When we feel stuck in our job, how can we enhance our well-being even though we cannot make a drastic change in our career?

In social gatherings, it is common to hear our friends expressing boredom in their routine work life but feeling reluctant to risk quitting their job.  The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the reasons for the increase of fear of losing one’s job.  As a result, many people would rather stay in their current job, even though they felt stuck by not enjoying their daily work routine.  Is it possible to enjoy a routine work task, such as a cashier’s job in the supermarket or a customer service officer’s daily hotline duty?  How to prevent burnout from performing work tasks repetitively everyday, such as a surgeon performing operation every day or a musician playing one’s musical instrument in regular performances?

Instead of making a drastic change in our career to avoid burnout or boredom, we may find ways to be more engaged in our daily work.  According to Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi, an American-Hungarian psychologist, we can achieve high level of well-being in what we are doing every day by engaging in a highly focused mental state called “Flow”.  In flow, our experience becomes highly enjoyable and we will continue to engage in the experience even at great cost.  In fact, the flow experience is universal.  This means that people in different genders, races, cultures and social economic classes can have flow experience.

In order to have flow experience in our daily work task, we need to have clear goal and immediate feedback.  For example, the clarity of the goal of removing a tumour of a patient in a surgery and the immediate feedback of the condition of the patient are important factors contributing whether a flow experience can be achieved.  In the flow experience, the level of challenge should be level with the skill of the performer.  That is, the surgical skills of the surgeon should be adequately parallel with the skills required for the operation.  As a result, there is also a feeling of control in the task.  The task seems to be effortless and the performer is at ease.

In flow experience, the passage of time seems out of our conscious awareness.  It is common for a surgeon to experience time flies very quickly for hours-long operation.  The performer engages in the task with full concentration.  The action and one’s awareness are merged, so that one does not have self-conscious rumination during the task.  With all these condition, the task during a flow experience is intrinsically rewarding.

By setting clear goal, engaging with complete concentration and balancing between the challenge of the task and our skills; even people working in very routine work, such as assembly line workers, can experience flow.  If we want to have flow experience, we need to stay away from distractions, such as our mobile phone, during our engagement with the task.  It is because we need to be in full concentration in order to have flow experience.  Furthermore, if we find the challenge of the task at hand is too low for us, we need to increase the challenge so that our skills are balanced with the skills required.  On the contrary, if the challenge is too difficult for us, we will feel anxious and stressed.  It is unlikely that we will have flow experience given our skills not matching with the challenge.

Without drastic change of our career, we can still enhance our well-being and enjoyment in daily routine work.  With the above conditions for flow experience in mind, we can prevent burnout and achieve higher level of work satisfaction.

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