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How to thrive at work

No matter how driven you are to achieve success, plenty of day-to-day barriers can prevent you from continually thriving and feeling motivated to be your best.

But with a bit of understanding of how business patterns impact your happiness and productivity, it’s possible to overcome challenges and prosper, regardless of your current position on the career ladder.

There are two common factors that can prevent people from thriving, according to Michael Leiter, Professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology in Deakin University’s Faculty of Health: exhaustion and frustration.

Feeling down from exhaustion

For many, exhaustion is a huge factor in failing to thrive at work, Prof. Leiter says. Exhaustion is the result of being unable to recover the energy that’s spent during the working day. ‘It could be that people work so intensely that even with a low-demand evening and a good night’s sleep, they cannot start fresh the next day,’ he explains.

There may also be external factors that cause exhaustion. For example, those with hectic social lives that reduce time for rest might also struggle to thrive at work. To address this problem, Prof. Leiter says people need to work on pacing their activities at work and improve recovery outside of work. He advises using tools including sleep, recreation and mindfulness.

If the problem is the workload itself, ‘Employees then must revise the job expectations with their managers or it will become overwhelming,’ he adds.

'It could be that people work so intensely that even with a low-demand evening and a good night’s sleep, they cannot start fresh the next day.'

Michael Leiter,
Professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology

Failing to thrive through frustration

Frustration is the other big factor that impacts many people from being their best self at work. Prof. Leiter says workers experience frustration when processes run contrary to their way of working, which in turn can drive them to work ineffectively.

Frustration can also be a result of what he calls ‘value conflicts’. ‘Value conflicts are problematic in that working according to the rules means that you are failing to further what really matters to you,’ he explains. ‘For example, selling people services you know they don’t really need or operating processes that are environmentally damaging.’

Frustration can be harder to overcome if the employee is not in a position to change processes or company values.

Crafting the ideal condition

For many people experiencing frustration or a lack of motivation, Prof. Leiter suggests completing an exercise in ‘job crafting’.

This means finding the personal drive to re-imaging the role you have as a role you want, finding opportunities to play to your strengths and enjoy more aspects of your work. In doing this, ‘People deliberately work on increasing the amount of time they devote to enjoyable, fulfilling activities and reducing the time devoted to drudgery,’ he explains.

Prof. Leiter says most jobs allow employees some latitude, but in crafting a role people must be careful not to create more work for those around them. Instead they might work with management to establish which parts of their role are essential and which components could be made more efficient or completely removed.

‘These strategies help to address problems with the values process in that it allows people to develop a job to align with their aspirations,’ Prof. Leiter says.

Thriving whether or not you love your job

Few people can say that they absolutely love every aspect of their role, but it helps to know there are parts that are aligned with what you value, Prof. Leiter suggests.

‘People thrive when they have confidence in the value of their efforts. Without that, one must become content with working to maintain a standard of living and searching for more valued activities in their personal lives,’ he points out.

It explains why many millennials aren’t relying completely on their day job for fulfilment. Whether they’re teaching yoga outside office hours or writing a novel, many are ensuring their passions are nurtured completely on their terms. The ‘side hustle’, as it’s often referred to, isn’t always motivated by finances. It can be an opportunity to do something just for you, which places less pressure on your employer to provide constant inspiration. As long as these commitments don’t result in burnout, you’ll end up with a more fulfilling existence in general and find yourself thriving in both work and life.

Want to understand workplace behaviour and motivation? Consider studying Organisational Psychology at Deakin University.


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Michael Leiter
Michael Leiter

Professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, Faculty of Health, Deakin University
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