'It's not you, it's me' - it's the classic relationship-breakup line, but could it be just as true about your job? If you're feeling unhappy and disaffected at work, it could be time to look at whether it's the job or your attitude towards it that has changed.
Jocelyn Anso, who leads the team at human resource consultants Aon Hewitt, says rather than the basics of pay and benefits, much of an employee's satisfaction at work revolves around how they feel about who they work for and what they are doing.
If you have a low level of engagement, no matter how well you get paid or what the perks might be, you'll struggle to be happy in the workplace and make a significant contribution.
Engagement tends to start out high when employees take on a new position, then slowly falls over the following two to four years as they get to know the company better and "cultural misalignment" can start to kick in. But that doesn't necessarily mean chucking in your job: it's an opportunity to think about what you need to feel more engaged, and how you can work with your managers to achieve it, Anso says.
"High levels of engagement are an outcome of working in an environment where you are able to fully utilise your skills and experience - where you can bring your whole self to work, and your company values the diversity of that," Anso says.
"It's highly influenced by leadership style and company culture and the engagement of the people around you. If you have people who are highly engaged but they are working for a manager who isn't, those levels are hard to sustain."
The good news, Anso says, is that self-awareness is key: you can gauge your own level of engagement, then take steps to do something about it, either by working with youremployers or finding another position that better aligns with your priorities and values. Key questions to think about are:
• Would I recommend my company to others as a good place to work?
• Do I say positive things about my employer, job and product - am I a brand advocate?
• Am I really present at work, or am I just hanging in there?
• How often and how seriously do I think about leaving?
• Am I willing to go the extra mile for my employer?
• Am I inspired and motivated by the leaders of the organisation?
Anso says another point to consider is, "have I changed or has the company changed?" Engagement levels have a lot to do with a company's overall culture, which is highly influenced by leadership style. A change of leadership, a merger or acquisition or other significant change can all affect staff engagement levels.
"You need to ask yourself, does the company culture sit comfortably with my values and what I'm trying to achieve?" Anso says. "People's core values remain pretty much the same but for businesses, change is constant. When you started working for a company, it might have been small and innovative, and your values were aligned, but as a business grows, it's hard to keep hold of that culture."
Once you have identified what's affecting your engagement level, it's time to be brave and have "a challenging conversation" with your managers about what can be done.
"If you have a good manager, they should do their best to meet your needs," Anso says. "It's a matter of working out what's important to you and how can that be facilitated. But you need to understand your own motivations so you can connect those to the business."
If the outcome is unsatisfactory, you might still feel it is time to move on. So when applying for a new jobs, don't waste the opportunity to find out more about other companies' culture and values and if they align with yours. An applicant's "fit for culture" is becoming more important than their technical skills for many companies now - and it goes both ways, Anso says.
"Most companies these days, if they're serious about attracting the right talent, will have an employee value proposition, which should be made clear in the way they advertise and recruit. It's basically the experience that you can expect if you come to work for them," Anso says. "But it's a deal: it's not one-way in terms of what's being sold to the employee, not just 'why you should come and work here', but also what the company is expecting of you.
"Great employers are clear about what they expect. And if you have that clarity, you know what you have to do to be successful in the role."
Anso says that unlike the more easily defined cornerstones of a job such as pay and benefits such as car parks or insurance, the "environment" created by culture, values and leadership is more intangible.
"Ask questions around it at the interview: 'Can you tell me about the employee value proposition?', 'How would you describe a leader here?', 'How would you describe theculture?'."