Improve your career wellbeing

First up, what is career wellbeing?

Well it doesn’t have a 100% agreed-on definition but researchers have tried to break it down into various elements including:

  • career transitions you might make
  • your relationships at work
  • your relationship with the organisation
  • your work performance
  • your sense of purpose
  • learning and development
  • your work-life blend

In today’s blog, I want to give you some pointers on managing these elements of your career so you can strengthen your career wellbeing and keep it strong.

My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengths guy. I podcast first thing each week, ready to ready you for the week ahead. I podcast on all things work, often many things life and how the two can come together in the happiest possible blend to keep you at your strongest.

A word about careers today.

In my view, there’s more flexibility and opportunity to take control and ownership of your career, at any stage, than at any other time in history. Why? At least 3 reasons!

First, increasing consciousness of the need for and value of diversity in the workplace means that there are more options for more people than there have been before. Notice I said consciousness. That in no way means we are anywhere near approaching ok in our understanding and practice of diversity, inclusion and belonging, but at least the topic is now on the table.

Secondly, technology is allowing us to work more flexibly and that further enables career flexibility in terms of learning, work location and the type of work accessible to us.

Finally, we are now living longer. For many this means there is a genuine opportunity to career-hop, to move sideways, to shift industries or to monetise hobbies as we have more time in life to consider all of these options.

Even when we’re faced with a depressed economy and uncertainty due to the current pandemic, it paints a fascinating, positive picture of careers in the 21st century. But it also presents challenges such as the potential overwhelm of career options which face you today. How do you pick the best career opportunities from the dizzying array before you?  How can you deal with feelings of anxiety about whether your employer will do right by you when times are tough, if you’re now expected to take greater ownership of your own development and career?

For these reasons, it’s important to keep a close eye on your career wellbeing so you can identify any areas which need attention or adjustment as you move through life.

In her paper of 2008, Jennifer Kidd outlined the 7 elements of career wellbeing that I talked about in my intro.  Today, I’m going to cover the first 3. Next week, I’ll move on to the final 4 as I want to give enough time to each.

So, let’s get to career transitions and progression, relationships at work and your relationship with the organisation and think about how to get each one humming for you.

Career progression

Whenever you come across an opportunity to transition your role or career, there is one thing that you can predict with some certainty – you’re going to go through a process of change. This means letting go and experiencing that inevitable sense of loss (and possibly anxiety) that comes with it. Ultimately it means moving through some challenging emotions (perhaps guilt, insecurity and regret, alongside excitement, hope and a sense of freedom) until you’re ready to consider exploring your new future and starting to commit to it. Tentatively at first and in time, when it’s the right move for you, wholeheartedly.

Even if you are highly change-oriented and risk-embracing, this intensity of emotion is likely to be something that you experience. The levels of emotions will depend on you and your context.

My main tips for navigating such transitions?

  • Know your strengths as they will give you strength during the change (my Empathy, Collaboration and Self-confidence are trusted tools I know I can count on in changing times…you will have yours too)
  • Know your risks so that they don’t trip you up (for me, during change, that’s Strategic-mindedness and Critical thinking in overdrive which can lead me to overthinking-induced anxiety)
  • Be kind to yourself, because that emotional cycle that I’ve just described is not easy to navigate. You will need to have time for self-care and reflection so that you can be sure to get what you need by way of support.

Relationships at work

A lot of research has shown that the greatest contributor to satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work is the quality of the relationships we have with our colleagues.

Summarising a little of what I cover in the podcast and blog, specifically in the context of your career wellbeing, my advice is to:

  • Strengthen the level of connection you have with people. More tips on that in last week’s podcast / blog at season 8, episode 12 (which is mainly about listening well and being curious)
  • To ask for help when you need it
  • To offer support when you feel that you might be able to help. Being prepared to be vulnerable and to own not being great at everything shows other people that you are human and that allows them to be human too. That, in itself, can strengthen the level of trust, connection and happiness you feel in your work relationships.

Your relationship with the organisation

My PhD research focused on the nature of psychological contracts. A psychological contract is the relationship you have with the organisation that employs you. Specifically, the unsaid stuff about what you expect to give to and what you expect to get from, your employer. In reality, no-one really has an actual relationship with their organisation. I mean, you might have views of it and feelings about it, but an organisation is just an idea right, a brand maybe and a collection of people.

According to the research, your closest alternative to having a relationship with your organisation is the relationship you have with your boss because they represent the organisation in a way that’s relatable.

My tip here is, over time, to build a strong, honest, open relationship with your boss. Clearly communicate your needs and expectations so that as little as possible of the relationship you have with your boss and the organisation that pays your wages is in fact hidden or psychological.

In the context of your career and your career wellbeing that means having regular chats and check-ins with your boss about (in no particular order):

  • any upcoming career opportunities for you
  • your level of satisfaction with your role right now
  • how you feel you might want to change things up
  • what you like about your role, your team, the culture
  • what level of ambition you might have for your future career

The more your boss knows about you and your career aspirations, the more they will be able to support you to get what you want career-wise.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much done with hearing stories about people who expected the organisation to know that they were hungry for a career move. The people who sat waiting for their boss to get them there without actually telling anyone. The first thing their boss knew about it was when they quit, saying that they were frustrated at the lack of career opportunities.

It doesn’t have to be like that if you’re more open and transparent about having those conversations with your line manager. It can only really benefit you to do that, even though it might take courage to have the conversation each time.

Alright, that’s it for this week with the first 3 areas of career wellbeing covered.

Next time, I’ll discuss the remaining four. Follow my podcast and switch your notifications on to get the update as soon as it is published.

Till next time, stay well.

See Improving your career wellbeing part 2 here

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