Hone the Job You Have Into One You Love

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OVER the past few months, American workers have been suffering from a major case of spring fever. Many of them, for the first time in years, are thinking about testing the waters of the slowly improving economy. They are looking for better jobs than those they've been clinging to throughout the recession. Maybe, they think, they can even find a job they love.

Based on my study of a representative sample of more than 8,000 American workers collected by Gallup, people who love their jobs:

• Use their strengths every day, as do their co-workers.

• Feel that they are an important part of their organization's future.

• Are surrounded by colleagues who care about their overall well-being.

• Are excited about the future because of a leader's enthusiasm and vision.

So where can you find the special listing of jobs that meet these criteria? You won't find a special section of "Jobs You Will Love" in the classifieds or on Monster.com. There are no ads that read: "Hopeful leader seeking employee who wants to love her job. Must be willing to do what she does best for many hours a day and feel that her fellow employees and I care about her. In exchange, she will be valued as an important part of our organization's future and receive a decent salary." That's because the jobs people love are made, not found.

By studying people who love their work, I came to realize that almost none initially landed the jobs they loved; rather, they landed ordinary jobs and turned them into extraordinary ones.

Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, says people reinvent their jobs by exercising the little bit of control they have at work. Through what she calls job crafting, people can reshape and redefine their jobs. In a paper she co-wrote, she says you can use your knowledge of what you do best to choose "to do fewer, more, or different tasks than prescribed in the formal job." Changing the quality and amount of interaction with your colleagues, she says, can bring a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.

Making small changes in our daily activities can make a job more rewarding and engaging, but people who love their jobs also have bosses who inspire them, get the most out of them and truly care about them. That's no accident. People who want the most from their work go boss-shopping. They may change shifts or make lateral moves in a company or industry to work for bosses who can become influential leaders in their lives.

I interviewed a workplace consultant as part of a research project on people who love their jobs. She told me she'd been looking for a boss who would tap into her sense of purpose. Just as important, she wanted a boss who trusted her. That's what she got after she requested a switch to a new team in her company. She said her new boss "treated me as an owner of the work and of the relationships I had with clients, and I felt the need to rise to the level of talent she must have thought I had."

Should we teach soon-to-be college graduates to look for a good boss, one who inspires enthusiasm about the future? Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, thinks so. "At the end of every interview, everyone always asks: 'Do you have any questions?' " he observes. "That's when you should ask things like: 'How do you provide feedback to employees on how they are doing? What do you focus on: my strengths or my weaknesses?' "

He added, "And if the manager interviewing you never asks about you as a person or never does or says anything that shows they care about you -- that matters, too."

A LOVE-WORTHY job isn't just for a privileged few -- say, those who went to certain schools or otherwise have the right résumés. With a deep understanding of what drives you and what you are best at, you can make almost any job more lovable.

I recently interviewed a person who makes this case. A clerk in a university maintenance center, she bounded up to me, proclaiming, "I love my job!" She described how she enjoys completing unexpected tasks and solving puzzling problems, always volunteering for work that others might find too demanding or involved. When I asked her why more people don't love their jobs, she said, "Maybe they need more hope."

Shane J. Lopez is a senior scientist for Gallup and the author of "Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others."

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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