With summer approaching, or at least trying to (where is the sun?!), it might be hard to find motivation to perform. You may want to be somewhere else to enjoy the weather, but we still have jobs to do, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. Many people are dissatisfied with and disengaged from their work, but TikTok going viral with things like Bare Minimum Monday and Sunday Scaries isn’t really helping ignite a spark. Considering the amount of our lives we spend at work, perhaps it’s time to explore a more mindful approach.
Maybe it's overwhelm, stress, or burnout. It could be a lack of motivation, a distracted mind, or even a loss of passion. Whatever it is, avoiding it isn’t the answer. Mindfulness takes work and when we’re feeling this way, it’s easy to think we’ll just push through until things “get better,” but what we need to remember is that mindfulness will support us much more through busy times than avoidance.
We spend the majority of our waking time working and yet the majority of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. According to the State of Global Workplace report from Gallup last year, 60% of people are emotionally detached at work and 19% reported being miserable. In the U.S. alone, 50% of workers reported feeling stressed at their jobs on a daily basis, 41% feel worried, 22% feel sad and 18% are downright angry.
Workforce trends, rapidly spread through social media, like Cyberloafing (spending time on social media or online shopping while at work), has drastically increased with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets. The great resignation resulted in about one in three American workers changing jobs. Gallup reported that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters, where workers put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. Rage applying emerged as a reactive way to job search, where dissatisfied workers apply for any job that will get them out of the job they’re in, whether qualified or not. I experienced this last year but had no idea at the time it was a trend. I posted a job for a facilitator with very specific minimum requirements and received so many applicants from people with none of them, like electrical engineers, architects, retail workers and more, that I withdrew the posting altogether. Rage applying is basically throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks.
With the onset of Bare Minimum Mondays, Try Less Tuesdays, Freedom Fridays, worker dissatisfaction trends could be seen as a subcategory to quiet quitting. If you aren’t familiar, this trend was born through TikTok by a woman who was experiencing what she called Sunday Scaries, the common dread of returning to work on Mondays and decided to try doing only the bare minimum on Mondays to help ease into the work week. The goal of bare minimum Monday is to counteract the hustle culture and normalize a slow, steady workflow. It’s being touted as an act of self-care. This has given way to a work week of basically no productive work, and plenty of reasons to shun productivity.
All of these “trends” have actually been around for a very long time, just without the catchy labels. But what’s concerning about them is the somewhat passive-aggressive reaction to the symptoms of job dissatisfaction with little attention being paid to the core problem, that something is very wrong with the way we work. I’m also dubious about any of these reactions being considered self-care. If you’re being paid to do a job and you’re consistently not doing it well because you hate it, there could be a misalignment in values and it could harm integrity or self-esteem. How can we feel good about our work if we know we’re not putting in any effort? And of course all of these trends are available to white-collar workers. The typical construction worker or waiter or electrician can’t do the bare minimum just because it’s Monday.
Interestingly, Gallup found that regardless of work hours, work-life balance or workplace location, disengagement continues to rise. So whether you work remotely or at the office or in the field, 40 hours a week or 60, there’s an underlying problem causing work dissatisfaction. What matters is how we experience work and that’s dependent on how we’re treated at work as well as whether or not we find meaning or purpose in our work. For some, there may not be a lot of meaning available in the work, but they are doing it for the money. The old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness is true, to a point. It’s what the money can do that provides the possibility of deriving meaning and purpose from the job. Maybe your paycheck ensures you can pay your rent and buy groceries, so the meaning in the job is to provide your basic needs. Perhaps you want to buy a house so that you have security or a long-term asset, so the purpose is a secure future. Or, you may have a sick child and your job provides excellent health insurance benefits, so the purpose of the job is ensuring your child’s well-being. Once we have our basic needs met, like shelter, food and clothing, studies show that pay doesn’t increase job satisfaction very much. For example, a 10% increase in pay will result in just a one point increase in job satisfaction if that’s measured on a scale of 1-100. So rage applying and switching to the highest bidder might not be the answer for enjoying your work. Identifying the meaning or purpose of your work is.
Even with all of the pressure I’ve been under lately, I never thought about quitting. My work does have meaning for me, it is fulfilling my purpose and I enjoy most of the tasks I have to perform. But I don’t have a boss and that also greatly influences how much we enjoy our jobs. I worked for 30 years with both great and awful bosses and completely understand how much it influenced my satisfaction with those jobs. Gallup found that the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in staff engagement. The number one reported cause of dissatisfaction with work is unfair treatment, including mistreatment by coworkers, inconsistent compensation, corporate policies, biases and favoritism. There’s also unmanageable workloads, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support and unreasonable time pressure. For millennials and Gen Z, there is also the need for the alignment of personal values with corporate culture and purpose, which is frequently found lacking. And the younger generations are facing financial hardships that have not been seen in decades, further fueling job dissatisfaction.
All of this leads to disengagement, frustration, stress, anger and burnout. But considering that we spend a third of our lifetime at work and that the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, isn’t it worth considering a better way to get the job done? Instead of trying to change external conditions, most of which are out of our control, we could start with looking inward. Mindfulness can help us learn to better respond to external events instead of reacting and affords us increased clarity which can lead to making better decisions about our current circumstances as well as determining our futures.
Most of us don’t make rational and objective decisions when we’re angry, or feeling desperate for change because we feel stuck where we are. The first thing we can do is get centered and calm. Then we can begin to take an organized and structured approach to the situation, including how to find satisfaction in our work or how to conduct a job search if we don’t feel we can stay in our current position. We can mindfully reflect on why we feel dissatisfied, without judgment that invokes an emotional reaction. As a neutral observer, identify the factors creating any disengagement at work. Do you feel proud of your organization? Do you enjoy your tasks? Are you able to find meaning or purpose in your work?
You might also consider what makes you feel valued. Are you receiving that from your organization? What about support from your supervisor? Another critical factor is the organization’s culture. Is your workplace positive, are other employees happy, is there a sense of camaraderie or cohesion, is communication clear? Once you’ve reflected on these questions, determine which factors are out of your direct control and which ones you could change. For the areas not within your control, consider speaking to your supervisor about it. Corporate cultures can be changed if enough people within the organization want it. Communication, support and styles of gratitude or appreciation can be changed, but someone needs to speak up to let the organization know that what they’re doing isn’t effective.
As for areas within your control, start changing things up, a much better solution than lying down on the job. A regular meditation practice will not only help you stay calm and centered, but will reduce anxiety and taking things personally. If you have the Sunday Scaries, take some time during the weekend to plan and prepare for the week ahead by taking some time to think about what you need to accomplish through the week. I used to pick out my wardrobe and make at least a couple of dinners in advance to give myself a little more time to relax before heading out each day or in the evenings during the work week. Make sure you get plenty of sleep so that you feel refreshed. Spend some time meditating or doing yoga on Sunday, go for a walk or work out to dissipate any nervous tension and help alleviate fears swirling through your mind.
A lot of this is simply mindset. I learned to look forward to Mondays because I could get my most difficult or least-liked tasks out of the way, making the rest of the week much more enjoyable. This is along the same philosophy as eating the frog first, or doing the task you dread most first each day. This eliminates procrastination which typically looms over us, making life miserable. Get whatever it is done and over with so that your mind is free to pursue other, more pleasant tasks. Whatever day of the week it is, focus on the positive. Actively seek out positive aspects of your job that you can be grateful for, even if it’s something small, like lunch with a coworker you like. The more you look, the more you’ll find as your brain starts to take over and automatically look for the positive. Avoid complaining as it tends to lead to a terrible mood and our moods are contagious, so you could be prompting others to feel miserable, too. Instead of complaining, go back to your lists and identify what is in your control. Address those factors through your own practices. Talk to your manager about areas you don’t have control over. Perhaps a change in assignments or a different position within the company would boost your engagement, for example.
Another important factor to improving job satisfaction is the mindfulness practice of nonjudgment. Instead of looking around the work environment and judging the company or the boss as being terrible, observe what in the company enriches your life and what does not. Again, it’s a neutral observation which helps reduce the stories we make up in our minds that are typically worse than the reality of a situation. Add in acceptance to further improve your experience. Accept responsibility for the fact that you chose this job. Why? Have you lost sight of what attracted you to this company or role? Assuming the job has not lived up to your original expectations, but you feel stuck because of financial pressures, accept that you are in this position for now and make the best of it by doing your job well. Remember that you have choices and can take action if needed. As you neutrally observe your work conditions, consider what you can learn from this experience which may serve you later, in a different position or with a different company.
Reconsider what work actually means. According to Oxford Languages, work is activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. So we’re engaged in “work” most of the time, including in recreation, hobbies, homecare, exercise, religious practices and meditation. There’s no qualifier in the definition to indicate work is miserable or can’t be pleasant or enjoyable. Only we can make it so.
There is a lot of unrest in the workforce right now, but we can tame that unrest through mindfulness practices. Instead of bare minimum Monday, Try Less Tuesday, or Freedom Fridays, we can all take a step back and consider why we’re working, what meaning we can find in the work, and identify areas within our control that could make the situation better overall. Slacking off probably isn’t the most effective self-care practice, although it might give you a short-term boost from a negative perspective – getting back at the boss or sticking it to the company. But for our overall well-being, the most effective self-care practice is mindfulness because through self-awareness, we discover what we need in each moment and address it, taking responsibility for our own emotions, actions and beliefs. Instead of working less more days a week, pay attention to how you’re feeling. We all have days where we’re not our best and when one strikes, do the best you can under the circumstances. That may mean slacking off a little, but you’re not designating an entire day each week to be less productive in advance. Focus on the real unmet needs you’re experiencing on the job and work towards resolving them instead of reacting through social media trends.
Don’t you feel good about yourself when you do a job well? I know I do. I may not hit the mark every day, but I also know I’m doing the best I can and I feel proud of my efforts. That’s self-care, too, because self-esteem is a vital part of overall well-being. This week, consider your level of job satisfaction and if it’s lacking, take action. Whether it’s improving your current position or finding another job, doing so mindfully will greatly improve the odds that you’ll feel more satisfied with whatever change you decide to make.