Job Satisfaction

According to a 2014 survey of U.S. households by the Conference Board, job dissatisfaction is widespread among workers of all ages across all income brackets. The study found that only 47% of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs.

With worker dissatisfaction so high, how can you avoid it? Or, if you are working and dissatisfied, what can you do about it?

First, it is important to know that there are different kinds of job satisfaction. The surveys just described investigated overall job satisfaction. This is when a person considers the whole job and everything about it. Overall job satisfaction is actually a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic job satisfaction:

  • Intrinsic job satisfaction is when workers consider only the kind of work they do, the tasks that make up the job.
  • Extrinsic job satisfaction is when workers consider the conditions of work, such as their pay, coworkers, and supervisor.

These two types of satisfaction are different, and it helps to look at jobs from both points of view. For example, if you are dissatisfied with your current job, ask yourself, "To what extent is it due to the kind of work I am doing?" and "To what extent is it due to the conditions of my work?" If it is primarily the kind of work you are doing, it is intrinsic job dissatisfaction. This calls for a different solution, than if your dissatisfaction is extrinsic in nature.

And, second, you want to recognize that job satisfaction is influenced by job expectations -- what people look for or require from a job such as job security, pay, prestige, or independence. And, that some people have higher expectations for work than others. What expectations do you have for your work? How strong are they? Click here to read the ten job expectations that workers mention most frequently.

What can you do to maximize your job satisfaction? Based on research and the experience of professional career specialists, here are eight recommendations:

  1. Know yourself. Know what is important to you and what is not. What kinds of work tasks or activities are attractive to you? Be clear about what you expect from or require of a job. Write your ideas down. Then, you will know what to look for when choosing among jobs or careers.

    Review the "ten job expectations" most frequently mentioned by workers and rank their importance to you. Are there others, not mentioned, like autonomy or prestige, that are important to you?

    Also, do the activities listed in Learning More about Yourself that you think will be most helpful.

  2. Learn about jobs that are most likely to meet your expectations. A helpful step is to take The Career Key® test. It will help you identify occupations that fit your personality and to get accurate information about each of them. The activities in Learn about the Jobs that Interest Me are highly recommended.
  3. Consider consulting a professional career counselor. Click here for more.

  4. Do not allow your job dissatisfactions to go unresolved for long. Job satisfactions and dissatisfactions are barometers of your adjustment to work. They may lead to something worse -- job loss, accidents, even mental illness. Depression, anxiety, worry, tension, and interpersonal problems can result from, or be made worse by job dissatisfaction. In fact, job satisfaction was found to be the best predictor of how long you live . . . better than a doctor's rating of physical functioning, use of tobacco, or genetic inheritance. So, it is important to work out a solution if your job is making you unhappy.

  5. Have realistic expectations for work. Overall job satisfaction is a trade-off (like many things in life). You should not expect 100% satisfaction or 0% dissatisfaction. There are usually dissatisfactions even in the best jobs. And, in today's work world you cannot expect your company to look out for you; you have to take the initiative yourself (see Free Agent Worker for more).

  6. Look separately at the kind of work you are doing versus the conditions of work (pay, supervisor, coworkers, company, physical working conditions). If you are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the kind of work you are doing, you should consider a career change. If you are dissatisfied with the conditions of work, you might be able to set matters right by negotiating with your supervisor or your coworkers, or by changing companies.

  7. Look down the road at your possible career progress. Present dissatisfactions might be worth bearing if you see your career progressing.

  8. Examine your values -- what is most important to you. You have to answer this question honestly: How important is your job, your career to you? Only when this question is answered can you put your job satisfaction or dissatisfaction in proper perspective.

This was adapted and updated from an earlier article by Dr. Rene Dawis, with his permission: Dawis, R. V. (1992). Job satisfaction. In L. K. Jones (Ed.), Encyclopedia of career change and work issues (pp. 142-143). Phoenix: The Oryx Press. Dr. Dawis is the author or coauthor of more than 100 publications, and is an international authority on job satisfaction and work adjustment.