilling.
This is the type of question I recommend asking candidates at a job interview—to avoid precisely what happened to our AQS. And, if you are a small business where the owner interviews every potential hire, you may just leave it at that. However, if your company interviews hundreds of candidates every year, it might help to decide in advance what kinds of answers you are looking for. And what kinds of answers will raise a red flag.
Too often, the job interview is limited to technical qualifications and past experience. Unfortunately, neither one is a guarantee that the candidate will love his new job. What is? Some of today’s mega-successful companies have figured out how to test for winning traits and behaviors. If you want to know more, check out my new book Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?. It deals with hiring rituals promptly in Chapter 2, Hire Traits and Behaviors.
So, one possibility is that our AQS, who is by nature a motivated and conscientious worker, picked the wrong career. It happens to young people more often than not. A good test is to see whether his essential job duties agree with the way he lives his life. For example, as part of his job, our AQS must comb through a ton of details and paperwork. But does he do that at home? Does he comparison shop till he drops? Or does he buy the first item that catches his eye? Does he do his own taxes? Or does he pay an accountant?
If saving money for himself is not a passion of his, then doing it for clients won’t be rewarding or fulfilling either. It will feel pointless and punishing. If this is his case, we must be brutally honest and suggest that our AQS look into a career change. He could try something within the same industry. For example, many technical experts turn to business development when they realize they’d rather talk about projects than carry them to completion. Or it could be something he already finds rewarding, like a hobby or volunteer work—that he can do full-time.
The other possibility is that our AQS is actually a fine fit for his line of work. In that case, his day-to-day job duties need some tweaking. If this sounds like you—and if you were reading my book—I’d tell you to skip to Chapter 8, Use Them Or Lose Them. I wrote it to help managers assign projects to their direct reports. But it just as easily applies to finding the best use for your own interests and talents. In fact, nothing will prepare you for managing others better than steering yourself towards assignments that make you feel good about yourself.
Once again, it’s time to ask our AQS what types of projects appeal to him. Residential or commercial? Urban or rural? Is he excited about green technologies? Or is he an employee-engagement geek, like me? And does he want to learn about the kinds of office buildings that feel like home to people who work inside?
More and more companies will let you choose the projects you work on. Some will even go as far as letting you create your own projects. What kinds of projects can you create? Well, let’s ask our AQS if he has one in mind already. For example, most service providers rely heavily on in-house tools. And it’s the quality of these tools that so often keeps us from finding joy in our work.
Say our AQS loves looking after clients’ every penny. But he doesn’t love entering and reentering data into antiquated software. Could he help develop, select or test a new system? Imagine if he could cut out a mountain of busywork, not just for himself, but for generations of future AQSs. How rewarding and fulfilling would that be?
Or maybe a simple change to the current process can let a client take care of part of the work. What if our AQS could save clients even more money while saving himself an unpleasant task?
These are the kinds of in-house projects most employers will gladly support. Whether you ask to join an ongoing effort or start something new, expect the higher-ups to at least meet you halfway. In any event, if you are looking for fulfillment, it doesn’t hurt to let your preferences be known.
But, first, you must have a preference.
Realizing that your work sucks is a vital first step. Else, you would be part of the crowd who can’t even imagine it being any other way. There’s no hope in that. Looking for help is another excellent move. Only one step is missing: learning what kind of work can and will make you happy.
You can broaden or narrow down your search as much as you like. These days, plenty of people of all ages wonder about their life’s true calling. An army of career coaches and a library of strengths tests are ready to come to your assistance. On a personal note, I don’t know anyone who has figured out his dream job analytically. In the end, you always know it when you see it.
So, how can you set yourself up to see more?
Do you know what everyone else is working on? What kinds of projects are coming in? Can you be the first to find out? You could if you taught yourself one critical job-survival skill: networking.
Networking is a big word. In reality, it’s nothing more than natural human-to-human connection with people you don’t run into every day. It’s a little effort to stay in touch that goes a long way. In fact, networking with your fellow employees is crucial to your job satisfaction. Even a few happy hours to commiserate and trade office gossip can lift your spirits. What about checking in regularly with someone who is actually happy and successful at his job? Someone who is knowledgeable and influential?
Some people assume that a strict hierarchy rules their work lives, and that they can only network with someone of their own rank. This may be true of other cultures, but in America, many people are friends with their bosses. And many execs jump at the chance to get to know their people. So, give yourself permission to network up, down and across your company.
Today corporate networking is easier than ever. If your company has a social intranet, use it to your full advantage. If not, go back to the paragraph where we talked about innovative in-house projects. (Yes, I do mean start a social intranet. My company can help you with that—but that’s a separate story.)
While our AQS need not rule out his current employer, he must not forget about other companies. He would do well to network with clients, go to industry events, and keep up with college buddies.
It’s hard to be social when you feel drained and discouraged. Fortunately, networking offers both short- and long-term benefits. And, as we all know, it’s highly addicting. So, if you are a wallflower, take a tiny step out of your comfort zone. And, if you live on Facebook and Instagram, then channel your networking powers into your career.
In summary, nobody needs to hate his job. Hating your work is a habit. We learn it as children when we choose to do what impresses others rather than what makes us happy. And, like any habit, it can be unlearned with mindfulness and intention.
If you catch yourself resenting your job, start steering yourself towards work that makes you happy, both paid and unpaid. Network to create opportunities. Get to know more people at work and get to know them better. That alone can change the way you feel about your job. And if not, it will surely change the way you feel about yourself.
If you like feeling good about yourself, you might like my book, because it will help you feel good about your work.