Businessman Stressed At Work

Is There Is A Way Out Of Feeling Unfulfilled At Work?

Did you know that on average you spend 50% of your total waking hours at work during any given day?

As a GP, if you are in full-time paid employment, these 37.5 hours (about 1 and a half days) spent working per week is equivalent to about 1762.5 hours (about 2 and a half months) per year ( 47 weeks to take account of 5 weeks holiday on average).

As a percentage of total waking hours assuming an average of 7-hour sleep. It is 6188 hours (about 8 and a half months) a year. This means that we spend about a third of our waking hours working per year.

Symbol for a 35 hours work week. Hand turns dice and changes the expression "40 hours" to "35 hours".

These numbers may not seem staggering, but it is not trivial either.

There are so many advantages to working, especially in primary care. You not only gain financial and professional benefits but also contribute significantly to the health and well-being of your community. It’s a career path that offers both personal fulfilment and the opportunity to make a lasting impact. 

Why do you still feel unfulfilled at work?  

There are a number of reasons to reflect on. Here are a few: 

Burnout: Over time, working in primary care can lead to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. High patient loads and administrative tasks can overwhelm even the most dedicated professionals. This can usually present as emotional exhaustion and a feeling of detachment that can eventually lead to feelings of burnout. 

Being Undervalued: Another reason can be related to how often primary care staff /colleagues work tirelessly with little recognition or appreciation, which can lead to feelings of being undervalued. Whether you are a partner, manager, or salaried staff , you might not always be able to maintain your own sense of value without a clear communication from others that reinforce those values that are supposed to be self propagated. We don’t wait to feel valued by others to perform our duty. Feeling valued encompasses both internal and external factors. While self-worth and confidence are important, external validation from peers, supervisors, and the broader team enriches this feeling. It creates a balanced and holistic sense of value that supports the overall well-being. Similarly, constructive feedback and acknowledgment from others create a positive feedback loop that reinforces good practices and encourages professional growth. It provides benchmarks and milestones that are often hard to achieve through your self-assessment alone. Humans are inherently social beings who seek connection and affirmation from their communities. Feeling valued by others garners a sense of belonging and community, which is vital for emotional health and job satisfaction. 

Other reasons to feel unfulfilled at work include:

Workplace Environment: A negative or unsupportive work environment, including poor management, lack of communication, or interpersonal conflicts, can significantly impact job satisfaction. 

Mismatch of Expectations: There may be a gap between the initial expectations of the role and the reality, leading to disappointment and a sense of unease with your work. Take for instance, an admin staff may find that their skills and talents are underutilised or not fully appreciated, which can be particularly disappointing if they entered the role with high expectations of making significant contributions. This mismatch can also be in terms of financial comparison with similar roles in other sectors.

Limited Autonomy: In some settings, primary care professionals may feel they lack autonomy or the ability to influence decisions affecting their work and patient care. This can stem from the feeling of being stagnated in your career. For example, primary care professionals passionate about systemic healthcare improvements may find direct patient care limiting and contemplating roles in healthcare policy, public health, or health education, where you can impact larger populations could lead to a constant internal dialogue that can drain your energy.

Personal Aspirations: Over time, personal interests and aspirations may evolve, making your current role feel less aligned with your goals and passions. This is evident with changes in family responsibilities. Some personal dynamics such as having children or caring for children or family members with special needs, or ageing parents, or you are getting older yourself might present with feelings of being unfulfilled at work. You might start to contemplate seeking roles with flexible hours, or less stress, driving you to consider administrative or locum positions. 

These points above are by no means exhaustive.

What do you do when you realise you are unfulfilled at work?  

Take Action

There are 4 areas you can take action:  

1. Self reflection: I hope this article can help you look inwards a little bit if you are feeling unfulfilled. Take time to pinpoint the specific aspects of your job that are causing dissatisfaction. Is it the workload, lack of progression, personal situations, or something else? Understanding the root cause is crucial for addressing the issue effectively. 

2. Professional development: Pursuing additional qualifications or specialisations can open new career pathways and rekindle your passion for your work. For example, obtaining a certification in a specific area of primary care. Engaging in more professional development activities like attending workshops and conferences can provide new insights, networking opportunities, and a renewed sense of purpose. For example: A primary care pharmacist who was feeling unfulfilled in their role speciliased in cardiovascular medicine and advanced into a portfolio career.  

3. Role redesign: Proactively reshape your role to better fit your strengths and interests. This might involve taking on new responsibilities, leading quality improvement projects, or focusing on areas that you find more fulfilling. Discuss with your colleagues, partners or managers. Have a conversation with your supervisor about your feelings and explore ways to adjust your role. This could include flexible working arrangements, reduced administrative tasks, or opportunities for a portfolio career. If you feel completely disconnected it is reasonable to consider roles outside of traditional primary care. 

4. Balance Work and Life: What could you be engaged with the remaining 2/3 of your waking hours over the course of the year? Ensure you have a healthy balance between your professional and personal life. Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, plan holidays or sabbaticals when possible. Taking care of your physical and mental health can improve overall job satisfaction. Practices such as mindfulness/meditation, eating healthy or exercise can help manage stress and improve your outlook on your work life.

Best wishes in your career.  

Read our article on How to go from career frustration to career fulfilment or What is Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it.  

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