Big and small changes can help you cultivate a healthy work life.
- Burnout, stress, and dissatisfaction at work should prompt an evaluation of your career wellness.
- Several on-the-job strategies can help you re-evaluate your career, cope with change and stress, and re-energize your work life.
This is the sixth installment in a series of articles on wellness. You can read the earlier articles at americannursetoday.com/category/wellness101/.
Imagine a life in which you have the perfect job: You’re doing what you were cut out to do, learning new things all the time, and facing exciting challenges while your colleagues treat you with respect. You start each day looking forward to work and come home excited about what you’ve done. Is this far from your reality? If burnout, stress, and dissatisfaction are common themes for you and your colleagues, it may be time to re-evaluate your career wellness.
Work and dream alignment
Career wellness can be defined as engaging in work that provides personal satisfaction and enrichment and that’s consistent with your values, goals, and lifestyle. After sleep, we spend most of our time at work, so ask yourself if your work motivates you and lets you use your abilities to their full potential. Also, are you aligned with your dreams and areas of passion? If you’re aligned with your dreams at work, you’ll have a good energy level that’s sustained throughout the day. If not, you’ll find going to work and staying motivated is challenging; it could be time to re-evaluate how you spend your working hours.
Protecting your career wellness may mean making big changes, like moving to another job or going back for more education so that you can apply for a higher position. (See A personal story.) But sometimes small steps help in big ways.
On-the-job strategies to “direct your sails”
Use these suggestions and resources to re-evaluate your career and re-energize your work life.
Mindfulness on the job. Mindfulness involves developing an intentional awareness that’s open and accepting and allows you to respond rather than react to situations. Research supports that mindfulness can increase on-the-job resiliency and improve effectiveness and safety. These simple steps can help you incorporate mindfulness into your day:
- Quiet your inner voice. Take 10 slow, deep breaths and concentrate on the air passing in and out of your lungs.
- There’s an app for that! Many free apps, such as Headspace and Calm, can help you quickly ease into mindfulness.
Self-care in the workplace. Many self-care and self-healing tools are low cost and can significantly and positively affect your work environment. All of us, not only leaders, can promote self-care and potentially reduce sick leave and absenteeism by creating an environment where people thrive. Read Sandra Thomas’ book, Transforming Nurses’ Stress and Anger: Steps Toward Healing, for some great ideas.
Cultivate a positive mindset. Leadership experts Tim and Brian Kight of Focus 3 explain that “one of the distinguishing characteristics of successful people is not only their ability to generate a positive, productive mindset, but to sustain it.” You’ll find a lot of power in keeping yourself positive and remembering that every event’s outcome is tempered by your response to it. The Kights formulate the importance of a person’s response, or “R factor,” this way: E + R = O: An event plus my response equals the outcome.
Multitask less, monotask more. Do you ever end up feeling fried at the end of a day? Multitasking may be the culprit. Try becoming more aware of when you’re distracted and picture a stop sign. Then, give your all to one task.
Purpose, pleasure, and pride. Author and founder of Blue Zones, Dan Buettner, who has researched happiness and longevity, says purpose, pleasure, and pride are important to a long and happy life. If we can design our workplace to increase each of these, we can stack the deck in favor of a fulfilling work life. Here are some ideas for how to do that:
- Make a best friend at work. One of the most powerful contributors to work satisfaction and productivity is agreement with the statement, “I have a best friend at work.” Some studies suggest this may be because friends work better together than acquaintances. And a best friend can just make work more engaging and fun.
- Seek a job that fits you. As Hungarian psychologist (and originator of the concept of “flow”) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi advises, “Finding a job that engages your natural talents and gives you constant feedback is a sure way to build happiness.”
- Consider your work hours. Research shows that people who commute an hour each way would need an additional 40% of their monthly wage to be as satisfied with their life as people who walk to work. If a long commute is affecting your work pleasure, intentionally use that time for enjoyment by listening to music or positive audiobooks.
- Set goals.Setting goals gives us something to look forward to and a framework for accomplishing it.
Take action and set a SMART goal
Your road to career wellness begins when you take action. Start by setting SMART career wellness goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic. Set one goal that you can do each day for 30 days (it takes 30 days to break an old habit or make a new one). Here are two suggestions:
- I will take 1 minute before and after my shift to just breathe, get my thinking right, and become more mindful of the present moment.
- I will spend 10 minutes a day journaling about how I feel about my work so that I can gauge where I am. In some cases, career wellness requires big changes, but for many of us, simple steps can bring us back to the real reason we became nurses in the first place and rekindle that original joy.
The authors work at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Brenda C. Buffington is an assistant professor in the college of nursing, codirector of Health & Wellness Innovation in Healthcare in the college of nursing, program manager for Buck- eye Wellness, and a national board certified health & wellness coach. Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is the vice president for health promotion, university chief well- ness officer, dean and professor in the college of nursing, and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry in the college of medicine. Susan Neale is senior writer/editor of marketing and communications in the college of nursing.
Buettner, D. The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People. Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners; 2017.
Crane PJ, Ward SF. Self-healing and self-care for nurses. AORN J. 2016;104(5):386-400.
Halm M. The role of mindfulness in enhancing self-care for nurses. Am J Crit Care. 2017;26(4):344-8.
Health Athlete, Nurse Athlete. The Ohio State College of Nursing. healthathlete.org
Melnyk BM, Orsolini L, Tan A, et al. A national study links nurses’ physical and mental health to medical errors and perceived worksite wellness. J Occup Environ Med. 2018;60(2):126-31.
Thomas SP. Transforming Nurses’ Stress and Anger: Steps Toward Healing. 3rded. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company; 2008.