Your Role in Job Satisfaction

June 14, 2018

Graduation season is upon us and college graduates are seeking to put their newly acquired knowledge to work by building skills and experience in order to pay off student loans, establish careers, and begin an enduring and satisfying adult life.

Much of overall satisfaction with life comes from our relationships with partners, family and friends. But when we spend 40 years or more in the workplace, we should seek to find careers that provide not only a decent salary, but also fully engage us to bring out our best.

Regardless of the type of work, we each need to take individual responsibility for this satisfaction because—much like managing our physical health—it’s too important and impossible to outsource to anyone else.

It takes many things to find fulfillment at work, but they likely fall into either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those that you feel because you are fulfilled merely by the work itself. You need nothing or no one to provide you with any accolades or financial compensation for doing the job. Extrinsic rewards are those where you are given something by someone else. This could be in the form of financial incentives or in recognition.

In Necessary Dreams, author Anna Fels writes that feeling fulfilled at work requires two things: mastery and recognition. She says mastery is about expertise and the sheer enjoyment you feel when you do something you value really well. It provides meaning and satisfaction. The effort and reward are both internal.

As I wrote about in a previous post, Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says the key to tapping into intrinsic interests is through autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are three things that you alone are responsible for. If they are not found in your current role, it is your responsibility to find ways to get them. This could mean helping to redefine your role, taking on more responsibility, delegating things off your plate, or changing departments or companies if necessary.

The important thing to remember is that your supervisor is not going to provide you with the intrinsic motivation you may be seeking. And, for those of you just beginning your careers, you will likely need to be patient, since autonomy, mastery and purpose are unlikely to come in your first job. Just be certain you are on a path that will enable you to reach these intrinsic rewards as you grow in your chosen career.

The second essential element for workplace fulfillment, according to Fels, is being recognized for what you do. Recognition is an extrinsic reward because it comes from outside of you. Someone else needs to recognize you. All too often, companies think of extrinsic rewards as confined to high salaries and generous benefit packages. More enlightened organizations see the importance of things like flexible work hours, fairness in hiring and promoting practices, the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) human resource strategy and unlimited vacation time as extrinsic rewards. These are all ways companies can demonstrate that they recognize employees as important and valuable partners.

Perhaps the easiest, cheapest and most important form of an extrinsic reward, however, is the simple acknowledgement of the good work an employee has done. Simply stating aloud appreciation for a job well done does wonders for fulfilling the recognition element. This shouldn’t take the place of promotions and salary increases, of course, but it should definitely be a part of the mix. And it should be done regularly.

This recognition should be done face-to-face whenever possible and it needs to be sincere. It is also best—when appropriate—if it can be done in public. Nothing boosts engagement, morale and overall job satisfaction more than this simple human interaction.

You may ask: If this extrinsic reward comes from outside of you, how is it then your responsibility for achieving job satisfaction? It turns out that you can do a lot to help encourage extrinsic rewards. Regardless of your role, you have an obligation to communicate what it is you need from your supervisor and from your organization in order to succeed.

If you need more feedback, be sure you let them know this. If there are things beyond feedback that will further motivate you, let your supervisor and leadership throughout the organization know this as well. You will likely be speaking for many of your coworkers as well. This is information that will benefit you as well as the entire organization.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate or have been in the workforce for a while and frustrated you are not finding job satisfaction, perhaps it’s time to assess the intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Determine which it is and then work on doing your part to get what you need in order to improve your satisfaction. Don’t expect or wait for others to do what is yours to do.

The Mid-Life, Mid-Career Slump Remedy

April 26, 2018

Milestone birthdays often serve as a reminder of the persistent passage of time. Whether it’s turning 30, 40, 50, 60 or beyond, reaching each decade threshold is a time to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’re grateful for, and where we still want to go.

And these milestones can either bring about dread or light a fire under us. For example, there’s a huge increase in the number of first time marathon runners who are age 29, 39, 49 and 59. Perhaps for many people running a marathon is an early bucket list item to check off before entering their next decade.

As I wrote in a previous post, happiness often increases after we reach middle age. This U-bend curve of well-being suggests that our happiness quotient continually declines from our early twenties until our mid-forties whereupon it then begins to rise well into old age. Little wonder since the mid-forties is when people are often heavily invested in demanding careers, raising teenagers and helping their aging parents.

By the same token, many people reach a career slump in their work when they are in their mid-forties and about halfway through their most productive working years. This slump can be attributed to many factors such as individuals are not seeing as many advancement opportunities, they no longer have the right level of challenge and satisfaction in their work, or they are no longer stimulated and simply working for a paycheck.

In the same way buying a sports car or starting an affair may not be the best choice in a mid-life crisis, so too might simply finding another job may not be the best choice if you’re in a mid-career slump.

Whether it’s entering a new decade of life or simply reaching a crossroads in your career, it helps to first take stock of where you are. This could include assessing what you’ve accomplished so far, how satisfied you are at this point in your life, and acknowledging what—if anything—is holding you back from reaching more of what you want.

Warren Buffett suggests when you reach such a mid-life slump, it’s worthwhile to make a list of your top 25 goals for the rest of your life. Then look at this list and circle your top five that are your absolute highest priority. Next, immediately begin planning how to achieve those top five goals and don’t even look at those other 20 until you achieved all five. By focusing on and achieving a few important things well is far more likely to move you out of a slump of many half-hearted and/or half-completed projects.

Daniel Pink, in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, suggests other ways to combat a mid-career slump. These include:

• Develop a mid-career mentoring program in your organization. This is a recognition of the U-bend curve of well-being that is something we are all likely to encounter. Making this a formal program will enable more experienced employees to offer strategies for dealing with the inevitable slump. Peers can provide camaraderie and support. And having others share how they were able to inject purpose into their lives can be inspiring and motivating.

• Mentally subtract positive events. To do this, you first think about something positive in your life—your marriage, birth of a child, major achievement. Second list all of the circumstances that made that possible, such as a seemingly insignificant decision of where to eat dinner one night or a class you enrolled in on a whim or the friend of a friend who happened to tell you about a person or job opening. Then remind yourself that life did go your way. Serendipity happens.

• Write yourself a few paragraphs of self-compassion. By nature, most of us are overly hard on ourselves. We are all too likely to focus on our faults and where we fall short. Scarcity rather than abundance. But we should also take time to acknowledge our strengths and be compassionate in the fact that—as human beings—we are all perfectly imperfect. By writing this down and owning it, we are more likely to internalize it and accept it in a healing manner.

No matter where we are in life or in our career, we are on a journey. And on this journey we celebrate accomplishments and suffer setbacks. How we respond to the inevitable mid-life and mid-career slumps depends on our resilience and our ability to remain mindful of our long-term goals and priorities. The remedy for these slumps is within your grasp.