How to Improve Your Relationship With Work

John Koop Harder

I love being a counsellor and trainer, but at times my appreciation for the work influences me to overextend myself. This impacts both myself and my other relationships. As a result, I need to beware of this so I can continue to be healthy in my relationship with my work.

A while back I had a dream in which a colleague came up to me with feedback before I was about to deliver a workshop: “What is with you? You are giving off the prickliest vibes. You need to get your stuff together; maybe you need to see somebody?” Gee, I wonder what my subconscious is trying to tell me!

Our relationship with work is an important and influential one. For many of us in the helping field, our work is more than a job – it’s a means to bettering our communities and ourselves.  All important relationships require awareness and intentionality, and without this, problems tend to seep in.

We need to be aware of how our work brings about our various qualities, attributes, and ways of being.

The pandemic has added another layer of complexity in our relationships as our work and home lives have collided due to working remotely. Now more than ever, we need to be proactive in our relationship with work.

As part of working at keeping my relationship with work healthy, I regularly use the following questions as a guide to check in with myself:

  • How am in this relationship?
  • How do I want to be in the relationship?
  • How does my relationship with work influence my other relationships?

How am I in this relationship?

Identity is socially and environmentally influenced. We need to be aware of how our work brings about our various qualities, attributes, and ways of being. Work often calls us into a concentrated relationship – we focus much of our time and energy on our work, even more so than with our families, friends, and other interests.

When I look at my current relationship with work, I see themes of decreased motivation and energy, along with a sense of overall grumpiness. While I’m not seeing these qualities come out directly in my work, they certainly show themselves in my home life. I have seen this pattern before and know that this often occurs in the spring/early summertime when I know holidays are around the corner. With this awareness, I can be proactive in how much work I take on, increasing self-care, and seeking additional supports.

As you continue to reflect on how you are in your relationship with work, further reflective questions may include:

  • What do I like/not like about what I see?
  • How can I build on the upsides of the relationship?
  • How can I best deal with the downsides?
  • What rhythms do I notice within this relationship?
  • How can I be proactive within these ups and downs?

How do I want to be in this relationship?

Identity is not only socially and environmentally influenced – it is also fluid. Who and how we are are in constant flux. When we are aware of the qualities and values we want to emanate, we are more likely to live them out.

Through all my important relationships (including work), I want my values to shine. Some of these qualities include: curiosity, compassion, empathy, patience, creativity, engagement, and kindness. I am better able to embody these qualities when they are at the forefront of my mind, but when I’m stressed, tired, overwhelmed, or on “autopilot,” sometimes they fall by the wayside. I was reminded of this the other day during a tense conversation with my son – let’s just say, my best self was not as present (I wish it was!). Although there will be times when we are our best selves, there will be others when we struggle with how we are. But with our preferred qualities in mind, we are better able to live them out.

As you reflect on how you want to be in your relationship with work, you may also want to consider:

  • What are some recent examples of living the qualities and values that are important to me? How can I best bring these to the forefront?
  • Why do these qualities matter to me?
  • What is it about my experiences that help to bring these qualities forth?
  • What experiences attempt to block or diminish these qualities?

How does my relationship with work influence my other relationships?

One of the things I love about my work as a counsellor and trainer is that I am constantly focusing on people’s relationships. I learn a lot from this and love the fact that I get paid to learn to be a better person – a better partner, father, son, and friend. But because I love my work, I do sometimes overextend myself. The drawbacks from this (lack of energy, motivation, grumpiness) are more apparent in other relationships – most notably with my family, and this is not okay with me. Although it’s natural to engage more in some relationships than others, being healthy in relationships means prioritizing and engaging with intentionality. Balance is a difficult skill for many, but it is a necessary one to develop.

One of the things that allows me to better balance my important relationships is a note that my son gave me many years ago when he was learning to read and write: “Please work not as much as usual.” This reminder of priorities still holds a prominent place in my office next to pictures of my family. As I’m writing this blog, I occasionally glance up at this note and family photos, and am reminded that I want to work to live, not live to work.

As you reflect on how your work influences other relationships, you may also want to consider:

  • What relationships do I want to prioritize? How can I best make them a priority?
  • How would other important people in my life reflect on my relationship with work?
  • What can I do to regularly remind myself of my priorities?

My work continues to be an important relationship in my life. And like all relationships, it serves a purpose and is not without its benefits and challenges. I choose to continue in this relationship, and I have choice in how I engage with it. With awareness and intentionality, I can be healthier in my work, which positively influences my other relationships.


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Author: John Koop Harder (MSW, RSW)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

John is a co-author of CTRI’s  book, Counselling in Relationships –  Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections. The book is available on our website.

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