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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

18 minutes to banish burnout: Three hacks for happiness at work

In less running time than the typical network sitcom, you can banish burnout by identifying how you will put these hacks into practice.

18 minutes to banish burnout: Three hacks for happiness at work
[master1305 /AdobeStock]

“I’m physically and emotionally drained.” “My brain is foggy.” “I’ve hit a wall.” “What’s the point?” 

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If any of these sentiments resonate, you’re not alone. Last year, nearly 60% of workers reported negative impacts of work-related stress. Although burnout has long afflicted modern professional life at all levels, COVID worsened the situation—especially among those for whom work from home doesn’t work.

We will cumulatively spend between one-third and one-half of our lives at work, so it’s mighty hard to be happy in life when we feel depleted by work. These three work hacks can help you engage, energize, and banish burnout.

HACK 1: CHANGE THE TRANSACTION

Work is transactional, let’s face it. You trade your time and energy for money. This crude exchange may not inspire you over the long run, and may even deflate you in the short run. Whatever bounce you get from payday—a bonus or raise, for example—can quickly erode. That’s hedonic adaptation—our tendency to revert to a baseline level of satisfaction. To banish burnout, you need a compelling motivation to jump out of bed each morning, and for many people, money is not that reason.

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While you cannot eliminate the transactional nature of work, you can alter the focus of the exchange. The best career decision you can make is to shift the focus away from extrinsic rewards (like compensation and title) toward intrinsic rewards, such as accomplishing something meaningful. There’s substantial evidence that intrinsic rewards can drive positive and significant engagement, energy, and performance.

In 2019, work management platform Wrike did a deep-dive analysis into the disparity between happiness factors for happy and unhappy employees. Among happy employees, Wrike found job content to be the driving factor:

      Ranking of Happiness Factors for Happy Employees

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  1. Meaningful work
  2. Flexible hours/remote work
  3. Compensation
  4. Management/leadership
  5. Company culture/reputation
  6. Office location

Wrike found unhappy employees, in contrast, prioritize the paycheck:

      Ranking of Happiness Factors for Unhappy Employees

  1. Compensation
  2. Flexible hours/remote work
  3. Meaningful work
  4. Company culture/reputation
  5. Office location
  6. Management/leadership

To harness the power of intrinsic rewards, consider all the non-monetary, qualitative benefits of your job.  These intrinsic rewards might include:

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  • Your job content and the intellectual stimulation from solving complex challenges
  • The impact of your work and your contribution to the organization
  • Your personal growth and skill development
  • Social interaction with colleagues and business partners
  • Your value-add

HACK 2: LEVERAGE YOUR STRENGTHS

Professionals often insert themselves into industries, companies, functional roles, and projects that do not match. It’s a recipe for misery when the role does not fit—perhaps due to temperament, perhaps to skillset—and the executive overstretches.

To excel at work and in life, leverage your strengths. See where you can add the most value and deliver that value. You’re rewarded for value-add.

In a seminal article entitled “Managing Oneself,” management guru Peter Drucker offered enduring wisdom on the value of leveraging strengths: “One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”

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Positive psychologists call these signature strengths. The source of work and life satisfaction, they say, is to use as many of these talents as possible. These are not skills like knowing how to use a spreadsheet. Signature strengths reflect deep personality characteristics—the stuff that makes you tick, such as “curiosity in the world” and “self-control.” Research demonstrates a high, positive correlation between the use of these strengths at work and productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction.

HACK 3: CRAFT YOUR JOB

The perfect job rarely exists. You may need to customize a role to maximize job satisfaction, minimize burnout, and leverage your strengths.

In the organizations I have run, we often accommodated valued executives by customizing positions. Job crafting ranges from being flexible with hours to shuffling responsibilities so executives stay challenged. I would rather craft a job to retain an executive than fill a vacancy with an unproven executive. The inverse also applies: it is often better to tweak a role in a company that values you than to prove yourself to a new organization.

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This is an opportune time to craft your job, with unemployment at historic lows and retention a top priority for many firms. When crafting the role, position your ask from the company’s point of view. Do not tell the company what’s in it for you; emphasize what this does for them. Outline benefits of the proposed arrangement to the company and ways to mitigate or eliminate the downsides (such as guaranteeing productivity based on whatever metric you measure). Emphasize how this request helps your boss. You might help train colleagues, for example. Paraphrasing Jerry Maguire: tell your company how they can help you help them.

18 MINUTES TO BANISH BURNOUT

All it takes is six minutes to strategize each hack. In less running time than the typical network sitcom, you can banish burnout by identifying how you will put these hacks into practice.

• Itemize and write down the qualitative benefits of your job. Make the benefits visible on your desk. Each day, consider what you want to accomplish that day to optimize each benefit.

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• Identify your strengths and the qualities that are both present and missing at work. Can you cultivate these absent strengths at work? How might you nurture these strengths outside work?

• Make a pitch to your supervisor to craft a role that maximizes your extrinsic benefits and your signature strengths, emphasizing the benefits to the company.

Burnout is endemic in corporate America. But these three work hacks can give you a protective firewall for maximum, enduring professional satisfaction. It only takes 18 minutes, and you can start now.

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Todd Miller, Work-Life Evangelist and Author, ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning

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