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6 Ways to Go from Surviving to Thriving at Work

How to Thrive at Work Rather Than Just Survive

  • Schedule You Time
  • Take Care of Yourself
  • Look for Opportunities
  • Take Your Vacations
  • Surround Yourself with the Right People
  • Learn to Say No

How to Thrive at Work Rather Than Just SurviveEven if you love your job, there will be times when all you feel like you’re doing is surviving. Deadlines can mount, co-workers can get sick, and projects can be delayed, all of which can send you into survival mode.

You can’t help it if a co-worker gets sick and causes you to have to work an extra shift. Likewise, it can be completely out of your control if a project you’ve been working on for months gets delayed by someone else.

But while problems like these are common, they aren’t the only issues that prevent us from thriving in our jobs. Instead, there are many things we do that keep us in survival mode, like not knowing when to say no when our superiors ask us to take on another task.

Not knowing our limits puts us in a position to simply try to get as much done each day at work as we can in order to save our sanity. This is no way to work! As tasks mount, stress mounts as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of a job and to feel overwhelmed.

Further, sometimes workers allow themselves to become beholden to employers, forgetting that they have a sense of autonomy. When a person feels like they don’t have a say in their circumstances, they can become emotionally drained, even depressed.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to take more control over your work life that will help you go from just surviving to really thriving in your career.

Schedule Your Time

Sure, there are things that need to be done at work, and usually it’s the higher-ups who designate the workload. However, employees often forget that they can find ways to incorporate some time for rejuvenation into their daily routines.

For example, it’s advisable to find ways to use lunch breaks in a way that truly provides a “break” rather than eating at your desk and catching up on reading emails. Go for a walk, meet up with a friend at a nearby restaurant, or sit on a park bench and enjoy some fresh air.

And you don’t have to take an hour to do these things, either. Even taking 30 minutes for lunch will give you a nice break from thinking about work and allow you to recharge your batteries by getting some fresh air, nutrition, and socialization (or better still, all three!).

Another aspect of your schedule that you need to be mindful of if you want to thrive is to take frequent breaks.

No matter the kind of work you do – be that teaching high school, working in a manufacturing plant, or driving a bus – you need to take periodic breaks to give your mind and body a rest.

Again, the breaks you take needn’t be anything overly long or complex. For example, if you’re a high school teacher, go to the teacher’s lounge during passing periods to have a quiet moment to yourself. If you work in an office building, get up from your desk and walk around the office for a few minutes. If you’re a psychologist with a private practice, schedule a few minutes between sessions with your clients so you can mentally regroup.

The key to scheduling your time is to get in the habit of actually sticking to the schedule. Sometimes you can get so lost in your work (or so stressed out about everything you need to get done) that you plow through hours and hours of work at a time. This obviously isn’t good for your physical health to engage in a repetitive activity for that length of time, but it also is very mentally draining.

So, if you want to extract yourself from survival mode at work, sit down and figure out a schedule that affords you the ability to take frequent, short breaks. Your body and mind will thank you!

Take Care of Yourself

Take Care of YourselfWhile it may seem like basic advice, personal care is critically important for feeling our best. This includes on the job!

We are probably all guilty of skipping breakfast and eating a granola bar on the drive to work or eating our lunch at our desk so we can work over the lunch hour.

But this is not a good approach to thriving at work!

Eating healthy and exercising can help to counteract the effects of stress on the body. Having a healthy snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon or taking a quick stroll can provide extra energy when it’s critically needed during the workday. Likewise, taking a dedicated lunch, as described earlier, will go a long way in helping you take care of your mind and body at work.

When people feel better, they’re more resilient – and resiliency is crucially important. In fact, Forbes Magazine lists resilience as the most critical skill for thriving at work and not just surviving.

Another component of taking care of yourself is knowing when you should and should not be working.

When work mounts up, it’s natural to want to push hard to get it all done as quickly as possible. The problem is that this is both unhealthy and often leads to poorer work performance. Why keep working if the work you’re doing isn’t that great?!

This means that rather than continuing to push well beyond when it’s time to call it a day, learn your limits, understand what is and is not possible to get done in a certain amount of time, and be okay with moving some tasks to the following day. While it might not seem like it at the moment, delaying a task or two in favor of going home and recuperating from a hard day’s work will be much better for you and your quality of work in the long run.

Look for Opportunities

When we spend years doing the same job, it gives us an opportunity to build knowledge and skills that make us that much better at what we do. But, sometimes, doing the same job day in and day out can become unfulfilling. 

However, that doesn’t mean people necessarily have to start searching for a new career. There are often opportunities at the same employer to try new things and expand one’s job duties. All it takes is some investigation and ingenuity to find them.

If you feel like you’re just surviving at work at the moment, consider volunteering for different projects at work. You might join a new committee, work with a co-worker on a new project, or try a new way of completing the same old tasks.

Collaborating with colleagues is an especially powerful way to expand your opportunities at work. It gives you a chance to learn about their job and see how other people go about their business at work. Additionally, it might give you the opportunity to recapture the spark with your own job by sharing what you do with your co-workers.

Reading, researching and learning outside of work can also help you get excited again about your job or compel you to search for additional opportunities at work. Many employers offer (or even require) continuing education, and part of the reason is to help employees stay up-to-date on best practices and learn new things that can help them thrive in their jobs.

Think of educators as an ideal example of this. Per licensure requirements, teachers have to participate in a certain number of continuing education courses to maintain their licensure. There are many different types of pursuits that count towards continuing education, from conferences to trainings to taking additional college classes. The result of that kind of continued commitment to learning is often a renewed sense of purpose and dedication that can lead to finding new, more challenging opportunities.

Take Vacation Time

Take Vacation TimeWhen it seems like one is just surviving instead of thriving at work, that may be a sign it’s time to take a break.

It’s easy to put your nose to the grindstone and overextend yourself at work – many of us feel like there’s simply too much to do to take a short break, let alone a vacation. But taking advantage of time off is critical if you want to thrive at work.

Many workers get some type of paid vacation hours, or at the very least are granted permission to take time off now and then. Unfortunately, many people fail to take that time away for fear of not being productive or falling behind on the job.

But taking time to relax and get away from work helps to rejuvenate the spirit and can actually make you more productive upon returning to work. This is true of any profession.

Taking vacation time is all about giving yourself that extended mental and physical break you need to get out of survival mode. Again, you don’t have to take a two-week vacation to reap the rewards of some time off. In fact, taking a Friday afternoon off here and there to give yourself a little longer weekend off can do wonders for your mood, your productivity, and your efficiency at work.

Surround Yourself With the Right People

Thriving at work isn’t just about the decisions we make, nor is it about events like ill co-workers that are out of our control, yet can still add to our workplace stress load. The very people we work with can have a profound impact on whether we survive or thrive.

Some people just aren’t the best to work with. It’s a problem in every workplace in the world. Sometimes co-workers are lazy, habitually late, or have a bad attitude. They might be unorganized, loud, or simply just be bad at their jobs. Whatever the case, co-workers like these tend to add to the stress of the workday, not help you thrive.

What we have to do is learn how to minimize their impact on our working lives. It’s often impossible to completely insulate ourselves from co-workers that suck out our energy or waste our time, but it’s important to do what we can to minimize their impact on what we do at work. This might be something as simple as shutting our office door or something as unpleasant as having a one-on-one conversation with a co-worker about their work habits.

By the same token, our ability to thrive in the workplace can be enhanced by surrounding ourselves with the right people. 

This might mean having lunch each day with an energetic, happy co-worker who will help lift your spirits before a long afternoon of work. It might also mean working on collaborative projects with other organized, hard-working people.

Again, however you approach it, the end result will be that you have a greater ability to do your job, do it well, and get out of that survival mode.

Learn to Say No

A final approach to going from surviving to thriving at work is learning how to say no.

The problem, of course, is that this is perhaps the most difficult of all approaches to master. Most workers want to help out, feel appreciated, and see the fruits of their labor. Doing so often means taking on additional responsibilities to help further the business’ or organization’s goals.

This is a particular issue for people that are classified as “good workers.” Usually, people that excel in their jobs do so because they work hard, are efficient, are competent, and valuable members of the team. But this often means that because they are so good at their job, they are often asked to do more.

But sometimes the pathway to thriving at work is to do less, not more…

This doesn’t mean that you should shirk your responsibilities. Instead, it means that you should do the duties associated with your job and politely decline to add to your responsibilities when asked. There might be times when you feel capable of tackling additional work, but don’t say yes just to be nice or because you’re afraid your superior will get mad. It’s better to do your job really well than overextend yourself and do everything just so-so!

As you try to find ways to move from surviving to thriving at work, consider that not all of these approaches might be a good fit for you. Experiment, try different combinations of approaches, and see what works best for you and your job. It is possible to stop surviving and start thriving at work!

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

Updated November 2021

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