We have a serious problem today in our society: statistics show that a staggering 70% of American workers report dissatisfaction with their work.
But the problem does not stop there with job dissatisfaction. Many people also report depression and anxiety in the workplace. This is a serious epidemic, especially considering that we spend a whopping 1/3 of our lives at work.
Here are some sobering facts on this issue:
- One in four Americans reports that work is a source of anxiety and depression.
- Depressed employees lose, on average, 27 working days per year.
- In a study of First Chicago Corporations, depressive disorders accounted for more than half of all medical plan dollars paid for mental health problems.
- Almost 15% of those suffering from severe depression will die by suicide.
Clearly, this is a problem that needs solving. One likely reason that people are dissatisfied at work is simply this: many people look for self-worth in their title or position at work. Research has shown that many people believe that their satisfaction is rooted in the title that they hold or the work that they do. Let’s be real! Who doesn’t want to have an impressive response when someone asks, “What do you do?” We have been programmed from a young age to seek approval from others, and it is this intense desire to please people that gets us in trouble with depression and anxiety later in life.
The desire to please others drives many of the decisions that we make in life, even the career that we choose to pursue. So how can people find true satisfaction and self-worth without subjecting themselves to society’s rat race? And how can you overcome this temptation of prestige-seeking?
First, here are some questions you can ask yourself, to see if you are a prestige-seeker:
- Do you judge others when you find out that they have a title that is less prestigious than yours?
- Are you ever embarrassed to tell someone what you do for a living?
- If you are married, are you ever embarrassed to tell others what your spouse does for a living?
- Do you struggle to say no when your boss asks you to work over the weekend or on your days off?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, realize that you are not alone. Everyone, at one point or another, struggles or has struggled with these same issues. From kindergarten up through adulthood, we are programmed to seek praise and affirmation from others. In elementary school and high school, it was all about getting good grades. Once we graduated and went on to college, it became all about securing that coveted internship or job after graduation. The cycle continues into adulthood as many people live for the approval of others in the workplace.
Here are three tips that can help to free you from this problem.
1. Realize that you are the one who gives meaning and dignity to your work, not the other way around.
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” – Gen 2:15 (emphasis mine).
We have to change our perspective on work. It is God who created work and work is a good thing. But many people make the mistake of believing that if only they can have a certain title, then they will automatically be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Booker T. Washington once said that work does not give the worker meaning. Instead, the worker, in how well he does his work, raises work itself from the plain of drudgery to the plain of the dignified. I believe this 100%.
The job itself does not really matter. It does not matter whether you are a lawyer or a secretary. It does not matter whether you are a carpenter or a plumber. It does not matter whether you are a stay-at-home mom or the CEO of a fortune 500 company. No work is more dignified than any other. None! Because the job itself does not have any intrinsic value that it can pass on to you.
Your work will receive its value from you, not the other way around. And how can you add value and dignity to your work? Seek to do the job the best way that it can be done so that you please God. Notice that I did not say to do the job better than anyone else. The goal here is not to measure yourself against another person. The goal is to find out the best way to do the job, seeking little improvements here and there. Then, doing the work that way. In time you will find that you are more satisfied with the work you do, instead of looking around to see whom you can impress.
2. Take time to enjoy the rewards of your work.
“Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage.” – Eccle 5:18
Americans don’t know how to rest. We love to work. But this non-stop work culture contributes a lot to people’s experience of anxiety and depression. Poor work-life balance can also lead to serious health issues and even poor performance on the job.
Research shows that the optimal number of working hours is somewhere between 40-55 hours per week. Those who work more than 55 hours eventually reach a point where their job performance actually decline instead of increase. This is called the law of diminishing returns. So while many are burning the candle on both ends, often working 60 – 70 hours per week, the return on investment is not much different than someone working 40-55 hours. For more information on this research, check out Morten Hansen’s book Great at Work. You can also click here to read an article that I wrote on this topic.
I am a true believer of taking one day per week to just rest. No emails, no meetings, no phone calls – just rest. Even God, after creating the world in 6 days, took a day of rest. How much more should we do the same!
So, remember to take time each week to kick back and enjoy the labor of your hands. After all, you worked for it.
3. Find meaning in the one who created you, not in your work.
“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11
I started this article discussing the pitfalls of looking for self-worth and value at work. I want to reiterate that work in and of itself is never a bad thing. All work is noble and all is work is dignified, except of course those lines of work that would be considered illegal or unethical. The problem comes whenever someone seeks to find their satisfaction and identity in the work that they do. This leads me to my last point:
Endeavor to find meaning in the one who created you, not in your job. The Bible says that everyone is created in God’s image. This means that you already have intrinsic value and worth in the mere fact that you are breathing. Your very existence is proof of the value that God has placed on your life. The key, however, is to get to know Him in a deep and meaningful way. He who fashioned you in your mother’s womb and now gives you breath knows exactly what you need. So get to know him through his word.
Everything I have written I have personally experienced. Several years ago I went through intense anxiety for several months because of the stress of my job. I was trying too hard to meet the demands of others. Once I realized that my job was not my identity and that God was the main person I needed to please, this relieved me of my anxiety. The statistics I listed in the beginning are scary indeed, but I hope these three tips above can help you in your own journey at work.
– Led by the Book