Job Satisfaction Survey

Monday, 2007-February-19 at 16:04

The Fishbowl: Job Satisfaction

I found this through a link from James Robertson’s SmallTalk blog. I agree with James that most knowledge workers, at least, fall into the two groups named. I think that if we consider it a continuum or graduated scale or something similar, most other workers also fit somewhere in there.

The question is, for you, is work intrinsically valuable? Does it have value just because you are being productive in a job you at least somewhat like? Or does work have value because of the extrinsic benefits, such as pay and benefits, social prestige, or the ability to get away from your 19 year-old for a few hours?

I think that, for most people, the truth is somewhere in between, but most likely closer to the extrinsic side of things. Living in this part of Southern California, I get to see large numbers of people heading to Las Vegas on Friday evenings. Sometimes, I would leave Pasadena just after 5 P.M. but arrive home around 9:45 P.M. or sometimes even later. Sure, it is over 90 miles one-way, but there is really no reason to miss Numb3rs if you don’t have to do so. But my point is, people work all week, just so they can drive several hours in heavy traffic to spend the weekend in Las Vegas, culminating in a repeat of the several hours in heavy traffic to return home Sunday.

I have been to Las Vegas once, and while it was fine, I wouldn’t make that trip regularly. Once a year is plenty. I’d rather be at home, using the computer to figure out how to take one work-product and transform it into another work-product that can be used in a different way.

People who see work as a necessary evil will accept neutral, or even slightly negative-scoring jobs. So long as working isn’t actively grinding their souls into the dust, it’s fine.

People who seek fulfilment in work are only going to be satisfied with a job that scores significantly positively. They may make one or two trade-offs — for example a charity worker might accept low pay in exchange for the knowing he’s making a difference — but too many negatives will bring the whole thing crashing down.

I think that is generally true, but I think either group will accept a job that is totally nasty and foreign to them (or “actively grinding their souls into the dust”) if they feel that there is no alternative. For example, I am certain that many people in our inner cities would dearly love to replace their soul-draining jobs with something more fulfilling. But their locations and circumstances give them little choice but to stick with what they have or resort to crime as their mode of living.

This is another reason, in my view, that relying on what jobs a person has been hired for in the past is a foolish practice. Often, your best and most motivated employees will be totally different from the list of BFOQs that HR uses. Rather than pretend that prior employment in similar jobs will result in satisfactory performance in your environment, look for people that like challenges and are willing to strive to improve—that is, people that are intrinsically-motivated—and you will be surprised by the number of people without your expected background that will be top performers year after year.

There is a catch. Your company or its management cannot be soul-vampires, or you will surely lose any good employee that has a chance to leave.

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