Tag Archives: job satisfaction

Choosing Career(s)

We spend about 80,000 hours of our life engrossed in our chosen careers; and a majority of those hours, for a majority of people, are spent being disengaged at work. One reason may be that we end up being round pegs in square holes.

Our initial career choices are mostly determined by parental expectations, peer pressures, financial security concerns or status and prestige of those professions. For some of us, it may be driven by an overarching interest or passion; but for most of us, a highly paid job with least amount of stress seems like a good deal.

But that doesn’t explain high levels of disengagement and lowered fulfillment in many people holding high paying jobs or a sense of boredom and ennui in those holding routine jobs requiring little stress. We may figure out that probably such lives are lacking in meaning and hence not fulfilling – and to make our work lives fulfilling we need to add meaning to it.

And we are right to an extent. But how do we add meaning to our lives? and is that the only answer?

The right answer, imho, lies in choosing a career such that it satisfies the four major goals of life:  Happiness, Success, Meaning and Morality/Integrity. Let me elaborate.

  1. Happiness: Happiness, in the moment, can be thought of as a plethora of positive emotions over a scarcity of negative emotions. One aim of determining the right job for yourself could be answering whether that job will feel pleasant while executing and will have least amount of stress/ anxiety/ negative experiences. However, a better predictor of job satisfaction would be answering which are the jobs in which you lose sense of time, perform at your peak and are in the zone. In short in which types of work do you have more opportunities to have ‘flow‘ experiences. We have more flow experiences at work than at home and its important you chose a career that affords possibility of such experiences. For e.g. 2 years ago I had a mid life career crisis and had to decide between remaining a  software professional or move to life/ strengths coaching. I enjoy coding, I enjoy managing people and especially coding and debugging allowed me to enter focused flow experiences often; similarly whenever I am with a client or conducting a workshop, I am in flow, so both options provided and will continue to provide flow experiences. So couldn’t decide on this alone.
  2.  Success: Success is often a result of excelling at what you do. And a lot of factors affect your performance and excellence.  While some believe that excellence is a function of aligning your work with innate talents, other believe talent is overrated and things like deliberate practice and plain old hard work are really important and that the skills you have developed over the years are to be the guiding principle. A similar strand suggests that one has a unique passion/ overarching interest (just like talents), and discovering that is a panacea; others believe that passion has to be cultivated and developed slowly by investing your time and energy and committing to something.  A middle ground is to discover and honor your strengths (which is a combination of talent +investment + skills + knowledge) and your potential (aptitude rather than mere interest or skill). In deciding between a software job and a psychology based career my strengths like maximizer, individualization, relator made me lean towards coaching while arranger was a good fit for management career in software.  Also, pragmatically speaking, you need to consider your odds of success while choosing the career. For e.g. as per study with college undergraduates, about 90 % had strong interests in arts, sports or music but there were less than 1 % jobs for the same. That doesn’t mean you should not try if you have good aptitude/ strength in that area, juts be cognizant of your odds of success.
  3. Meaning: Meaning often results from doing something that either feels very subjectively fulfilling or can be objectively seen to be making a real impact in the world out there. That is why teaching can be so meaning filled activity, as its highly subjectively fulfilling, though perhaps the real world impact can be seen much later only.  Similarly, doing social work directly can feel so enchanting and meaning suffused as it provides opportunities to see real world impact in the here and now. However, without getting entangled and caught up in whether  the work you are doing is either subjectively fulfilling or objectively impactful, you can use a simple metric: does it help people and if so how many (quantitative) and to what extent(qualitative difference). For e.g. in my role as a manager, I was perhaps touching the lives of a few peers and direct reports, but as a coach/ workshop facilitator I could perhaps touch a larger number of people and make greater contributions.
  4. Morality/Integrity: Finally, your work should be such that you can look at the man in the mirror and be proud of what you do on a daily basis. You can do this either by choosing a job that requires authenticity (being true to yourself- your values, potential etc) or by choosing  a job out of a moral imperative of what is required of you (- your duty to others). Again without getting too much caught between whether your dharama is what is authentic to you or what is your socially sanctioned duty, a good thumb of rule may be to find the fit between you and the world.  Where do your values align with the needs of the world. In my case it was clear that coaching/ workshops will provide me more avenues for aligning my values with what I needed to do.

When it comes to choosing a career, there are no easy answers and each individual’s journey will be different and unique; but hopefully thinking about your career in these terms will make you best suited to make your mark on the world and have fulfillment too!

Happiness and good relationships at work

I came across this study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) today, courtesy a post by Dr. Nico Rose; and have been thinking about the primary finding highlighted by Nico that relationships matter for your happiness – even in the workplace.


Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I have been  long time fan of Herzberg‘s two factor-theory of workplace motivation and happiness, where he makes a difference between motivators or those factors that drive job satisfaction and Hygiene factors or those that drive dissatisfaction. As per Herzberg, dissatisfaction and satisfaction are different constructs with different underlying antecedents and are not the converse of each other.

Now, if one equates job satisfaction with positive emotions and job dissatisfaction with negative emotions, one would conclude that positive emotions and negative emotions too should be different constructs and not the opposite of each other; and that is exactly what we now from research in psychology. It is well established now that mental health and mental illness are different constructs and so are positive emotions and negative emotions. Reducing the negative emotions does not guarantee that you will be happy; to become happier you have to resort to different tactics than those used to reduce suffering.

Returning to Herzberg’s theory,the Wikipedia page list some good evidence in support of that:

That said, a study by the Gallup Organization, as detailed in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, appears to provide strong support for Herzberg’s division of satisfaction and dissatisfaction onto two separate scales. In this book, the authors discuss how the study identified twelve questions that provide a framework for determining high-performing individuals and organizations. These twelve questions align squarely with Herzberg’s motivation factors, while hygiene factors were determined to have little effect on motivating high performance.

So we do have some evidence for the validity of two factor construct. Now, Herzberg’s theory mentions the following as motivators and hygiene factors :

Two-factor theory distinguishes between:

  • Motivators (e.g. challenging work, recognition for one’s achievement, responsibility, opportunity to do something meaningful, involvement in decision making, sense of importance to an organization) that give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth,  and

  • Hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary, fringe benefits, work conditions, good pay, paid insurance, vacations) that do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, though dissatisfaction results from their absence. The term “hygiene” is used in the sense that these are maintenance factors. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary. Herzberg often referred to hygiene factors as “KITA” factors, which is an acronym for “kick in the ass”, the process of providing incentives or threat of punishment to make someone do something.


Its interesting to note that Herzberg puts relationships with peers, colleagues and subordinates under hygiene factor or those that can lead to dissatisfaction; however in doing so I think Herzberg was placing too strong an emphasis on the KITA factor of supervisors and colleagues (who hasn’t faced an a**hole boss or colleague or even a subordinate). What he ignored was that while other people are hell, so are they heaven.

The same supervisor that can be an a**hole, can also be an angelic mentor ensuring your growth and development.  And that is exactly what  the BCG have found in their survey of over 200,000 people from all over the world.  To quote a verbatim response from an example respondent:

As for relationships with superiors, it’s “important to me because I would like to learn and grow” and having the right super­visor “can help facilitate that,” she says.

The discourse since the days of Herzberg has clearly moved towards viewing people primarily as hell, to viewing them as having positive potential. The top factors for happiness in the BCG survey are all related to relationships. (money related factors appear at the eighth rank ).


Also important to note that Herzberg distinguished between motivators as being related to intrinsic factors or intrinsic motivation, while Hygiene factors as more extrinsic or environmentally controlled. It is easy to put relationships in extrinsic factors, but that ignores research by Deci and Ryan on self-determination that puts Relatedness as a basic intrinsic human need at par with Autonomy and Mastery.

I think its time to disentangle the effects of good and bad relationships in the workplace, and while conducting research or surveys, its imperative that we separate questions about engagement / satisfaction from questions about dis-engagement/ dissatisfaction; and then we will have a clearer picture of what factors are important for workplace happiness and what are necessary to prevent workplace misery.

Relationships, intriguingly, may figure prominently in both lists. So the bottom line is that other people matter – for good or for worse!