Never have people had more autonomy to create a context to thrive—to shape their careers and lives, to be engaged and invested in work, to be happy and productive in a sustainable way.
That may seem surprising, given the collaborative demands and pressures people experience at work.
In our interviews with 160 people, we learned that those who are thriving at work are proactive and intentional in shaping the network and their interactions. They take control over what they can rather than being defined by the demands of their current role.
The people we interviewed described a range of actions that allowed them to play offense, rather than defense. Three powerful, intentional network strategies stood out:
1. Cultivate a Network that Draws You to Personal and Professional Priorities
People who were thriving had clarity on expertise they wanted to deploy in their work and values they wanted to live through their career. They were intentional in how they spent their time and created networks that pulled them to their professional and personal objectives. Over time, their network materialized key opportunities that enabled them to do work they found more meaningful.
Without clarity of expertise and values, people were more easily pulled into unwanted projects and roles. They fell into a defensive posture that negatively impacted their well-being.
2. Make Network Investments that Create a Sense of Purpose in Your Work
A sense of purpose is only partially tied to the nature of the work. Our interviews clearly revealed that purpose is heavily established through relationships and interactions in our networks.
Importantly, people who were thriving proactively invested in relationships that helped them see that their efforts had meaning. They structured their time and pursued opportunities for enjoyable, purposeful and positive interactions. As people experienced these valuable interactions, they brought themselves more fully to their work. Negative or draining interactions remained but seemed more manageable or balanced if people had even a few purposeful relationships at work.
In contrast, when people didn’t have colleagues, mentors, managers and leaders that supported a sense of purpose in work, they felt trapped or isolated. They were unsure of their value or unique contribution and felt depleted, rather than energized, by interactions with colleagues. Obstacles and setbacks seemed overwhelming, rather than being a challenge to face with others.
3. Buffer from Work and Anchor in Non-Work Networks to Gain Perspective and Foster Well-Being
People who were thriving in work created rules, set expectations and developed their network in ways that fostered confidence, perspective and physical and emotional well-being.
Putting up a few boundaries—often just making one or two small changes—allowed people shut off work, recharge and create a greater sense of control over their time. Examples of buffering from work include: Check emails just three times a day. Let key people know to text, IM or call if they truly need an immediate response. Block times to focus on friends or family. Go for a run at lunch twice a week. Work from home one day a week.
Anchoring is a more counter-intuitive strategy for thriving. This involves being connected to at least one and, more often, two non-work groups. People we interviewed anchored in community, volunteering, exercise, sports, family traditions, intellectual or academic interests, social groups, artistic interests, and religious and spiritual practices. For people who were thriving, these groups and activities were not optional: they were commitments that were rarely cancelled.
Too often, people make the mistake of waiting for something in their job to change so they will be able to do more of what they love to do—professionally and personally. The good news is that by clarifying your priorities and cultivating your network accordingly, you will get closer to your aspirations and be happier along the way.
Want to learn more about the research? And more examples of how networks help you thrive? Read To Be Happier at Work, Invest More in Your Relationships in the Harvard Business Review or our paper, Network Impacts on Well-being: A Review of the Research.Share!