Recently, 80,000 Hours reviewed 60 studies about job satisfaction. They discovered that there are three components that contribute less to satisfaction with a job than previously thought. We have also picked out six important elements that influence job satisfaction.
Myths about job satisfaction
Advice in the past few decades focused strongly on following your heart. This philosophy implies you’ll get most job satisfaction if you identify your passion and pursue a career in that field. This sounds very attractive at first, and successful people usually are passionate, but it comes with its own complications. First of all, it suggests that passion is all you need. But if working conditions and passion clash, you’ll still be dissatisfied. Second, many people have the feeling they aren’t really passionate about work possibilities, which makes following your passion very difficult. Finally, following your passion narrows your career options drastically.
Another belief is that money can’t buy happiness. Yet, lots of people put financial security high up in their life goals. On top of that, many seem to believe that more money would improve their quality of life. However, research shows that income doesn’t have that much of an effect on perceived happiness on a day-to-day basis. We can quote Daniel Kahneman, who says: “High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being.” If “not feeling blue” and “feeling stress-free” are added into the mix, the picture remains remarkably similar. In summary: Of course, income has an influence on wellbeing, but it achieves its ceiling effect rather quickly. Therefore, it should not be the primary criterion in the search for job satisfaction.
Last on the list is stress avoidance. Modern literature on stress paints a complex picture, showing that stress isn’t always bad. In fact, some people with very demanding positions report lower levels of stress. Whether stress is good or bad depends on its context. For example: Intense demands that are challenging and short-term can be good, whereas a mismatch in demands and your abilities can make a job either boring or harmfully stressful.
Now that we’ve covered the myths, what are the working conditions that actually contribute to an enjoyable and meaningful job? We return to Kahneman’s positive psychology and combine this with job satisfaction research to distill six dream job ingredients.
Requirements for a dream job
The first condition for an enjoyable and meaningful job is work that draws you in and holds your attention; work that feels as if you’re absorbed in it, fully immersed. This concept is also known as “being in the zone” or “flow.” Researchers sum up four factors that contribute to engaging work: autonomy in how you perform your work; unambiguous tasks with predetermined start and end points; variation in the types of tasks; and feedback on your work.
Helping other people
It appears that helping other people is another powerful ingredient of a satisfying job. Giving makes us happy. This can be seen in a number of ways: People who work in “caring” jobs, like nurses, rate their work as more meaningful than, for example, revenue analysts. Research also shows that people who do voluntary work report better mental health.
Work you’re good at
Being good at a job – or at least having the potential to get good at it – may be more important than having an interest in it. You may be passionate, but if you lack skills, you’ll have to be satisfied with the “lesser” jobs in your field. Meanwhile, being good at something leads to a sense of achievement, the possibilities of working on challenging projects and better conditions overall.
Social support at work
As in life, good social relationships are an important factor at work. This doesn’t mean you have to become friends with all your colleagues, but it’s good to have at least a couple of people at work whom you can befriend. What’s even more important is being able to rely on colleagues for help. Even disagreeable people, or those who couldn’t be more different than you, can provide solid feedback and support. The opposite is also true – a horrible boss or bad colleagues can ruin your work experience.
Absence of major negatives
As touched upon in the previous factor, jobs can not only be affected positively, they can be affected in a negative way as well. Some seemingly obvious things, like daily traffic jams or unfair pay, can have a serious impact on the feeling of job satisfaction. Thus, the absence of these negatives has a positive influence on your work experience.
A job that fits your personal life
Where the previous five ingredients focused on the circumstances of the job, the final one involves what happens outside of work. It is perfectly possible that you just do a job to pay the bills and find satisfaction elsewhere. This could be in the form of a personal project or perhaps volunteering. What’s crucial here is how your career fits in with the rest of your life.
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