Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The A,B,C,D's of Career Satisfaction

What makes a job meaningful? What keeps an employee from changing jobs or careers? Or even what prevents job burnout? Is it money or status? Money and status are important extrinsic factors indeed. However as the sole career pursuit, money often leads to greed and short term thinking as we have recently seen in the financial services meltdown. Well if extrinsic issues don’t lead to job meaning and satisfaction, then intrinsic factors probably do, like relations with the boss and other employees, training, internal recognition, and creative projects. Here I briefly present what I see as the A, B, C, D’s for a meaningful job; Achievement, Belongingness, Creativity, and Development.

The first element of job satisfaction involves achievement. Here we are referring to the satisfaction gained by doing one’s job well, making contributions to their organizations success, and receiving recognition for above average to superior performance. Achievement can be at the individual, group, or company level. Achievement may occur in a single event or may be ongoing. Both are important. However, a company culture of achievement often leads to ongoing employee satisfaction and company success. This does not mean individual achievement should not be recognized. In fact, it is highly recommended that a high achiever be rewarded if one wishes to maintain his or her services.

The second factor of job satisfaction involves a sense of belongingness with one’s employer. Often this stems from camaraderie with one’s fellow workers, which can result in outside work activities and friendships. Employee sensitive management, particularly with one’s immediate supervisor, is also critical to belongingness. Benefits like spousal maternity leave, sabbaticals, and in house fitness programs enhance belongingness, and display company concern for the wellness of their employers. Union membership, which was once a major source of belongingness, has declined precipitously due to globalization. The once touted employee team concept has not provided the same sense of belonging.

The third factor of job satisfaction is creativity. Creativity in the workplace does not necessarily refer to aesthetic creativity, but more to innovation and originality in any field of endeavor. Placing a high value on creativity, through innovation and originality companies, like Apple Computer, have become extremely successful and very prized places to work. As with achievement, creating a corporate culture of individual and group creativity is the key element in spawning innovative and original products and services. This occurs by providing the management, facilities, incentives, and vision that allow for creativity to unfold. However, it is important to recognize by all concerned that creativity, at its core, is a mindset and a passion that must be nurtured to fully evolve.

The fourth factor of job satisfaction is development. This involves the development of an employee’s new skills and competencies within a specific company, which benefits both career mobility and company growth. MIT dean Lester Thorow stated in his “The Future of Capitalism” that in our increasingly digital economy a primary reason for costly attrition is the lack of training of new skills. Moreover, opportunities for advancement based on achievement and competency must both be available and encouraged to insure company growth and career satisfaction. Management that holds promotions or training back, due to non progressive policies or the short sighted needs of a supervisor, often loose that employee to a competitor; Unfortunately, this attitude could lead to a company’s demise.

In this age of the breakdown of the compact between employee and employer, the notion of lifetime, or even long term employment, is rapidly becoming obsolete. However, if we look at successful companies outside the US, job change and dissatisfaction appears much smaller. However, this does negate the value of American entrepreneurialism, which often leads one to form new companies that provide significant innovation and new jobs. Moreover, if an employer doesn’t offer opportunities for achievement, belonging, creativity, and development, their predictable loss of talent will cause irreparable damage to their reputation. Yet, for the most part we are becoming a free agent nation, where work has become a commodity that goes to the highest, or lowest, bidder. On the surface we tend to see this as an aspect of freedom and progress. However rapid job changes lead to career discontinuity and personal insecurity. Finally, even today many of the most successful and well adjusted individuals have spent long periods, or their entire career, at their current employer.