The Surprising Truth About What Makes Us Happy At Work
Posted on August 17, 2012
I just read a fascinating post by Jacquelyn Smith here on Forbes,The Happiest Jobs in America. Almost 300,000 people have read it so far – which doesn’t actually surprise me; human beings want to find out out how to be happy. And since most of us spend so much time at work, and it’s such a big part of who we are, we particularly want to be happy at our jobs.
Smith’s post references a study done by Careerbliss, based on over 100,000 employees’ reviews of their jobs.
Employees commented on ten job factors, including “relationship with the boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and control over the work one does on a daily basis.” Careerbliss excluded top level jobs like CEO and president from the study. (An interesting choice – I would like to have seen those results…)
What did surprise me was which jobs were ranked as happiest. The top five, in order, were 1) software quality assurance engineer, 2) (tie) executive chef and property manager, 4) bank teller, and 5) warehouse manager.
My initial reaction, quite honestly, was that all these jobs sound stressful, boring, or both (sorry). So then I got curious – why are people in these jobs so happy with their work? And I started thinking about Dan Pink‘s book Drive, which uncovers the science about what motivates us. He says (and I agree) that the things we most want from work are “1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”
I suspect that these five “happiest” jobs all tend to have big helpings of at least a couple of these three elements. For instance, I suspect that executive chefs – a job I would have previously assumed was stressful and exhausting – have all three. A good deal of freedom to act and decide, both day-to-day and on a big picture level; a huge opportunity to improve their craft with every meal; and a visible and resonant purpose – giving people a wonderful dining experience.
And I got to thinking about my own job: I’m extremely happy at work, generally, and my job is high in all three — autonomy, mastery and purpose. I have lots of freedom to act and to decide — I virtually never feel like I’m at the effect of poor decisions, or that I have no control over my fate. I have the opportunity to get better at what I do every single day. And as to purpose: eachday I’m given the chance to help people get ready and stay ready to lead – to be the best leaders they can be. It’s truly satisfying.
So, rather than deciding how to become a software quality assurance engineer or a warehouse manager, I’d suggest that if you want to be happier at work, look for a job (maybe even your current one) that provides opportunities to have greater autonomy, to get better at what you do, and to serve a purpose or fulfill a need that’s important to you.
If you have a job you love, I’d really like to hear about why it satisfies you. And if you have a job that doesn’t ring any of those bells – let us know; maybe those of us who converse here can offer you some ideas.
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