Evening Standard

Secrets of a Squiggly Career: how to get more fulfilment from your job

Autumn often has the feeling of a fresh start — but after months of lockdown reflection, this year it feels more essential to take stock, reassess and make changes.

Having time away from the office to consider our roles and how we do them, learn new skills and ways of working — and then perhaps to return to the office and old routines — has prompted lots of us to consider whether our jobs are as fulfilling, rewarding and balanced as we’d really like.

But while many might be feeling the itch to move on, autumn 2020 really does not seem the ideal time to go job-hunting. So how to remain in love with your current position? Use this time to focus on how you can tweak your existing role to better resemble the one that you really want.

“Traditionally, we’ve seen career development as being dependent on promotion,” says Helen Tupper, co-founder of the popular podcast and book The Squiggly Career, and an enthusiastic proponent of what she terms “job crafting”.

“But that was actually getting harder to do even before the pandemic, as many organisations were becoming flatter,” she notes.

“[Shaping your role] is one of the best things you can invest your time in right now. It’s something you can have control over, at a time when lots of things are out of your control.”

There are real benefits to re-crafting your current role rather than moving jobs, notes career coach Ruth Louise Thomson. “You don’t have to lose all those relationships you’ve built up and all the work you’ve put into your internal reputation,” she says. “You can get the best of both worlds.”

If you’re feeling in a rut, coaches often recommend articulating your strengths and values as a first step to considering next moves. It is not, however, always straightforward to assess them yourself.

Online tests, such as the popular VIA (values in action) survey, can help or consider focused reflection on past successes. “Think about what’s really inspired you and what you loved doing — what have been your real ‘peak’ moments?” advises Thomson.

It’s likely these will be linked by recurring themes — for Thomson, it was the opportunity to learn. “So I had to ask myself, ‘How can I bring more of that into my working life?’” she says. “I realised I had to work in fast-moving, changing fields that require me to update my knowledge.”

Considering how you can align tasks with these strengths and values should be your next step. It can be helpful to try to shift how you see your role while you’re doing this, advises coach Jonty Rooke from The Synergist.

“It’s easy to focus on the things we don’t like in our jobs, which then makes them grow in stature,” he says.

Helen Tupperandher Squiggly Career co-author and co-host Sarah Ellis (Matt Writtle)Matt Writtle

“One of my values is that I like to be creative. You may not think your role gives you that, but if you start looking at it through a different lens, you might realise you have more opportunities for creativity than you thought.” We may not think of an accountant as doing a creative job, for example, but coming up with new accounting solutions is a creative process.

Thomson also recommends having conversations within your organisation, perhaps with different teams or HR, to get an idea of what projects are in the pipeline, or gather clues as to how your strengths could benefit the business.

If you work in a small company where there isn’t much opportunity to move around, you may even decide to come up with a whole new project proposal. Once you settle on a solution, you’ll need to pitch it to your manager. And according to career coaches, this is where many of us end up stumbling.

“When I worked at Virgin, I was able to move my way into a new head of marketing role,” says Tupper. “And the reason I could do this was because I spotted what the business needed and then was able to sell why I would be good at doing it.”

“I would always start with the corporate strategy,” adds Thomson. “Look at what the company is trying to achieve, and then see how what you want to do would help them achieve that.” Bringing examples of when it has worked before, or suggesting doing it on a trial basis, can also help your case.

It’s also critical to consider how you will make space in your workday for what you want to do — you don’t want to just pile extra responsibilities on top of your existing roles.

“There are always opportunities to be more efficient,” says Thomson. “Is there a piece of work that can be streamlined in some way? Is there another member of the team who wants certain experience and would love to take a task off your desk?”

Rooke recommends using time management tools such as Gold Model to plan your new workload before you approach your manager. “But if [changing your role] is more important to you than anything else, you may just have to accommodate it,” he warns.

Finally, there may be times when, no matter how hard you try, there is no potential for vast change in your role. Rooke suggests we may sometimes put too much pressure on our job to fulfil us in every way, and it’s worth looking outside it for activities that align with your values — such as volunteering, courses or new activities.

But no matter the outcome, going through this process is always beneficial, Tupper argues.

“You can only ever evolve a role so much, but that’s still better than stagnating for 12 months and not being in a good headspace when a new opportunity does arise,” she says. “Taking ownership of your development, using your strengths as much as possible, and having open conversations with your manager will all help you so much.”

How to re-shape your role by “job crafting”

Helen Tupper and her Squiggly Career co-author and co-host Sarah Ellis reveal the essential steps.

Reorganising around values

“Your values are what motivates you,” Tupper says. “When you work with your values you’re more committed to your work, which also benefits the organisation.”

Consider what team energy you like being around, the kind of projects you enjoy, and the type of companies you thrive in – for example, are they purpose driven or growth driven? Large or small?

Reviewing your today vs your to be

Next, do a full audit of everything your job involves on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. “Work out which tasks you enjoy and which add the most value — you’ll want to keep those,” Tupper advises.

“There will be some that you don’t enjoy and where your company won’t be getting the most value out of you. Then you need to think, where do I want this to go? Work out how to bridge that gap.”

Give and gain crafting

When taking suggestions to your manager, you need to show how changes to your role will benefit the company. How you go about this will depend on your manager — some may want you to bring a fully formed plan to them, while others may prefer to help craft with you.

Crafting collectively

Even though it’s your manager who will give the go-ahead, think about job crafting as a team effort. Having open conversations with your colleagues about their goals and interests will help you recognise whether there’s a task you could delegate to them, and help you spot new opportunities.

Micro-crafting

Job crafting doesn’t have to mean a huge shift in your role. “A ‘major craft’ would be a brand new project that takes up 20 per cent of your time,” says Tupper. “Micro-crafting is small actions, such as one tiny tweak a day. It could be aiming to have a conversation with a different person every day. Or you could run a weekly ideas session.” These small changes can help evolve your role — and your satisfaction with it.

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