misery at work
Originally uploaded by milktummy

When it comes to jobs, far too many people are in a state of comfortable misery. This is the state wherein, according to Daniel Johnston’s book Lessons for Living, “you are miserable, but you have gotten used to it.”

We all know the feeling of sticking with something beyond its productive benefit or purpose – whether it is an old pair of jeans or shoes or a relationship that you just keep on giving “just one more chance”. What causes us to knowingly stay in situations or hang on to things we know we ought not to? Well, the answer to this question is the same as to why most people are still in jobs that offer no true satisfaction.

Bottom line is this: it is easier to stick with an unhappy known than to attempt to find a better place in the unknown. So, fear of the unknown holds many people in jobs that they don’t enjoy, in relationships that are not working, and generally holds them back from living a better, happier life. Granted, there are risks associated with change, but don’t fall victim to the false notion that there are no risks in not changing. In fact, the risks of inaction often times far outweigh the risks of doing something.

What’s interesting to note about job satisfaction levels in recent years is that they are declining across the board, regardless of age, income or even residence. Workers below the age of 25 have over a 60% dissatisfaction rate, the worst level since the inception of The Conference Board job satisfaction survey. And while age, money and geography can make a difference in these survey results, overall, people are simply less and less happy in their jobs.

Clearly something has to change. Is it the work itself? Is it specific company policies? Is it compensation and/or benefits? Personally, I believe that changes in these things could have short-term impacts on job satisfaction. But, for a long-term solution to this problem, what has to change is employee attitude and expectation. Basically, I think people must modify their personal definition of what “satisfaction” from a job actually means. For example, as younger workers enter a new position, they are excited by the nature and meaning of the work itself. As they advance in their careers, however, they rise in the organizational chart of their company and get further and further from the work itself and assume more responsibility for management of the work/process. Often times, this dynamic leads a manager to micromanage, aggravating those beneath them, and causing voids in the management of the work that they ought to be focusing on. As this process continues, they lose interest in their jobs, their employees become increasingly dissatisfied and the overall work environment becomes laden with negativity.

If people could shift their definition of what constitutes satisfaction and normalize their expectations about their jobs, overall job satisfaction levels would likely increase. I have learned in my professional years, to derive satisfaction not necessarily from doing the day-to-day work itself, but rather from helping others motivate teams to get the work completed on their own while I manage the overall team’s outcomes and future directions. Being able to derive satisfaction from helping others advance in their own careers and managing the expectations of appropriate stakeholders, required a shift in my perspective as I earned promotions along my career path. Of course this wasn’t always easy and I learned some hard lessons along the way. However, I’ve learned from experience and continue to do so while successfully making the mental shift to re-define satisfaction for myself.

Nina Nets It Out: Don’t allow yourself to fall prey to comfortable misery within your career. Not only does doing so make for many unhappy days in your own job and life, but it serves no productive purpose for your company either. Rather, leverage your ultimate power to shift your thinking about what satisfies you. To be sure, sometimes a job change is the right decision, but often times, just making a mental pivot is all that is required.