How to keep the work blues at bay

The new year is a good time to take control and get what you really want out of a job, says Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

New year's resolutions, those intentions to cut down on booze, chocolate, or short-haul flights, can be grim affairs. Work resolutions, on the other hand, are all about making work more fun.

The new year brings a new perspective on our jobs and that perspective can be rather bleak. "We get a vast number of people coming in saying, 'Bloody hell, not another year of this,'" says Rowan Manahan, a careers expert and the author of Where's My Oasis?. "Work is dreadful for a huge number of people." And if you thought you had it bad, pity the Japanese, who even have a legal term, karoshi, for working themselves to death.

Whether overwork or boredom is your worry, the first thing to do is be honest. "A huge part of the problem for people is that they've followed the path of least resistance and now they're stuck in a rut," says Manahan. "What you need is absolute clarity." Not, he is quick to add, with your boss, but with yourself. Draw up a list of the things you want from work and the things you hate and see how your present job fits in with that, what changes would make it more bearable, or what career you can do that would be better. "It ain't in any way intellectually challenging," says Manahan. "But it does require some self-effacing humility and the confidence to see yourself in the cold light of day." You will never get that promotion or new job until you know yourself what makes you tick, and what makes you special.

Once you know what you want, you have to know you can get it. "It's seeing yourself as being in control of your own destiny," says Gill Wilson, the deputy chief executive of the Careers Research and Advisory Centre. "Fundamentally accept that view of life: it's my life, I'm going to take responsibility for myself." That may be taking the plunge and doing something radically different, says Wilson. Careers are more fluid than ever, she says, and as long as you do your homework and plan it right, things that were once looked on askance by employers, such as time out to be a mother or teaching English abroad, can now be a career boon.

If the idea of jumping ship is just too scary or not practical, there is still a lot you can do. "You don't have to change jobs to change your career," says Wilson. "The first place you should look is in your own company." Before taking the leap, it is worth researching your own company, find out if there is something else there you could be doing that would make you happier. And sometimes it is just a matter of changing desks. Work hell can all too easily be other people, and moving desk or resolving a particularly convoluted bit of office politics can make all the difference. "Small changes can have a big impact," says Wilson.

One of the smallest changes that can have the biggest impact is keeping active. "If you just sit at your desk, you're going to feel lethargic at the end of the day," says Nicki De Leon, a physiotherapist and the manager of Sports & Spinal Clinics, London. There are some easy ways to keep the work blues at bay: eating oily fish, running up the stairs, and laughing are all good. Although running up and down the stairs, stuffing your face with fish and laughing all at the same time may create work problems of their own.

The best and simplest thing to do, says De Leon, is buy a pedometer and try to rack up 10,000 steps a day. Take a brisk 10-minute walk at lunchtime, do your own photocopying, and take the stairs, not the lift. Ten days of this has been found to lead to a 36 per cent drop in symptoms in depressed men and women. And walking, like all exercise, releases endorphins, the happy hormones, which relieve stress. Getting healthier not only gives you a hormone boost, it helps you feel more in control of your life. "At work, most of us aren't in control of our day," says De Leon. "Taking control of your health and giving yourself a focus outside work will make you happier."

Taking control is what new year's resolutions are all about, and whether your resolutions are a revolution or just a change of pace, there is no better time to change the way you work.