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How to cope when you lose your sense of purpose at work

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Overworked african businessman sitting at his desk.
What can you do if you are lacking purpose in your work or career? Photo: Getty

We may be able to go to the pub, shops and the gym, but the pandemic is far from over. There are now more than 311,000 cases of COVID-19 in the UK and the crisis has had a catastrophic impact on the economy, with thousands of people furloughed or facing redundancy.

When so much has changed in a short amount of time, it’s easy to feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath your feet. And in dire times, it’s normal to question the purpose of your job and the career choices you have made.

Those who have been furloughed may be wondering when — or if — they’re going to be able to go back to work. Workers who have lost jobs or whose industries have been badly affected may be wondering what the future holds, particularly with unemployment on the rise.

In the UK, employment fell by the largest amount in over a decade between April and June, ONS figures show. The number of people in work decreased by 220,000 during the second quarter, which is the largest quarterly decrease since 2009. When living through this kind of major disruption, it’s easy to question the significance of your work.

READ MORE: Lockdown is breaking the stigma of juggling work and parenting

“Our usual routine is out of the window for most and all of a sudden we are not able to do the simple things we once did,” says Rebecca Lockwood, a mindset coach and neuro-linguistic programming practitioner. “Things that we may have taken for granted just a few short months ago have now changed and been shaken up.”

Having either had a break from work or working from a new environment will have had an impact on the perception of what we are doing too.

“Working from home may have seemed to become comfortable and then the environments have changed again with potentially going back into your workplace,” Lockwood says.

“It's been a consistent change, and for those who may not like change it can have rattled the cage a bit too much leaving people feeling as though they need to come up with new solutions and new ways of being.”

This could have meant a feeling of the need to change career and a change or loss of purpose in life, she explains.

So what can you do if you are lacking purpose in your work or career?

Firstly, Lockwood says it is important to check in with yourself rather than searching outside for validation. Think about why you feel you are lacking purpose in your work and whether you can change anything.

“Speak to your boss as it could be something you can work together on and remain in your current role,” Lockwood says. This may mean taking on new tasks, responsibilities or challenges.

“Reconnect with the values and purpose of your job and why you started your job in the first place,” she adds. “Brainstorm on what you would like from your work and check each step meets your needs.”

If you’re in a difficult spot at the moment, there might not be much you can do right now to enhance the meaningfulness of your work. Although finding a new job isn’t impossible, it is certainly harder.

READ MORE: Why offices will still exist in the post-lockdown working world

However, you can still find meaning by focusing on the future and planning what you could do later down the line. If you’re furloughed, think about retraining or starting a course.

And remember, crises can make us rethink what is most important to us and make us more aware of what really matters. Going through redundancy or income loss is hugely traumatic — but in the future, you may look back at this time as a turning point for your career.

It’s also helpful to speak to people close to you about how you are feeling. COVID-19 has affected everyone, so it’s likely that other people are feeling the same way. Talking things through with friends can help you work out why you’re feeling lost and what you can do to address it.