Job Satisfaction

by Charles Miller on February 18, 2007

Someone on my livejournal friends list recently asked, "are there actually people out there who enjoy their job?" I felt obliged to answer that I do. Like most people I'll probably complain about work after a few beers, but on the whole I enjoy what I do.

In thinking about this, I came up with the following "job satisfaction checklist". Think of the following questions on a scale from "Strongly disagree", "Disagree", "Neither Agree Nor Disagree", and so on.

  1. The work I do is both interesting and challenging
  2. I am capable of doing my assigned work well
  3. Whether I do a good job or not makes a material difference.
  4. My opinion and expertise are respected
  5. When I do good work, it is acknowledged by my employer and my peers
  6. My work environment allows me to do my job effectively
  7. I respect the people I work with professionally
  8. I like the people I work with
  9. I am being paid fairly
  10. The job offers me opportunities for advancement

The questions are highly subjective, obviously. Is writing a commercial wiki really making a 'material difference'? I like to think so. Someone who is busy trying to cure cancer might have a different opinion. (Unless they store their research data in Confluence, of course.)

Now answer the following, supplementary question. Which of the following statements do you agree with more strongly?

  • Work is the sacrifice that we make so we can do the things (outside of work) that we enjoy, and that fulfil us.
  • We spend a lot of time at work. If we're not doing something that we're passionate about, that gives us some kind of fulfilment, we're wasting a big part of our lives.

If you agree with the first, tally your results in the first test so that "Strongly Disagree" is -2 points, "Strongly Agree" is +2 points, and so on in between. If you identify more with the second, double each negative score.

People who see work as a necessary evil will accept neutral, or even slightly negative-scoring jobs. So long as working isn't actively grinding their souls into the dust, it's fine.

People who seek fulfilment in work are only going to be satisfied with a job that scores significantly positively. They may make one or two trade-offs -- for example a charity worker might accept low pay in exchange for the knowing they are making a difference -- but too many negatives will bring the whole thing crashing down.

These people are also the most likely to try to manipulate their score. For example, if you don't really feel your work makes a material difference one way or the other, why not deliberately make it more complicated, so it's at least interesting?

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