The economic downturn hasn’t put smiles on many workers’ faces, but as Lynn Franco, the director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, points out, job satisfaction has been trending downward for two decades. In a national survey released earlier this year, Conference Board researchers found 45 percent of Americans were satisfied with their work — the lowest number since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. From baby boomers to Gen Yers, growing job dissatisfaction — and loss of interest in their work — has no generational boundaries.
Leaders at The Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization, believe this downward slide is a reason for employers’ concern: Less job satisfaction hinders job engagement and thus employee productivity. Without interest in their work, employees are less willing to take innovative risks. The loss of innovation hurts a company’s competitive edge.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2010-2011 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment opportunities are shifting away from goods-producing work and more toward service-oriented occupations.
Approximately 14.5 million new jobs in services could generate by 2018. The kind of work varies, but the fields expected to have the largest growth just might have the job that gives you satisfaction.
While business owners can work to improve their employees’ outlooks (see “Satisfying Subordinates,” p. 30), Jeff Stucke thinks the employee can be proactive, too. Stucke, a private practice psychologist in Evansville, works with Evansvillians to alleviate a variety of mental health issues, including job dissatisfaction.
One contributing factor: “Their jobs aren’t extensions of their passions,” Stucke says. Another common reason: “If we don’t have healthy relationships at work, it’s going to affect us in a significant way,” Stucke says. That “significant way” is more stress, which, of course, begets a smorgasbord of health issues affecting your body (frequent headaches, high blood pressure, decreased immunity), your mind (forgetfulness, anxiety, depression), and your behavior (overeating, alcohol abuse, social withdrawal). (continued on page 2) [pagebreak]
Job dissatisfaction can lead to more than just stress, Stucke says: “Oftentimes, people will try to buy their way to satisfaction.” If people feel unsatisfied with work, they’ll compensate with material things, but the danger comes when they overcompensate with items they can’t afford. “Now they have to keep the job,” Stucke says, “because they need the income.”
Though not many people are adept at identifying the reasons for their dissatisfaction, the first question employees should ask when evaluating their satisfaction is “Am I happy?” Then, Stucke says, “be courageous enough to say, ‘I’m not happy.’ Unhappiness in our society isn’t a very popular thing,” and by admitting this, you could feel inferior. Don’t. Admit you’re working toward happiness, and ask yourself if your job is your passion.
Working for a passion isn’t achievable for everyone. (I will never play in the NBA, for example.) Though your work may not be your passion, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying life. “You can look at work and say, ‘OK, this is just my job,’ Stucke says, “‘but my real value comes from my marital relationship, my familial relationship, my volunteer activities, or my hobbies.’”
That’s easier said than done. Americans invest significant amounts of time into their workweek. In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 28 percent of the 155.1 million employed Americans work more than 40 hours a week.
How can you feel happy during such a time-absorbing aspect of your life? “We are relational beings,” Stucke says. “Healthy relationships lead to healthy people.” His advice: Cooperate with your coworkers, celebrate their strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses. Simply, develop friendships at work, which can lead to a sense “of fulfillment,” Stucke says, and that connects to your job. “We are a product of our relationships,” he says. “The quality of our relationships is going to dictate our overall happiness in life.” You just have to work at it.