Before COVID, people seemed to have an idea of what work was, and how they felt about it. There were boring aspects of work, like data entry, irritating aspects of work, and fun aspects, like ping pong in the break room or margaritas on Thursdays. But these days, as we’re all working from home or limited by COVID guidelines, office fun isn’t what it used to be. Without the perks we once had to brighten up our workdays, workers might be feeling a bit like the daily grind is all grind and no unwind. In order to regain some of the pleasure we once had at work in the days before COVID, we need to adjust our expectations of what work means – and learn how to enjoy it as-is.
1. Make your own fun
It’s safe to say that what we once considered “fun stuff” at work no longer exists. No more beer on tap, no more office field days – it’s all been replaced by virtual happy hours and team Peloton rides. So how can work be fun if there’s nothing to make it fun?
You can still have fun at work without the “fun” activities and amenities that work used to provide. You still have the people and the relationships that made these activities engrossing and enlivening, and just because you’re not at laser tag or a wine tasting doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy the pleasure of your company. Adjust your expectations here by thinking of “fun” as less about the events and more about the people you’re doing them with. You might even enjoy the workday itself more if you start to be a little more interested in your coworkers, as you’ll be reminded how pleasurable getting to know them really is.
2. Be flexible with flexibility
As the work world shifts over to a hybrid format, the great debate begins one again: 94% of employees want flexibility, and many employers or managers don’t. Employees say that they work better on their own time, without having to be at an office for a certain amount of hours every day. And managers say they need to see butts in seats to be assured that their workers are actually working, not just scrolling through Instagram. So who’s going to compromise?
Here, you need to adjust the expectation that you’ll get the same flexibility as when you worked from home. While some bosses might be more lenient than others, they’re under pressure to measure productivity, and sometimes, the only way they know how to do that is to take attendance. If you sit around thinking that you’ll continue living your relaxed work from home lifestyle, you’re going to be miserable when the return to work finally comes. Enjoy working from home, and all the perks it has now. And when you finally do go back to the office, even if you have to be there all day, you can still find fun moments
3. Keep compassion fatigue in mind
If you’ve ever felt exhausted from helping out others, whether it’s the weight of carrying your entire team’s project or just constantly fending off emails from a clueless coworker, you might have some compassion fatigue. And it’s more than likely that you have an expectation for either yourself or your coworkers that picking up the slack for others is simply what work is about, and that if you’re having too many feelings about it, you’ve just got to suck it up and move forward. But keeping that idea in mind won’t help anyone.
Rather than caving to the compassion fatigue, throw both yourself and your coworkers a life jacket if you feel they’re drowning in other people’s work. Schedule a group work session, talk to your boss about your responsibilities, or better yet, tell your needy colleague that you don’t have time to help. While this might not be considered a “fun” activity, the energizing catharsis you’ll get from taking charge of your work environment is sure to produce just a few extra droplets of serotonin.
4. Well-being isn’t handled well
The next expectation that’s hindering your enjoyment of work is believing an employer will know exactly how to facilitate your welfare. In fact, a recent report from IBM states that less than 20% of employees considered their employer as “excellent” at supporting worker wellbeing during the pandemic. But just because your organization shows a misunderstanding of worker wellbeing doesn’t mean you need to feel victimized by their incompetence.
If you spend your days angry about your company’s lack of empathy or awareness around worker well-being, both the good and bad news is that you’re not alone. Almost every company is going through an adjustment period when it comes to managing the stresses of hybrid work, and whereas some companies are changing policies to create better benefits, many HR departments are bound by red tape.
However, that’s not to say there isn’t potential for improvement if you just reframe things differently. It could, in fact, be fun for you to take the bull by the horns, and help your company build the kind of wellness initiative that you wish you had.
5. You’re tired – but that’s okay
Before COVID, there was an expectation that working eight or nine hours a day in an office was the status quo. But after years of an exhausting office lifestyle, you may have crashed during quarantine, as years of stress and fatigue have been building up your entire work life.
Running out of motivation, depleting internal resources like brainpower, or bottling up too many strong emotions can all lead to exhaustion, even if you’re just sitting at a desk all day. It can be frustrating, saddening, or emotionally depleting to constantly be tired. But don’t expect that you need to be a perky bundle of energy just to do your job each day, as you’ll just end up feeling guilty on days that you’re too wiped to function.
Alleviating exhaustion can usually be done with exercise, sleep, or eating well. But if you just don’t have the energy to work on self-care, you can still enjoy your workday by making yourself comfortable. Snuggle up in a blanket with your computer on your lap, or work from bed, and rest while you’re working – it’ll almost be like having a relaxing sick day that you still get paid for.
6. It might not be that different elsewhere
You used to have themed potlucks, costumed days, or office-wide parties to break up the monotony of your work week. Now, you wake up every day, stare at the same computer you always do, go back to sleep, and do it all over again the next day. The only thing left to break up your schedule is you, and your various doctor’s appointments, dinner with friends, date nights or gym classes are the only things breaking up the boredom. You often dream of a different job, where things would be more exciting, more compelling, and of course, more fun. But is that a reality?
If you really feel like your job has become so dolorous that it’s impeding your personal growth, it’s important that you find a new one. But if you’re just feeling disorganized and unmotivated, stop daydreaming of a better job, as the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s more than likely that another job would involve the same computer-staring as your current one, and after a few months of adjusting to a new role, you’d be in the same position as you were.
To adjust your expectation of work here, don’t trust that your job is going to be the thing that makes you happy – you have to bring happiness to your job. Find joy in the steadiness of your days, and the schedule you’ve created for yourself. Then, bring that positive attitude into work, as it’ll make your workdays much more tolerable.