Job Satisfaction—Part 3

February 27, 2003
By: Vicki Bell

You've done some deep soul-searching and have a good understanding of why you're unhappy with your job. Now it's time to take charge of your future, to improve your work life and the quality of your life in general.

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

The good news is you have options. The bad news is if you don't evaluate the options and take appropriate action, you may find yourself in the same situation again and again.

Here are your options:

  1. Do nothing (which, unfortunately, is always an option).
  2. Work to improve the conditions of your current job.
  3. Continue your same career with another company.
  4. Change careers.

Do Nothing

We all know them and have worked with them – the people who continually complain about their jobs and never take steps to improve their situations. Many of them have the attitude that there's nothing they can do to improve conditions. It's the "us against them" mentality, and it's not reserved for the rank and file of a company. Bosses have bosses, too, and are just as susceptible to the "us against them" way of thinking.

One of the most insidious behaviors of the do-nothing-but-complain group is that they voice their complaints to co-workers, friends, and family members, and seldom take the issues to those in a position to support change. Nor do they take steps to change the things they can change themselves. The chronically unhappy, incessantly complaining worker or manager has a detrimental effect on those with whom he or she shares the misery. Yes, everyone needs someone to listen, someone to empathize and sympathize with his or her problems. But even the best listeners tire of hearing the same old complaints over and over. Some co-workers may begin to avoid the complainer and teamwork suffers. Others may begin to view the company and their jobs in a less positive light, based on the complainer's perspective, breeding more complainers.

Each employee has the power to effect positive change, whether it's through an attitude adjustment, initiating the process to improve current conditions, or exploring other job and career opportunities. Doing nothing but complaining is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent exploring other options.

Work to Improve Current Conditions

If your soul-searching revealed that you enjoy the nature of your work and that you have the ability to change what you don't like about your current job, or if the current job market limits your opportunities for a career move at this particular time, your next step is to think of ways to improve your job. Even if lack of job opportunities is your primary motivation for staying where you are, really trying to improve your conditions will have a positive effect. You may decide that this is the job for you after all!

In their book Before You Say, "I Quit,"Diane Holloway, Ph.D., and Nancy Bishop suggest three basic steps for planning a course of action to improve your job.

  1. Consider the best way to make the change by brainstorming options on your own. Getting input from others who may have useful insights or have had similar experiences will also be helpful.
  2. Begin taking action and evaluating the feedback to make sure your actions are having the desired effect. Make any necessary adjustments.
  3. Evaluate your progress to see if you're accomplishing the original goal.

According to Holloway and Bishop, many people find they're most successful if they work on improvements from the inside out. They look at changes they can make in themselves that will eliminate or reduce difficulties or conflicts at work, such as breaking old habits like procrastinating and then panicking to meet deadlines. Only then do they move on to external, problematic job-related factors. Holloway and Bishop suggest the following six ways to improve your work life:

  1. Maintain a positive attitude; dwell on the positive aspects of the job, not the negative issues.

  2. Balance work and your personal life. Focusing too much on work to the exclusion of your personal life is a leading cause of job burnout.

  3. Increase your value as an employee. Become an "intrepreneur" - one who works within an organization to create new and better ways of doing things. Take on new responsibilities. These types of activities offer new challenges and potential rewards.

  4. Improve difficult relationships. Three ways to approach problem co-workers and supervisors are to: ignore the little things; compromise on less serious differences; and find solutions and discuss ways to correct major conflicts.

    The authors offer suggestions for dealing with major conflicts. Using diplomacy and finesse, state your problem without placing blame for its cause. Direct attention to a solution rather than dwelling on the difficulties caused by the problem. Listen carefully to and understand what the other person has to say. Work toward a win-win solution.

    Another approach is to work on "reframing your perspective" – looking at your situation from a different point of view to see what can be done to improve matters.

  5. Redesign your job or transfer to another one. If you have outgrown your job or have found that it isn't a good match for your talents, consider a lateral move into another department or ask to work on different projects. Just be sure to target jobs that are suitable rather than simply take what's available.

  6. 6. Improve working conditions. Even if your major dissatisfaction doesn't center around actual working conditions, you may feel better about your job if you enhance your work space, negotiate for a flexible work schedule, or are provided with equipment that will help you work more efficiently.

Holloway and Bishop offer the following guidelines for developing your plan for resolving your job difficulties:

  1. Set reachable goals.
  2. Consider realistic ways to achieve your plans.
  3. Ask for help and consult additional sources when necessary.
  4. Establish realistic deadlines to avoid procrastination.

To help with your goal-setting and action plan, write down the answers to these questions:

  1. (a) What changes can I make in myself that will improve my job?
    (b) How can I make these changes?
  2. (a) What changes can I make in my job that will help me feel more comfortable?
    (b) How can I make these changes?
  3. How will things be different when I've achieved these goals?
  4. When will I check my progress?

After several months of working your plan, you should see some results. If the plan fails to work, reconsider your decision to stay.

Continue Your Same Career With Another Company

You've decided that you like your line of work, but you might be more satisfied working for another company. How do you know that the company you're considering is a better match for you than your current place of employment?

Holloway and Bishop recommend a three-step process for deciding if the alternative is better than your present job.

  1. Compare job conditions. The authors provide a list of job factors that they recommend you rate for each company. Many of the items on this list mirror the items in the exercise for getting to the source of your dissatisfaction in Part II of this series. You can compose your own list of job factors that are important to you. Rate the factors for each company on a scale of 4 to 1, with 4 being excellent and 1 being poor. Be as objective as possible in your ratings.

    Tabulate the ratings for each company. If your job alternative is at least 10 points higher than your current position, you can improve your work life by moving on. Pay close attention to the top priorities on your checklist. If there's a big difference in these ratings for your priorities, you have an even clearer indication that you have more to gain at another job.

    A 10 or more point spread in favor of your present job indicates you should stay and improve your situation. Perhaps you can find satisfaction if some changes are made. Or the rating may indicate that you have a weak alternative and you should find a better job before quitting.

  2. Imagine commitment to your top choice. If you stay, what will the future hold? If you go with the alternative, how will your life change? Will you have to relocate? How will that affect your family? Try to imagine the best possible outcome, the worst possible outcome, and the most likely outcome - somewhere between the other two.

  3. Make the decision. Develop a list of pros and cons based on your job factor ratings, your visualizations of what the future holds with each job, and any other relevant pros and cons. Commit to your decision and take control of your life.

Change Careers

Today's workers have an average of three different careers during their lifetimes. The frequency of career changes is expected to increase in the coming decades as more people recognize they're in the wrong field or workers find opportunities diminishing in their industry.

According to Holloway and Bishop, you may be due for a career change if:

  • You are unhappy with the basic nature of your job.
  • You aren't using your main abilities and skills.
  • You have limited opportunities for advancement.
  • You didn't want to enter this field in the first place and only did so because of circumstances.

Countless books are devoted to identifying careers that fit an individual's talents and interests, and career counselors make a living helping others identify and reach their career goals. If you have a nagging feeling that you are in the wrong career, or if there's a career you've always wanted to try and haven't, you may be better off exploring a new career than remaining in a dissatisfying job or beginning the same type of job at another company.

Before jumping into a new career, do your homework. How will the new career mesh with your life plans and obligations? What is the long-term outlook for this career? Will you be looking at diminishing opportunities in this field a few years down the road?

Unfortunately, many of us exert more effort deciding relatively minor things in life than we do deciding a career. We fall into careers for all sorts of reasons and consider ourselves lucky if we like what we do. It doesn't have to be this way. As Douglas Lurton, author of The Power of Positive Living, said, "Take the tools in hand and carve your own best life."

Recommended Reading

Diane Holloway and Nancy Bishop, Before You Say "I QUIT!"(New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1990).

Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow(New York: Dell Publishing, 1987).

Matthew Gilbert,Take This Job and Love It(New York: Daybreak Books, 1998).

Richard Nelson Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute?(Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2002).

Spencer Johnson, "Yes or No" - The Guide to Better Decisions(New York: HarperCollins, 1992).

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

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