Job Satisfaction: Five Controllable Elements

Increase the likelihood you’ll enjoy going in to work each day.


Sean MacEntee - Work

I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about job satisfaction, given to a degree, it is something each of us can control. It’s important to know how to create a working environment where you’re happy, because your contentment or lack thereof, spills over into other areas of your life. Of course, if you’re underpaid, underemployed, or for any reason have an intolerable job, there’s only so much you can do.

Thinking back to my business school days, one specific employee motivation theory sticks in my mind, over a decade later:

  • Effort leads to performance: You are capable of doing the work, and applying yourself leads to successful completion of a work unit.
  • Performance leads to outcomes: Successfully doing your job leads to outcomes that you value, such as to recognition, pay bonuses, successfully solving a challenging problem and so forth.
  • Outcomes are valued: The outcomes you receive are important to you, in that they meet some need. This will be specific to you, and what you need out of your job.

If each of the three bits is true, you’re far more likely to be motivated by and enjoy the work that you do. If even one of these elements is false, you’re unlikely to enjoy your job.

There’s a ton of interesting management material on the subject, from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs onward. In my experience, there are generally five elements you can take control of, to increase the likelihood that you’ll be happy at work.

Here goes:

Have challenging work: if you’re always flying on autopilot and not solving new problems your job will become boring. If you’re bored, chances are you aren’t going to be happy with the work you’re doing. If you’re bored, do something about it!

Have work that keeps you engaged: be involved in your work, and work environment, solve problems, take on new challenges. If you aren’t actively engaged in your work life, you won’t get much out of it. Sometimes, your job can be what you make of it. At my happiest, at work, I was juggling a couple of projects. This added work variety and kept me involved in the work that I was doing.

Like or at least get along with the people you work with: you will spend way more time with the people you work with than with your own friends and family. Make an effort to get to know, and get along with your coworkers. It makes even the most stressful of jobs way more tolerable. Do not skip social events – even if you’re an introvert, these are really important in getting to know your co-workers.

Have purpose: making a buck is not enough to keep you focused on your work. If you’re living pay period to pay period, sure, that’s absolutely your focus. However, if that’s not the case, money alone isn’t going keep you happy. In my case, I focus on what my work gives to other people. By focusing on creating solutions that make peoples’ jobs easier, and will hopefully remain in use for years, I get something out of the work that I do. Yes, this is totally possible, even in information management.

Manage your commute: If you’re spending huge portions of your day, say an hour or more in either direction, getting to and from work, consider that this may be having negative impacts on your enjoyment of your job. Your time commuting is worth something. Switching to bike commuting, back in my Ottawa days, dramatically increased my job satisfaction, without increasing my commute time by very much. If that’s not possible, consider whether you can move closer to your job. There are a bunch of studies that indicate that your commute has a powerful impact on job satisfaction.

In case you’d like to read more on the the impact your daily commute can have, I’ve included a few links:

Header image by Sean MacEntee: Work // CC by 2.0

Author: sylint

I'm a business analyst, working in Information Management and Information Technology. Technically, I'm a librarian, though I prefer to think of myself as professionally varied.

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