The Science Behind Work Satisfaction, and How You Can Harness It

How satisfied are you with your current job?

If the answer is ‘not very’ you’re not alone – over half of American workers told researchers that they were dissatisfied in their current role. This is a problem for them and their employer because work dissatisfaction is correlated with low productivity, poor performance, high stress levels, low morale and low company loyalty.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a rock star or a professional puppy cuddler to feel good about your career. In fact, science says you can be satisfied in any industry or with any job title, providing you have the following eight things:

A Decent, Fair Wage

Let’s be honest, you’re not clocking in eight working hours every day for the good of your health. Money clearly matters, but not as much as people usually think.

Several research papers have shown that while there is a correlation between happiness and pay, it becomes almost insignificant once you start earning above $40,000 a year (assuming you don’t have dependents). In order to be satisfied with your job, therefore, you need to earn enough to pay your bills, but you don’t need to be a millionaire.

However, even high salaries could leave you dissatisfied if you feel your pay is unfair. If you think your remuneration is out of whack with the duties you are expected to perform or that you are underpaid compared to your peers inside or outside the company, it may be time to open up a salary negotiation with your boss.  

Achievement

A lot of career literature these days talks about following our dreams and passions. But an interest in your field is not enough to make you happy: you also have to be good at what you do. That is because a sense of success and achievement is crucial to our psychological well-being.

Moreover, achievement is usually the best route to get hold of other things that will make you happy: pay rises, promotions, more responsibility, or better benefits.

Autonomy

When it comes to working long hours, the self-employed significantly outdo the rest of us. Yet they’re also the group happiest about their work-life balance.

The secret to this apparent contradiction is their autonomy – the ability to choose exactly what they do and when they do it. Research shows that the more in control we feel of our lives, the happier we are with it.

You don’t have to become a business owner to benefit. Seek out jobs with a high degree of autonomy and avoid those that come with a micromanager. Focus on being the sort of capable, responsible employee who can be trusted with setting their own hours, deadlines and priorities.  

Challenges

Think of stress like Goldilocks’ porridge: too much may be bad for you, but so is too little. If you never feel challenged at work, your boredom levels will rise and your job satisfaction level will plunge.

A good job should make demands on you that are difficult but achievable. If your once-exciting job has started feeling a little too easy, take it as a sign that you should start angling for a promotion or new responsibilities.

Engagement

Do you spend your workday clockwatching? If so, you’re the opposite of engaged. Being able to immerse yourself in work which is interesting enough to hold your attention isn’t just the hallmark of a productive employee, but also of a happy one.

Scientists have concluded that engagement requires four things: (1) clear guidelines on what you’re expected to do, (2) variety in your tasks, (3) helpful feedback, (4) the freedom to organise your tasks as you see fit.

Positive Relationships

Our relationship with the people we work with is one of the most powerful factors impacting our job satisfaction. You don’t have to be besties with everyone you work with, but you should feel like you can rely on them for help when you need it. Research has shown that having this feeling of “social support” makes workers happier.

When it comes to your manager and other senior staff, the most important thing is that they treat you with respect, appreciate your efforts, and give you regular, honest and fair feedback. Without this, both your happiness and your career prospects will rapidly deteriorate.

Helping Others

It turns out that one of the best ways to feel happy at work is to make other people feel happy at work.

Science has long known that altruistic behaviour in everyday life – volunteering, donating, performing random acts of kindness – makes people happier and healthier. So it’s hardly surprising that going above and beyond to help out your clients and colleagues is also linked to high job satisfaction.

Work-Life Balance

Your job does not exist in a vacuum. To be happy at work, you also need to be happy generally. That means taking care of yourself and your health, building meaningful personal relationships, and cutting yourself a break if you’re bummed out at work because you’re going through something stressful in your personal life.

You also need to get the “balance” bit of work-life balance right. Don’t work consistently long hours, as it’ll leave you feeling burnt out. Prioritise a short commute. A report by ONS found that when you travel more than an hour to your job, your work satisfaction plummets.

Part-time workers have the highest job satisfaction of any employees. Of course, working reduced hours isn’t feasible for most people, but you can talk to your boss about flexible working options, including working from home. And make sure you take all your vacation time. Everybody needs a break sometimes.

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Beth Leslie

Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer. She is also the editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice to young people looking to excel in the workplace.

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Comments

  1. First – I like your name and writing style! Second – the header image spells “science” incorrectly – like “sceince” – just a heads up!

    I love the application of human preferences to happiness in the workplace. Autonomy and inclusion are one of the most persuasive aspects of communication you can employ. This doesn’t differ in the workplace! A real-life example of hiring for culture fit and following up to make sure they are long-term fits can be found in Geckoboard, if anyone is interested in listening/reading about it: http://bit.ly/2k0ecMF

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