7 Shocking Truths About Job Satisfaction
by Jeff Garton
After decades of unsuccessful attempts to solve the job dissatisfaction problem, dissatisfied workers still expect to be made satisfied, and it's still not happening. While the problem appears unsolvable, the author proposes a solution that requires a simple shift in expectations and attitudes.
There were times during the last 30-years that commencement speakers were at a loss for words to inspire the new crop of graduates as they began their careers. Job markets had be severely affected by war, terrorism, natural disasters, the worst economy since the Great Depression, unprecedented layoffs, shrinking pay and the elimination of benefits and retirement programs.
You could say job satisfaction has been in a coma and still hasn't recovered. But the really disheartening news is that it's accepted as a fact of organizational life and ignored except by the millions of people who are currently dissatisfied or looking for a better job. The general perception is nothing can be done about this.
It's not that you can't find job satisfaction, but you may want to set your sights on something more realistic. If this seems confusing, it is:
Are we talking dissatisfactions with jobs or employees? Is the satisfaction intrinsic or extrinsic, to jobs or employees? How is it possible to satisfy everyone equally? Which is more important, profitability or more job satisfactions? How do we keep them satisfied when there's less to be satisfied about?
Each time HR tackled the problem it was like opening Pandora's box. Before one problem could be fixed another generation moved in and brought another. Rather than getting one sure fix, we got a smorgasbord of short-lived programs that had limited effect.
In the meantime, we still cling to the notion of job satisfaction because it's all we know. We've not been oriented to want or expect anything else. We want a paycheck and a good boss, but the most persistent questions that arise during our career include: Is this all there is? Why am I killing myself? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? We lack an understanding of how to recognize our contentment related to career.
The advice passed along from each generation is: do what you love. You know from experience this is good advice, but doesn't resolve your choices or tell you what to do when you're simultaneously miserable while doing what you love. Careers happen, evolve and change based on trial and error. This is why some people stay dissatisfied, and others who are halfway into their career are still wondering what they should do when they grow up.
To make matters worse, we're unintentionally fueling the problem with each new generation that enters the workplace. Savvy recruiters are trained to exploit career uncertainties by discovering your values and offering enticements that appeal to those values. Over time you become conditioned to measure your success by the tangible evidence supplied by job satisfactions. The things you can put a price tag on (pay, bonus, benefits, promotions, etc.), and if you lack just one, you have a legitimate claim of dissatisfaction, even though you have nine other satisfactions that are pretty good. People overlook this because, once again, they've not been oriented to recognize their contentment.
Either you have job satisfaction or you don't, and either you stagnate or you leave, and because it's human nature to eventually expect more or something new and different, the problem never goes away. It's time for a change, and to reveal seven untold truths about job satisfaction you need to know.
1. Whether job satisfaction is intrinsic or extrinsic doesn't really matter. It wouldn't exist if it weren't for something the employer owned and offered to attract, motivate and keep your nose to their grindstone.
2. It's up to you to earn the satisfactions, and once you have them, to decide whether they're satisfying or not. Without your consent, the employer can decide at any time to change, reduce or eliminate what gives you satisfaction.
3. This makes your satisfaction co-dependent on your performance in exchange for what the employer decides to provide. So you're really co-dependent on each other, and even if you leave, your satisfaction will be co-dependent on the next employer.
4. Dissatisfaction is a possibility for both of you, and this adds the dimension of job related stress. It's a cache 22 because skills you offer are sometimes dependent on training provided by employers, and they may not offer this benefit, or budgets temporarily don't permit it. There's a limit to what you can do and what employers are willing to spend. Nothing is perfect, and its human nature to eventually want more or something different.
5. In addition, many job satisfactions are vulnerable to forces beyond anyone's ability to control, including fluctuations in the economy, business trends, and natural disasters. You can add to this the unintended impacts of manmade disasters such as war, terrorism, theft, cost-cutting initiatives, restructurings and mismanagement.
6. The stalemate between what you want and can provide, and what the employer is willing to offer and spend means some dissatisfactions may never get fixed. This is generally perceived as unfortunate but acceptable under the circumstances. It's business.
7. What's evolved over the years is an unspoken take or leave it atmosphere that has given rise to the importance of greater self-sufficiency, and also the loss of both employer and employee loyalties. You're on your own and can't expect employers to make you satisfied.
It's time to wake up and realize it's not feasible to expect employers to make you satisfied. What's needed is not another HR program, but a genuine shift in attitudes and expectations. So let's review some of your options:
Accept what is and adjust to make the most of your life and career. For some this may not be an option due to an existing threat or potential for job stress and burnout.
Change careers or keep moving until you find job satisfaction. Keep in mind that job dissatisfactions are pervasive throughout the US and across all age groups, genders, industries, occupations and ranks, even beyond the US. Good luck finding a completely satisfying job and situation.
Make the jump to start your own business. Think twice about this because the high failure rate of start-ups provides evidence that job dissatisfaction affects even entrepreneurs.
Recognize and leverage the benefits of your own career contentment. Here's a little secret: once you understand how to do this, you'll know how to make either of these options work, with or without job satisfaction. A 28-year career in HR taught me that a person made content by use of their talents is likely to stay in a job even if they're not entirely happy or satisfied, but a discontented person will complain or leave, and it doesn't matter how many satisfactions you pile on them.
Your career is and always will be the pursuit of contentment derived from work made meaningful by the use of your talents to fulfill your purpose. It's not entirely for the pursuit of the satisfactions that keep you dependent on employers, and we know this doesn't work.
Contentment means different things to people, but when it comes to your career, it's not about being laid back, giving in or doing with less. That might get you fired. It's about developing a calm and collected state of mind that enhances your effectiveness to perform, and your resiliency to endure when things don't go your way. It's your inborn ability to be content even in situations where you're not entirely happy or satisfied. You'll do this if your work is meaningful and worth fighting for. If it's not, you're in the wrong job and satisfactions won't matter. It's no different than how my grandparents stayed married for over fifty years. They weren't happy every day, but they realized no one is perfect. Rather than focus on their dissatisfactions, they learned to recognize the acceptable middle ground with each other, and that loving feeling of contentment enabled them to endure. This would not have been possible had they not loved each other enough to keep their marriage together.
Do what you love as your parents taught, but also look for ways to love what you do. Contentment is personal and deeper than employer efforts to keep you satisfied. Also, fulfilling your purpose is more important to you than fulfilling the employer's purpose, and they can't pay you enough to not want to use your talents. You may leave the job dissatisfactions behind, but you take your contentment with you, and hopefully where you land you will recognize the acceptable middle ground rather than expect those illusive satisfactions.
When you maintain a contented state of mind, the things you seek will serendipitously find you, and you'll have the peace of mind to make it happen, see it through, and in the end, you'll look back on your career with contentment.
We pride ourselves on explaining employment and career like never before. To learn more, please visit our website, and while there, join the campaign to retire job dissatisfaction.
© 2007 by Jeff Garton All Rights Reserved
Jeff Garton is a career coach, author and radio host for VoiceAmerica's "Career Contentment Radio." His background includes a career in Human Resources where he led the staffing for Kraft Foods and the Miller Brewing Company. He now leads the worldwide Campaign To Retire Job Dissatisfaction. For more information, and to join the campaign, please visit: www.careercontentment.com.
Jeff Garton may be contacted at http://www.careercontentment.com