father and son using laptop in office

Employers have dubbed 2021 The Great Resignation. Employees are calling it a great opportunity. What’s going on and what does it mean?

Through a unique combination of timing and circumstances, a significant portion of the workforce is measuring how their jobs are contributing to their sense of life satisfaction. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index Report* reveals some interesting numbers. Nearly half the global workforce (46%) is planning to relocate because they can work remotely. Working remotely has increased the use of video conferencing by 148% and 40.6 billion more emails were sent in February 2021 than in February 2020.

With its office shutdowns and remote work accommodations, the pandemic gave people a chance to spend time exploring their interests and needs. They have experienced a work life with increased flexibility and all its associated benefits ... and they like it. At the same time, Microsoft’s report reveals that remote work, with its demands to maintain a human connection with colleagues and remain productive, is exhausting.

Occupational Wellness

People want to keep that new-found flexibility and productivity in a role that supports them without burnout. They want their occupation to contribute to a happier, wholesome life. They are seeking occupational wellness.

“Occupational wellness includes one’s sense of fulfillment, purpose and satisfaction in their work life," says Rachel DuPaul, a licensed psychologist with Better Balance Psychology. "Many facets are included in that — personality, skill set, strengths, talents, values. It’s how all these fit into one’s work life, then how work life fits into one’s overall personal life.”

Finding a new job is only one of many ways a person can act to improve their occupational wellness, but it is not always necessary, or even the right choice. Trust fund children aside, work is a mandatory part of life. Identifying the role work plays in overall life happiness will yield nothing but good.

“We humans tend to struggle with naming our strengths and talents,” observes DuPaul. “We live with ourselves and take them for granted. We erroneously assume that everyone can do these things.”

DuPaul is referring to the vast array of innate talents that differentiate one person from another. Conflict resolution, scheduling, leadership, athletics — not everyone is equally adept at these abilities. Finding an objective observer such as a friend, colleague or therapist to help identify these talents is an important part of validation.

Identifying what a person is good at doing is not always the best approach to finding a suitable occupation. Take math. Being good at math does not mean one’s destiny lies in programming or accounting. A math skill could be attributed to a person’s talent of paying attention to detail, memorizing, analyzing or recognizing patterns.

“Ask yourself, ‘What do I enjoy about this task that I’m good at doing?’" DuPaul says. "That’s your guide.”

This advice is apropos at any age. A meaningful job for a person at age 30 may not be the right fit when that person is 50 or even 35. Individuals grow. Life changes. Interests evolve. These are always in a state of fluctuation and should be assessed in context of one’s overall occupational wellness.

Adapt. Accept. Adjust.

Sometimes adversity necessitates adjusting career timelines and goals. In some cases, life-changing events such as being laid off, suffering from mental health problems or coping with the death of a loved one marks the time to begin a new chapter.

“In the event of adversity, you need to give yourself time and space for your feelings because they are valid,” DuPaul says. “There is grief, sadness and anger associated with letting go of unrealized expectations. Then focus on what you will do.”

A common trap is for a person to fixate on what they cannot control. DuPaul recommends getting support for emotional and logistical processing. This can mean anything from spending time with friends to calling a temp agency for work.

In the end, occupational wellness is about harmonizing work and life. Finding happiness and meaning at work is a personal journey and an individual will recognize when they have struck the right chord. For them, that is a satisfying sound, indeed.

*Microsoft Work Trend Index Report https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index

True Value 

Licensed psychologist Rachel DuPaul cautions that equating financial success to life success is a pitfall.

In the personal pursuit of occupational wellness, recognize that some people hold wealth as a measurement of life success. These people derive enjoyment from working to increase their monetary gain, and often define themselves by their professional status, and the material wealth and possessions they accrue.

It’s true that a source of income is necessary for people meet their basic needs — food, housing, clothing and a means of transportation, to name those at the top of the list — but no person should measure their value as a human being or contributor to society by what they have attained financially.

Quality time with family and friends. Spending time outdoors. Hanging out and chatting with the same barista every weekend. These are other values that people may uphold and, for them, work is simply a means to do more of what they love.

“Money is quantifiable and other values are driven by experience,” says DuPaul.

For those driven by emotional values, DuPaul recommends they acknowledge that money has a different representation of how it serves them.

Is there an answer? In work, identify the why. Work is a means to an end. When that end is filled with personal happiness, it becomes the most important meaning of all.