Do you have the chance to do what you do best each day at work? If that sounds far from reality, you’re not alone. While most of us may have moments of feeling engaged, energized and happy with our jobs, the reality is that 70 percent of employees around the globe report that most days they don’t feel engaged.
But surely that’s just the reality of work, right?
It turns out a growing body of research over the last decade has found that when you have an opportunity to use your strengths—those things you’re good at and enjoy doing—even for just part of your day, you’re likely to feel more confident, more energized and up to six times more engaged. And the good news is, not only will you feel happier, but this sense of well-being has a ripple effect. This means your work colleagues and customers are also more likely to feel happier.
It’s a win-win outcome. So why is it so hard?
Unfortunately, we are wired with a negativity bias: the bad stuff around us just screams louder and longer than the positive. This is why Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute, one of the leading researchers and teachers on character strengths, suggests we look for new ways to develop our strengths at work.
Here are some of Ryan’s suggestions:
1. Take the free VIA Character Strengths survey
In just ten minutes you’ll be able to identify your character strengths. By reflecting on the moments when you’ve felt most engaged and energized, you’ll be able to easily see how these strengths show up in your job.
2. Align your strengths to your job
No matter what your job might be, you can always find ways to bring your best qualities to an activity, conversation or routine to improve your engagement. List the five things you do most frequently at work (it could be filing, leading team meetings or emailing clients). Then write down one way you can use your top five VIA strengths for each of the five work tasks. For example, it might be using creativity to end each team meeting with a new quote.
3. Subtract a signature strength
It can be easy to take for granted the impact your strengths have on what you do. However, what would happen if you couldn’t use your strengths? First consider how one of your top five VIA strengths has helped you so far in life: it could be building relationships, achieving many things, or feeling happy and contented. Now, imagine that you're not allowed to use that strength for the next month. For example, if you choose curiosity, you can’t ask questions, try new experiences, new foods or search the Internet. Consider what that would be like, and how you would feel.
4. Create a strengths habit
Research shows that one of the most effective ways to make a change is to create a small daily strengths habit and be consistent in practicing it. Just select the strength you want to focus on and harness your brain’s neurological habit loop by creating a cue to trigger off the habit, a routine to use your strength for at least ten minutes or more, and then make sure you reward yourself immediately for your effort so your brain learns to love this routine. For example: “When I arrive at work, I’ll spend ten minutes developing my strength of curiosity by reading something new and my reward will be getting my morning cup of coffee.”
To learn about more than 70 different strengths habits, join Live Happy and the VIA Institute for the free Global Strengths Challenge.
How can you start putting your strengths to work?
Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, teacher and coach with a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has written extensively on well-being in the workplace.