There's a natural limit to how happy a person can be at work. If work becomes fun, your boss will stop paying you to do it and start charging other people to have that fun in your place. So let's agree that work has to be a little bit unpleasant, at least for most people. Still, despite this unpleasantness, many people have a feeling called job satisfaction.

My theory is that your degree of job satisfaction is largely a function of who you blame for the necessarily unpleasant job you have. If you blame yourself, that's when cognitive dissonance sets in and your brain redefines your situation as "satisfied." To do otherwise would mean you deliberately keep yourself in a bad situation for no good reason, assuming you believe you have options. Your brain likes to rationalize your actions to seem consistent with the person you believe you are.

The assumption that you have better options and the freedom to pursue them is essential to the illusion of job satisfaction. As long as you believe, incorrectly, that pleasant jobs exist elsewhere, and are yours for the taking, you have to rationalize why you don't go out and get one. And the best reason your brain can concoct is that you must be satisfied right where you are, against all evidence to the contrary. To believe otherwise means defining yourself as lazy, scared, or incapable. Your brain doesn't like that option.

I first noticed this during the Dotcom era. In those years, when people came to believe, incorrectly, that the common person could go start his own Google, everyone I asked seemed to have job satisfaction. In other words, employees blamed themselves for being in their putrid situations. They believed themselves capable of great things, so they rationalized that their current jobs must be satisfying already.

The situation was the very opposite in the early nineties, when big companies were downsizing and it seemed as though employees didn't have many options. If you got fired by company A, you couldn't get hired by company B because they too were downsizing. Employees felt trapped. They blamed management for their woes.

If my theory is true, the best way to make your employees feel a false sense of job satisfaction is to somehow convince them that there are much better jobs elsewhere. For example, you could subscribe all employees to entrepreneur magazines that are full of stories about people who left their unsatisfying jobs to become zillionaires. If you instill the false belief that better careers are obtainable, cognitive dissonance will cause the employees that have high self-esteem to believe they must enjoy their current jobs.

Leadership is just another word for evil.

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Jan 29, 2010
Even Americans who are lucky enough to have work in this economy are becoming unhappier with their jobs, according to a new survey that found only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. That being said, it's actually the lowest it's been in decades. People have been keeping track of it for a long time, but overall <a rev="vote for" title="Workers are frustrated with their jobs" href="http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2010/01/26/workers-frustrated-jobs/ ">job satisfaction</a> has steadily been declining since 1987, and believe it or not, more pay doesn't actually do it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 1, 2010
Thousands of published and unpublished studies of job satisfaction, and we really do not have a clear notion of what we measure when we administer a satisfaction survey. This lack of clarity seems to be seen in the weak to modest correlations we see between measures of job satisfaction and measures of workplace behaviors like job performance, attendance or turnover. To me, the truest value of this concept is by far the value it has in increasing workers' satisfaction by showing interest in them, kind of a hawthorn effect, a temporary effect at best. So, when employees feel bad about a low raise, we administer a survey asking how they feel about pay. They get to blow off anger but feel like someone really cares about them.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2009
Job satisfaction is the degree of pleasure an employee derives from his or her job. Research shows that people develop their feeling about their jobs as about selected dimensions or facets of their jobs, such ass their supervisor, co workers promotional opportunities, Pay and so on. There are two different levels of feels as global job satisfaction and job facet satisfaction. The Job Descriptive Index measures job satisfaction with 5 facets as mentioned above. The Job In General, measures the global job satisfaction, and determines how satisfied you are with your job. There are all kinds of reasons someone might stay at their job. Affective components, which is feeling emotionally attached to your organization. Continuance component, necessity (need pay of the job), and lastly, normative component, which are feelings of obligation to remain with the organization. This is when someone is loyal.
When Scott said "The ASSUMPTION that you have better options and the freedom to pursue them is essential to the illusion of job satisfaction." This is not true. Some people use the “Side Bet Theory," which is when someone says "what would happen if i quit? Would I find a job?" This is a gamble someone has to take and it is not an illusion. If there are a lot of unsatisfied employees than a I/O Psychologist can be hired to see what components are making people want to leave the organization or have poor job satisfaction.
Interactional Justice is something to think about when deciding to quit or stay with your job. This is the fairness of how people are treated in your organization and the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of information received from the organization. There are two kinds of justice, Interpersonal and Informational. Impersonal justice is thinking "Does your company show concern for individuals and respect me?" Informational Justice is when your company provides knowledge about procedures that demonstrate regard to peoples concerns. The job satisfaction model can help explain the whole process.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 11, 2009
Kevin, perhaps you may consider wages as part of the benifit but in the labour market your wage is supposed to be equal to or less than your marginal product of labour., In most cases former is latter because firms get to act like monopsony's and decide what the prices are.

Another aspect of the job satisfaction is the Utility aspects, some of those working in retail got nothin better to do and thus they are satisfied.
Dec 7, 2009
"If work becomes fun, your boss will stop paying you to do it "

C'mon Scott, you've got an economics degree: wages are equal to marginal benefit, not marginal cost.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 4, 2009
"If my theory is true, the best way to make your employees feel a false sense of job satisfaction is to somehow convince them that there are much better jobs elsewhere."

My boss is a master of this strategy. He just doesn't realize it. Is it possible to be accidentally motivational?
Dec 2, 2009
I think it is quite possible to be legitimately satisfied while working. This is especially true if you work doing something that you would do on your own anyway. Many programmers fall into this category - they go home and just do more projects that look a lot like what they do at work.

Another way to have satisfaction is to do things that you are good at, and to see the results of your work. I fall more into this category, where I enjoy my job because I am effective and can see the results.

Also, a job is more enjoyable if you have personal growth - if you learn new skills or just get exposure to parts of life you otherwise would not. Jobs that involve meeting interesting people or travelling would certainly qualify.

Finally, a work environment can be enjoyable if it has fringe benefits. For example, working in a location with lots of attractive women can be enjoyable for a man, even if his actual tasks are pretty unpleasant.

If you have a job doing what you are good at, seeing the effects of your work, experiencing personal growth, and seeing pretty women (or whatever your preference) you might enjoy it. Unfortunately this is not a situation that is likely to last - but it does happen from time to time.
Dec 2, 2009
"There's a natural limit to how happy a person can be at work. If work becomes fun, your boss will stop paying you to do it and start charging other people to have that fun in your place."

Not always. It could be a job where the performance - or very often some of attribute of the person - has a massive affect on how much money gets made.

For example, many people would pay to watch their favourite famous person going to a party or on vacation. While they're might be tedious bits, on balance lots of people would love being a sports reporter.

In fact, there are an awful lot of jobs that people would do for free if they could afford it. Politicians and certain charity work are easy examples, but there are more.

It's been mentioned already, but I've also got to say that "job satisfaction" and having fun at work aren't really close to being the same thing.
Dec 2, 2009
Sounds sound to me.
Dec 2, 2009
There's also the benefit that the truly unhappy will quit and try to start their own Google.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 2, 2009
How do you do it? I applaud the timeliness of your strip today (discussing CEOs) with GM announcement...amazing work! Serendipity?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 2, 2009
Allthough i do agree with kaladom, your theory fits my situation exactly. I think my job stinks about 75% of the time, and I also think that in this time and in the part of the country where I live, there are virtually no alternatives. I have no control over my destiny, other then moving away (which means living hours away from my kid), other taking a job with absolutely no money. And then that job could stink as well.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 1, 2009

This is not a comment. This is a feedback.

I came to the Middle East from a busy metropolis in India to make money. Job satisfaction is - make lots of money.

Now if anyone asks me to work for it, I politely deny any such inclinations. I have a lot of work to do back home, if I want to. I am here for money. And I permit no one to distract me from that by asking me to work for it.

Elbonia in Oil...

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 1, 2009
I think the invisible hand plays a role here. I read somewhere (forget where) that all jobs are equal, there is no 'best job', if you consider the inputs - training, experience required, hours, unpleasantness, and the outputs: salary, job satisfaction, no job is better than any other job.
Dec 1, 2009
I agree. There are lots of jobs in my field. And some days, I think "ya, maybe it is time to look..." Then I think of all the effort in revamping a resume, refreshing all my references, practicing/preparing for the interviews, then getting the job, then learning a new system and understanding a new business (i'm a financial guy so we are pretty interchangeable - industry wise). Then there is meeting all the new people, figuring them out, the long hours of the learning curve and the impact of being away from family.

I think "job satisfaction" occurs when the pay raise is less than the headache/heartache of all of the above. And smart managers recognize this and push you because they know you won't move on. Not unless you really piss them off.

Dec 1, 2009
I was wondering if perhaps Scott had fallen on the tennis court and been concussed before posting this....

I can only speak for myself. The rest of you are at best moist robots or at worst (for you) just figments in my one-and-only reality...

For me, job satisfaction has a heavy component of having made the world a better place in some way by what I do at work. I know this because when I worked in police dispatching and mobile software, I could see the direct contribution my software made to making society and police officers themselves safer. That compensated a lot for the unpaid overtime and ridiculous deadlines.

When I moved into air navigation training systems, I knew my software might help save a life and the military guys we were helping made it clear it was going to be a big improvement for their instruction process. World is better, I'm happy - same long hours, same tough deadlines.

Then I moved into more varied contracting. I built part of a massively multiuser environment targeted at large scale media companies and the kingdom of the Mouse. Our company, a small company, eventually tanked (of course, about six weeks after layoffs, the company with only two founders left, finally did over $1.1 US in sales... it just came too late and I at least partly blame the investors, but mostly the customers for being glacial in their purchasing process). I felt a distinct lack of satisfaction once I realized nothing I'd done would ever see the light of day (beyond a release for ABC's Alias).

Then I worked for 3Com in VOIP applications - outsourced to India, unknown future, questionable satisfaction except the Indian engineers spoke very highly of the transition work I did and I did at one point make a number of crippling upscaling issues better by two orders of magnitude. So there was some satisfaction there.

Worked on a cell phone portal that died with the dot-com crash. No satisfaction.

Worked on a massive HR program that supported cross enterprise reviewing, calibration, goal setting, all sorts of stuff. Too far removed from US 300K user end customer to know if it ever saw the light of day - I suspect not. No satisfaction.

Worked on a massively multiuser online gaming (in the casino sense) project. Two years, big team, great work. At one point, my subteam did in five weeks what a prior year long effort by a larger team had failed to do. But in the long run, the company did a 90 degree turn and offshored a bunch of their software work, shelving the huge project. The only satifaction I had here was in knowing I and my team had produced something slick for a budget and in a time frame no one else could have matched (based on prior failures). Overall, dubious satisfaction.

Worked on a Canada Post point of sale system (several versions). It got into the field in Lebanon, Netherlands Antilles, Kenya, etc. and was pretty good for the limited budget. Worked on the new domestic version that just came out adding charitable donation support. pretty high satisfaction knowing I helped out on these projects.

As my career progressed, so did my income. But the happiest times were still (regardless of money or lack of, hours worked or lack of) the times I was working on projects that went out the door. I know from a business perpsective, a project that employs 40 people for two years and then is shelved and has no warranty claims is a huge business success for my employer, but not for me personally. I know the amount of satisfaction I gained was greatest from projects in the public good, a bit lesser from projects in the good of corporations, and a lot less on projects that just staggered to a halt.

So, as far as I'm concerned, your theory is bollocks, Scott.

I wasn't happiest at any point because I thought I could go off and do anything. It was easier to bargain for a bit better wages, but that really didn't affect overall happiness much in the long run. Even having a pile of money is less significant if you are in a job where you have to work variable work weeks between 40 and 100 hours. The money isn't any good when you're tired and frustrated and wrung out. The reason you keep doing it is you want the project to make it out the door and your coworkers to not be let down. The long term happiness is from looking back on what you actually achieved, not how much you made because you tend to spend whatever you make and often on foolish things.

No cognitive dissonance I'm aware of, no support for your half baked theory. (Half is being generous)
Dec 1, 2009
I have a pretty decent military retirement. After retirement, I went to work for a state child support enforcement agency, which sucked big time! Horrid management, any decision you made angered either mom or dad, ridiculous workload, etc.

In the eight years I worked there, in which my retired pay always exceeded my paycheck, I was amazed to discover that having "f__k y__' money made me more tolerant the daily insanity, rather than less! Knowing I could walk away at any time allowed me to view my daily irritants with serene detachment. Bad news for my manager though, as I knew I could pretty much do as I wanted, so long as I didn't break the law, and the worst she could do was fire me (Please!).
Dec 1, 2009
My rationalization is that the part I hate about my job is the customers. The reason for staying here is because I have support from some of my associates when dealing with the customer and the fact that customers are the same no matter which job I work in. As an Engineer my contact with the Wal-mart mentality people is limited (except when we do a job for Wal-mart) so I know it could be worse working at another job where I had to deal with those people on a daily basis.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 1, 2009
Brilliant! Contrarian management...I start today!
Dec 1, 2009
Sometimes it's not 'happy' but satisfied. And lazy is one reason I won't move to another job, and I won't really look. There are jobs in my field, in this area, that pay more, but the idea of scratching everything I've learned since I started here, as well as the resume and interview processes, is more than I want to deal with.
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