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What Is Job Satisfaction?

June 30th, 2020

I remember speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2011 (9 years ago!!), for the years ago. I think it was me and Dan Schawbel in front of maybe 200 or 300 people. It was really quite fun and charming.┬áSouthern charming. I was waiting for someone to drop the “bless your heart” bomb, but no one did.

Look how young I was here :p

Jason Alba Charlotte Pronet 2011

I guess I left the South unscathed, then.

Anyway, the morning of the presentation I was driving through downtown Charlotte. I didn’t know what to expect from Charlotte, or downtown Charlotte, but I soon learned that they (whoever they is) regards Charlotte, North Carolina, as “the Wall Street of the South” because a bunch of financial institutions had major offices (or headquarters?) there.

Downtown Charlotte was beautiful. Massive buildings… not like New York City, but much bigger than what I was expecting. I remember beautiful architecture and a clean city.

I also remember, on that early morning drive, passing people at bus stops waiting to catch their next bus to work. I was going to speak to some three hundred people about getting a job while I passed dozens of people waiting to go to their job that morning. Every single person I passed looked… gloomy. Unhappy. The morning was beautiful but there was like individual dark clouds over these poor people who had to go clock in.

The irony was I was about to enter a conference venue with hundreds of people who couldn’t go to work because they didn’t have a job… and they were HAPPY! I was there to give them wisdom or ideas on how to land their next job, and they seemed happy to be there. Was I just there to trick people into being miserable?

No… no, of course not. I know that many of the smiles were because people were finally getting out of the house, and having something to look forward to in the job search. I realize that being out of work is miserable, and many of the people in that audience would have gladly traded places with the bus stop people.

Lately, in my work with Snowfly Incentives, I’ve been thinking a ton about employee satisfaction. Actually, I thought a lot about it when I worked at Bamboo HR, and was working on creating an academy of sorts for HR practitioners. My boss was a thought leader in the HR/culture space and working with him was an honor and a privilege.

Employee satisfaction. We talked about it from the perspective of HR and managers and leaders, creating a culture and environment where employees loved coming to work and brought their best selves to the job. Increases in employee performances and impacts on employer brands and retention were regular conversation topics.

But my roots are in the job search and personal responsibility for OUR OWN career management. So this morning I was wondering, what is OUR role in our own employee satisfaction?

This is a critical question

If you believe that you need to take care of your career (career management), why do you think you should let your company determine your satisfaction level?

Own it. Figure out how to have your own satisfaction.

Will your company do everything right for you? Nope. No company will. There will always be problems. Even in the best of times in my career I’ve had things at my employer I would have liked to have different. A jerk I had to work with, an unfair decision about who gets to do things, lower compensation or raises than I felt were fair, etc. The list could go on and on.

I watched people whine and moan and complain about these things. Really, they are little and inconsequential, but when we obsess about them and talk about them we feed them and make them bigger.

We let this feeding hijack our satisfaction. We empower the little things to contribute to our work misery.

I’m not saying we need to be ignorant, ignore everything, and play Work Polyanna. I’m just saying let’s be intentional about what we decide will give us satisfaction.

Here are some ideas:

Get a hobby. People say to follow your passion and the money or a rewarding career will follow. I don’t agree. If you can monetize your passion, and that remains your passion for the entirety of your career, great! Congratulations! But for the rest of us, my advice is to find a hobby. Do you want to write, create, travel, watch, eat, cook…? Find your hobby(ies) and spend time on them after work hours.

Spend time with humans (or pets). When I was at Bamboo they were really big on work/life balance. More than once an executive would walk past me after 5 (like at 5:01) and tell me to go home, the work would be there tomorrow. Go home because there is much more to life, and mental and physical health, than working late. There are plenty of studies about the importance of socializing with others. Of course this can be done at work, but I suggest you figure out how to do it outside of work. Be around others. Laugh and cry, give and receive. Human interaction is powerful and we need it more than we think.

Decide. Decide who you are, and what you are after, and what makes you happy. I believe a lot of times we haven’t decided what we want in life and that leave a gaping whole for our boss and culture and society to tell us what will make us happy. That is a mistake. Figure out who you are. “Find yourself,” as they say. Make some decisions. Own yourself. Don’t look to others for satisfaction or validation. When you don’t need the approval of others life becomes more simple.

Grow. Figure out how you can progress. I grew up thinking that you have phases in life, one of which is your growth phase. This is when your body grows, your brain develops, and you suck as much information as you can through the education system. Then, after college, you enter a new phase where you have a career and perhaps a family. No one told me this but I think I assumed you didn’t really learn, at least the way you did in school, once you were done with that phase. I’ve learned that is far from the truth. I love learning, whether from books, conferences, chats with experts, and just trying new things. If you feel stagnant then enroll in a course or do something to really dive deep into an area and grow. You have the world at your feet (or fingertips, on your smart phone) and the same amount of time as the rest of us. Own your personal growth.

I think satisfaction comes from shifting perspective, and each of these things help you shift. I invite you to rethink employee satisfaction and not wait for your company to provide it… seek it on your own. Your boss, the HR person, even the company might go away, but your responsibility to owning your own satisfaction will not.

3 Comments »

3 responses to “What Is Job Satisfaction?”

  1. Scot Herrick says:

    Hi Jason – I would note that none of these things you recommend — which are all good — relate to anything about the job or being at work. Perhaps know what you want, but that’s it.

    I don’t disagree we are responsible for our own satisfaction.

    How to stay satisfied in a toxic work environment? With a horrible boss? Usually, the answer is to leave or wait it out. But satisfaction is tough.

    Your other items will help balance that stress, for sure. But the underlying “satisfaction at work” is a tough nut to crack as something simple as a changing of managers can move you from highly satisfied to totally stressed out.

    How well you figure out the culture before taking a job makes a big difference. Being able to have a good reputation and being able to move in a larger company to get rid of a toxic boss helps. Leaving is risky — especially if you are leaving to get rid of a toxic environment; you’ll just jump anywhere to get out of the situation.

    It’s a tough one that I haven’t figured out yet.

  2. Norman Reiss says:

    Really important topic, Jason – thanks for sharing this reminder!

  3. Jason Alba says:

    @Scot – thank you for adding to the conversation. I can always count on great insight and thoughts from you.

    @Norman, you are welcome! :)

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