How Office Managers Can Provide Career Support To Employees Using Ikigai

Kayla Naab

As an Office Manager, you tend to wear a lot of hats. One minute you’re managing office security and compliance and the next minute, you’re screening candidates for a new role by phone or helping to advocate for cultural change. Your role is so multifaceted and so important that it’s helpful for you to have resources you can turn to. 

Where office management and operations are concerned, those resources come from safety manuals, labor organizations, industry standards, and building codes. When it comes to the HR-adjacent part of your role, where can you turn?

While there are countless blogs and case studies out there that can help you improve the culture of your workplace, employee satisfaction is often individual. Even employees who really enjoy their work and do it well might find themselves becoming unengaged at work from time to time. As the Office Manager, you can extend resources to these employees to restore motivation and balance. One such resource is the concept of Ikigai.   

What is Ikigai? 

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that loosely translates to “reason for being.” In life, as in work, we all need a reason to keep pushing through challenges, learning new lessons, and putting in the effort. Ikigai is a four-part methodology for understanding our purpose. While this sounds spiritual and big-picture, the paradigm breaks down into four really actionable, resourceful components.

When an employee addresses each component openly and considers its impact, Ikigai can help that employee root into the work they’re doing and find a greater purpose in that. For some workers, the Ikigai exercise will instead bring the realization that they should be doing something different. In that case, a plan of action - for that employee and for the company - can be made. Difficult change isn’t the enemy here - unproductive and dissatisfied stagnation is the enemy. 

Ikigai in four parts 

The principle of Ikigai is most often displayed in a four-way Venn diagram like the one below. You’ll see that the four components can overlap two and three at a time, but that the ultimate joy and fulfillment rest when all four components are in balance. We’ll explore each component below: 

Source: Forbes

1. What do you enjoy doing? 

There’s a constant debate about the point of life. Why are we here? What are we all doing? What is this all for, outside of paying bills and marking off tasks? One compelling answer to that debate is: “We’re here to enjoy ourselves. That’s it.” No matter what your ultimate purpose will be, it’s essential that you enjoy it. Because we do need to pay bills, we’ll have to balance our enjoyment with hard work and sacrifice. However, no one who hates what they do will work as hard, stay as long, or give as much as someone who loves it. To most easily answer this question, one could ask herself a follow-up question: “If money wasn’t a factor, what would I do all day?” That list will get us as close as possible to our ideal activities for component one. 

2. What do you do particularly well?

We can all do many things fairly well. We can cook a handful of recipes. We’re alright at some artistic things. We can handle our own when playing a sport. Instead of making a list of 100 things that a person is passably good at, this component challenges employees to identify a short list of things they’re exceptionally good at. Ways to identify these might be to look back at past accolades or competitions they’ve won, ask peers who know them well, and reflect on their proudest moments - whether they were acknowledged or not. It’s important not just to consider “skills” that impress others, but also those softer skills or personality traits that make up a whole person, like “listening intently” or “giving second chances.” These might be keys that unlock a person’s true purpose. 

3. What is a lucrative or responsible career choice? 

Money moves everything, whether we like it or not. Many people fall into a path where this is the only fulfilled Ikigai component and the others are left ignored. Others might have a balance between all three of the other components but struggle in this arena. In any case, this component challenges us to consider what types of jobs or projects are going to reward us well. This might include salaries or compensation but there’s more - perhaps Kimberly wants a job with better benefits or more soft perks like commuter stipends. Maybe Richard is looking for a role that opens up new opportunities for fame or praise, while first-time dad Jake just wants a more flexible schedule. These are other currencies that help to make a position “lucrative.” We can all think of a bunch of swanky jobs or titles that would pay big bucks and come with tons of perks, but remember: if these roles aren’t aligned to your other three Ikigai components, the satisfaction will be temporary. 

4. What will empower you to give back to the collective whole? 

Even in the pursuit of self fulfillment, we should think outside ourselves. How can we serve our teammates, our customers, and the organization that employs us? How can our work serve the industry as a whole, the local community, or the global collective? One person’s impact as a project manager might be as simple as giving headspace back to their team. Another person might find purpose in website development, because the sites they create reach consumers who need answers and access. If someone does his or her job out of obligation alone, resentment and apathy will follow. This component challenges us to ask, “why, though?” 

How to get your team involved with Ikigai

The four Ikigai components really aren’t that complicated. What gets messy is figuring out how to achieve all four in equal or balanced measure without scrapping an entire career and starting over. The key to finding Ikigai at work isn’t usually as simple as starting over. Instead, it’s a series of small shifts in focus and a more purposeful foundation on which to make work-related decisions and moves. Just throwing this concept in an email to your team will likely result in avoidance or confusion. Instead, do this: 

1. Host a lunch-and-learn 

New concepts are often easier to learn in groups, where others are also new. A lunch-and-learn or catered professional development day is a relaxed and organized way to get people thinking outside of their immediate to-do list. Teach the four components and get small groups working together to cross-identify potential answers. 

2. Introduce the concept in a newsletter 

If you have a circulating weekly or monthly newsletter or company bulletin, this might be a great topic for an upcoming issue or distribution. If you’re responsible for this as the office manager, you can craft something that’s equal parts informative and actionable. If there’s a separate team who handles these comms, work with their team to put something together.  

3. Circulate Ikigai to your leaders 

The trickle-down of new information in any company is fairly common. Leaders usually have the inside scoop first so that they can translate information to their teams in an orderly and conscientious way. If you get the department heads or managers on board with Ikigai, the rest could follow. Make career goals a checkpoint on periodic evaluations or manager 1:1s. 

4. Get visual 

A poster or display of the traditional Ikigai diagram might be enough to get your people curious about what it is and how it can help them grow professionally. Once your teams are intrigued, it’s easy to disperse more information to get them involved. Bonus: if individualistic concepts like Ikigai are seen as an element of your company’s culture, candidates and new hires will be intrigued about working for you, too. 

Results to expect with Ikigai

Once your team has explored their Ikigai individually or in groups, you can expect some deep consideration. Your people will be exploring the parts that need the most work or improvement while keeping their healthier components afloat. You may need to shift things around internally and operationally to account for the changes that some employees need to make. While this could be challenging, your role will be instrumental in making sure things stay in good working order while changes are being made. This hard work will be worthwhile. Any time an employee moves closer to his or her ideal role or type of work, you can expect better productivity, dynamic creative brainstorming, more passionate execution, and the kind of job satisfaction that breeds a more positive culture overall. That’s a win-win. 

Ikigai can help you, too! 

Let’s spin back to the hats we were talking about earlier. Because an office manager wears so many at a time, you might want to think about which hats you can put down. Once you identify the areas of your work that are more your speed, begin to lean into those areas and learn as much as you can. Talk with your manager about getting additional vendor or contract support for the facets of your work that aren’t as Ikigai-approved for you. There are even tools and types of software that can automate the parts of your role that are tedious. While budget and capacity will prevail, small shifts in satisfaction on the job will return major productivity for you and your organization. 

Looking for a way to manage your workplace more efficiently? Check out what Eden’s Workplace Management Platform can do for your office.

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