By: Patrick D. Goonan
Pat is a 25+ year veteran in business who has been employed by such well-known companies as Merck, Xerox, Oracle, PeopleSoft and VMware. He earned his Masters of Psychology at John F. Kennedy University and also attended the Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, CA after working in the business world most of his life.
A concern that I see coming up more and more is what factors determine long-term job satisfaction. I think this question comes up more often because more than ever we invest so much of our time and energy in our careers. I also think the pace of life, the macroeconomic climate and an aging work force all contribute to an existential crisis in the career arena for many people. Stress precipitates soul searching….
I think what most of us are really seeking is happiness and at some point in our lives we equated happiness with material success. To some extent, there is a correlation, but at some point most of us realize that dying with the most toys doesn’t address the problem of day-to-day happiness and satisfaction. This is the major point of this article.
As someone who does a fair amount of career coaching, I have noticed that many people have not consciously created their careers. Others have outgrown decisions they have made in their youth or feel stuck in situations which they know are less than what they wanted or feel they deserve. In these cases, often the culprit is fear!
For those who are satisfied, there seem to be some common denominators and I break these down into two areas: 1) Global/Static 2) Specific/Dynamic. I think by raising awareness around what these elements are in each domain, one can experience higher happiness and job satisfaction. Also, by assessing these often unconscious factors one can potentially overcome the fears associated with making a change.
In the Global/Static area, people who are satisfied with their career tend to choose a role or function aligned with their core values. Therefore, this implies that these people have done some sort of inventory and ranking of their values. If you haven’t, I would suggest ranking 10 or 15 and then reducing them down to the 5 most important and comprehensive ones. In other words, the key five that capture what you are about most fully.
Generally, those people that are most happy in their work have specific, measurable and written goals. In other words, they have defined success so they recognize it when they achieve it. If you haven’t defined success or worse borrowed someone else’s definition, then how can you hope to feel good? As Stephen Covey was fond of saying, “before you climb the ladder of success, make sure it is leaning against the right wall.”
Those people most happy with their jobs do something that is well-suited to their basic personality type. Without getting overly complex, introverts tend in one direction and extroverts in different directions. Some people are more intuitive and others more concrete in their thought processes. There are also differences in pace, resilience, risk tolerance, etc. You get the idea here.
Another area that is important is work/life balance. Some people find that 50 hours on the job is way to much while others think they are just getting warmed up at 60. In other words, it’s possible that you can be in the right role, but that you are doing too much or too little of it.
Also, within this category is the notion of utilizing the skills you most enjoy using, not just the ones you are most talented at. For example, someone can be very good at math, but hate it and be mediocre at woodworking and love it. What is important here is the right ration of utilizing skills you enjoy. Generally, these skills fall into three categories working with 1) people; 2) information and 3) things. Determining the ideal ratio of these broad categories and then drilling down within each will yield a lot of insight.
Lastly in this section, finding an organizational culture that provides the right environment and appropriate balance of challenge and support is important. While a job might sound great on paper, the wrong manager or organizational dynamics can make your situation miserable. I lump all of these systems factors under the category of organizational culture.
In summary, some of the Global/Static Factors are:
- Value Alignment
- Meaningful Written Goals
- Personality Fit
- Work/Life Balance
- Skill Fit
- Organizational Culture
While the list above is not exhaustive. I would say it captures 75-80 percent of what is really important. While the needs above can evolve, generally they are more static than what I call the specific or dynamic factors. These are how you relate to the job or what happens between your ears during the workday and when you get home.
I think the people that are most happy in their jobs are: 1) more aware of how they are feeling moment-to-moment; 2) celebrate their successes regularly; 3) have the ability to consider any challenge from a variety of vantage points or perspectives; 4) alter their emotional investment of stance in response to demands; 5) subsume work into the broader context of various life domains and 6) practice gratitude, appreciating the good things that occur on the job everyday.
With respect to awareness of feelings, it possible you can allow yourself to become overstimulated or at the other extreme bored without realizing it. You can delay asking for help and become overwhelmed as a result. You can walk around for day or weeks feeling angry without knowing how it happened or having this run you below the level of consciousness.
At a more basic level, what we want is to feel good, but if you have disowned your emotions and live only in your head you may be among the walking dead. Your emotions tell if you if something is basically good or not, while we sometimes minimize their importance, they are essential to guiding us moment-to-moment toward what is fulfilling. Why do people see a certain movie? In attempt to manipulate how they feel. Advertising takes advantage of this principle, why shouldn’t you in your daily work life?
With respect to success, if you don’t take time to celebrate it you are postponing your happiness to a future that never arrives. You must make decisions about when you need to push and when you need to celebrate your accomplishments. Some people keep setting higher and higher goals without enjoying what they have already achieved. This is like continuing to run after you have caught up to the bus.
One aspect of resilience or dealing effectively with stress is the ability to try on different ways of looking at things. This skill helps the happiest workers to make good decisions that result in more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Work environments are constantly changing, therefore, the skill of viewing challenges from many angles and choosing appropriate responses is indispensable.
Also, it is important to view work as one domain of several important areas of life. If you lose this perspective where you define yourself by your how you are doing on the job, then your self-esteem goes up and down according to how work is going. Remember, it is one area of life among at least 6-10 equally or more important areas e.g. 1) significant other; 2) friends; 3) leisure; 4) self-development/spirituality; 5) health and 6) family. Subsuming work into this broader context helps you to hold the more stressful moments with equanimity and ride out the inevitable bumps and setbacks of life.
Regarding emotional stance, what I mean is your ability to lean in or pull back your boundaries and energy according to what is required in a specific situation. We often talk about this as carefully choosing are battles, knowing when to back off and being aware of when we need rest, time off or just a coffee break.
With respect to gratitude, it is important to notice what is good about everyday. For example, if two people walked down the same street and one just feel in love and the other had a fight with their spouse, they would notice different things. The person in love might notice, the sunny day, the feel of the breeze on their skin, the beautiful park they just passed and the other person might notice the garbage in the gutter, graffiti on the walls of the building and an annoying fly buzzing around their head. Our attention is selective and the way we use it is a habit. You can change what you notice and pay attention to.
For example, one thing you have control over is whether you compare yourself up to people that are more successful, wealthy, good-looking, etc. or down to those that are less fortunate. How you use your attention, ability to compare and capacity to appreciate what you have does make a difference in your outlook, overall happiness, confidence, etc. When bad thinking becomes an unconscious habit, you will perpetuate your own misery.
In summary, there are the Specif/Dynamic factors again:
- Emotional Awareness
- Regularly Celebrating Success
- Perspective Taking
- Emotioanl Stance
- Meta-Perspective/Contextualizing Work within the larger domain of Life
I won’t pretend that I’ve captured every factor that is important to career satisfaction, however, these 12 will take you a long way toward the happiness you are seeking. Like in sports, mastering the fundamentals is important at every level of competition and a lifelong practice. If you treat these key elements of job satisfaction as such, your happiness factor will go up substantially.
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PATRICK GOONAN is an Organizational Development specialist and Executive/Career Coach. For more information about his background and services see the menu at the top of this Blog. If you are interested in a free consultation, you can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.