The idea of fulfilment - in the context of work - is related to happiness, but the two ideas are not the same. Happiness is the feeling we derive from all sorts of things in life - only one of which is fulfilment. In the context of employment, however, fulfilment is the sense of personal satisfaction or pleasure that comes from being happy with one’s role.
This is a form of happiness that is derived from sustained accomplishment, and the realisation of potential: fulfilment is something that requires time to develop, but takes moments to destroy.
A sense of fulfilment comes easily to some people, but not so much for others. For the younger people of my generation, the notion of fulfilment and professional satisfaction is high on the agenda. In fact, research shows that across all ages, nine out of ten people would opt for a more meaningful, but lower paid career.
But at present, it seems that the labour market is failing to cultivate a sense of fulfilment for individuals. A staggering poll by Gallup found that only 15% of people were actively engaged by their work, meaning as much as 85% of people found their jobs unfulfilling. Part of the reason for this may be the influence of social media platforms, which can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem, as research from the University of Michigan shows. Many people find that the constant onslaught of curated images of other people pretending to enjoy their lives has a detrimental effect on the mental health of others, and creates a sense of dissatisfaction and worthlessness. The relentless comparison of oneself with others, it seems, is not fulfilling.
But unfulfilment is likely a result of more than just the negative impact of social media. People have likely been unfulfilled by their jobs long before the advent of social media. In that case, how can employers and employees cultivate a sense of fulfilment? Of course, the reasons why people hate their jobs are many and various, as Liz Ryan writes in Forbes. The obvious offenders are high up on the list: tyrannical or incompetent managers, poor working conditions, insufficient pay and unmanageable workload all make an appearance.
Rectifying these issues would do a great deal to improve employee fulfilment, and the measures involved in doing so are relatively obvious. Another Forbes article, by Ashley Stahl, suggests several ways employees might help themselves become more fulfilled in their careers. Firstly she suggests employees find a greater sense of purpose in their work, and that they ask themselves: ‘am I really happy with what I’m doing?’, ‘what do I really want from my career?’. Secondly is the idea of challenging yourself as a way of finding fulfilment. The reasoning behind this is that variation and determination towards a new goal will alleviate boredom and apathy, leading to fulfilment. She also mentions the idea of mentorship as a way of gaining fulfilment. Research shows that mentorship can provide emotional and professional support to those who need it, as well as opening up possible avenues in the employment of which the individual might previously not have been aware.
But as Josh Bersin points out, the real thing that drives fulfilment is a sense of purpose. There is a great difference between people who work in order to earn money and those who work because they are enthusiastic about the purpose their job has in the world. Unsurprisingly, those people who work because they have a strong sense of purpose and personal vocation find their work more fulfilling than those who are motivated entirely by money. In this case, the solution is for people to take fulfilment seriously as a factor when applying for jobs. The takeaway is this: work in a sector that you think matters, and has a purpose in the real world. It is only by doing this that career fulfilment will be possible.
As we move forward, the labour market will likely become more technologically integrated and less linear. Although at present this is merely a hypothesis, it represents an opportunity for people to find greater career fulfilment. If people are able to access more training and opportunities from the comfort of their homes, they will be able to choose from a wider range of jobs and will be able to choose those jobs in which they find the greatest sense of purpose. Unlike the current labour market, individuals will be freer to perform multiple kinds of work, and (hopefully) this will provide them with a greater sense of fulfilment. But all of this depends on whether or not individuals operate in a trusted, secure data environment, and whether the conditions of the new labour market are fair. In order to ensure that these conditions exist in the future, micro credentialing standards must be established, as the EU is already investigating.
Image: Lars_Nissen (Pixabay), Gino Crescoli (Pixabay)