Job Satisfaction—Part 2

February 13, 2003
By: Vicki Bell

Something's very wrong. You approach each workday with dread. The ringing of the alarm clock is joined by your groans as you realize that you're heading out for another day on the job. You live for quitting time on Friday and begin the transition to depression mode on Sunday afternoon.

Editors Note: This is part II in a series about job satisfaction. Please read: Part Iand Part III

Affirmations such as "I love my job" simply aren't cutting it, no matter how many times you say them. You dread running into those bubbly, smiley-faced people at work who really seem to like their jobs and enjoy being there. You wonder if they're putting you on - if they secretly want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, just like you. You can't imagine anyone enjoying working where you work. You feel a kinship with Mark Twain, who said, " I do not like work, even when someone else does it."

Do you know what's wrong? It's one thing to know you hate your job, but knowing the real reasons why can take some deep introspection on your part. Knowing is critical if you are to improve your current job situation or to make a satisfying transition to another job.

Symptoms and Causes

If you listed all the things that upset you about your job, there's a good chance you would identify only the symptoms of your discomfort, not the real cause, says Diane Holloway, Ph.D., and Nancy Bishop, the authors of Before You Say "I Quit!" According to Holloway and Bishop, the true source of your unhappiness frequently lies buried beneath these irritations.

The authors give the following example to illustrate their point.

    Marge was frustrated by the problems she encountered while working with three co-workers in developing a chain restaurant's training programs. All four of them had different personalities, work styles, and objectives.

    Marge's initial comments, which dealt with the friction between her and her co-workers, might have indicated that she needed to work with a different set of people. But as Marge discussed her personal and work history, it became apparent that she preferred more autonomy and direct control over projects. She talked about being an only child who was accustomed to spending time by herself. Although she got along well with most people, she had difficulty working in a team situation because she was used to making her own decisions and acting on them as she saw fit. The solution in her case was to transfer to another department where she could work more independently.

Know Thyself

While some issues, such as inadequate pay, too many hours, too much travel, lack of tools and support to get the job done, and no chance for advancement, are generally obvious sources of dissatisfaction, some are not so obvious. Sometimes the only way to get to the heart of the matter is through careful, methodical self-evaluation - looking at not only how you react to certain situations, but why.

Studies have shown that people who have a greater self-awareness, a true sense of their strengths and weaknesses, are better able to manage their lives. According to Holloway and Bishop, "At a minimum, self-examination will reaffirm that you clearly understand yourself and your needs, which will strengthen your confidence when it's time to act. On the other hand, it may reveal that there is more going on than you ever imagined."


Holloway and Bishop offer the following guidelines for helping you gain a better understanding of why you are experiencing difficulties.

  1. Begin by relaxing and clearing your mind of anger, frustration, and other strong emotions that may prevent you from looking at your situation clearly and objectively.
  2. Take paper and pencil and find a quiet, comfortable place to relax.
  3. Don't edit your thoughts. Let them flow as you ask yourself, "If I could change anything about this (each of the items below), what would it be?"
    • Basic job conditions: physical surroundings, ambiance, size of office, comfort and safety, etc.
    • Work schedule: number of hours required, flexibility
    • Location of job: city where job is located, distance from home, etc.
    • Amount of stress or demands
    • Pay and benefits
    • Opportunity to use abilities and pursue interests
    • Relationship with boss
    • Relationship with co-workers
    • Opportunity to pursue meaningful and challenging work
    • Responsibility and power
    • Rewards and recognition
    • Opportunities for professional growth
    • Job security
    • Economic outlook
    • Impact on personal life
    • Other concerns

Finished? Now go back and look at each comment. Put a check by the concerns that have the most profound impact on your happiness, such as a bad relationship with your boss, overwork that could lead to job burnout, or being stuck in a position with no advancement opportunities.

Less significant concerns would include such complaints as a small office or a co-worker who's difficult to work with but who doesn't seriously impede your job performance - unpleasant matters that are not serious enough to make you resign. However, they may be a symptom of a more serious problem. For example, being unhappy with the size of your office may be an indication that you feel unappreciated.

A Closer Look

Take a closer look at the major issues and ask yourself why each is upsetting you or why things are not working out. Note your ideas after each complaint. Be specific. A response such as "I'm unhappy with my job because I'm bored" is not getting to the source. You must identify what's causing your boredom. Is it that your work offers no challenge? Lacks contact with people? Requires a tedious approval process?

Looking Ahead

Once you've thoroughly examined your situation and uncovered the true sources of your dissatisfaction, take a look into the future. Is your current job bringing you closer to your long-term career goals? Do you think you'll want to be in your current occupation five to 10 years from now, or for the remainder of your work life?

Are you feeling a pull toward something else? Is there something you've always thought you wanted to do but for one reason or another haven't pursued? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you might want to read Marsha Sinetar's Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

Learning From the Past

Whether you decide to continue on your current career path or to explore a new career, looking back on your past and identifying patterns of success and failure in your work and personal life can help you determine your best fit in the workplace and what you may need to change in yourself to improve your situation. Identifying and understanding your work and life themes can help you resolve two of the most common job problems: incompatibility with a job or career and conflicting relationships with a supervisor or co-worker.

Holloway and Bishop suggest the following exercises to uncover your work and life themes. Begin by thinking about the highlights of your current and past jobs. You can jog your memory by reviewing your updated resume. Write down your thoughts about the following questions:

  1. What did you like about each job?
  2. What did you dislike about each job?
  3. What did you learn, and what skills did you acquire?
  4. What did you accomplish?
  5. In what areas did you excel? (Remember to include those intangible areas such as interpersonal relationships.)
  6. Where did you fall short?
  7. What kind of supervisors did you get along with the best?
  8. What kind of supervisors did you have trouble tolerating?
  9. What are the highlights of your personal life, including educational achievements (degrees, special projects, athletics, and extracurricular activities)?
  10. What are your accomplishments in activities outside of work, such as projects you completed at home or involvement in professional, religious, civic, or volunteer organizations?

Go back over your lists and select the top five events of your professional and personal life. These include your biggest accomplishments and your most satisfying moments. Next, examine these top five events and identify what personal skills and conditions made things work for you. These include such attributes as talents for organizing, creating, leading, getting along with others, following through on a project, and so forth. Note how the environment, people, attitudes, and other elements contributed to your success.

Learning From Failures

Now go back and search for problems you've had in your work life. Problems and failures often teach some of life's most valuable lessons.

Some people encounter the same problems at every job. For example, they repeatedly have difficulty dealing with bosses or with certain job skills or procedures. Note any negative recurring themes, and consider why they keep occurring.

If you have quit jobs in the past, think about the reasons why. Have you repeatedly had the same reason for resigning? Are you perhaps perpetuating a self-defeating cycle?

If you have changed careers in the past, why did you change fields? What roles have others played in your career choices? Are you following your own instincts and best interests in choosing careers or someone else's idea of what you should be doing?

Do you have a history of taking jobs because they were the only jobs available at that time, not because they were something you really wanted to do? If so, you have lots of company. Unless you were lucky enough to land in a gratifying job or you're among the employees who truly see a job as a paycheck only, perhaps a means to support an avocation that gives you satisfaction, you have an even greater need to define and go after the job that will be the most satisfying.

Putting Your Insight to Work

You've identified the realsource of your dissatisfaction and have determined what needs to be done to improve the situation -changing aspects of your current job, changing your own attitudes or behaviors, a combination of both, or finding a new job or totally new career - so what do you do now?

In Part III of this series, we will examine your options for improving your job situation - whether you decide to stay with your current job or seek a new one. Missed Part I? Click here to read it.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209