The simple secret to job satisfaction

When I was researching for this post, I visited the wikipedia page on “Job Satisfaction“.  I was actually surprised by how much academic research has been done on this subject.  I was also surprised that so much of it has been over-complicated.

In my opinion, the amount of control you have over your working day is directly proportional to your level of job satisfaction.  If you feel in control and “on top of things”, you are likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction; but when you feel out of control (e.g. reacting to events) you will experience low levels of job satisfaction.

Let’s look at a couple of typical scenarios:

1. Nothing but problems.  Customers are calling with problems and you are having to spend most of your time “firefighting”.

This is a classic situation in many companies.  Sometimes it is possible to solve the cause of the problem in the first place – e.g. quality issues with a product or service.  But many times, this is simply an inherent part of your job.

When you are having to react like this – every day – your day becomes hijacked and you are unable to choose how you work.  Your job satisfaction (i.e. happiness) decreases and stress levels rise.

The trick here is to impose some level of control over the situation.  This can be done in any number of ways:

  1. Use a system for dealing with the customers…  even if it is your own system based on “empathize and listen” – the act of applying an approach is an act of control.
  2. Have control over the resolution of the problem.  Perhaps you are able to offer refunds, discounts or instruct engineers to resolve a problem.  If the varying levels of discretion are up to you.. job satisfaction typically increases.
  3. Choose when to respond to the client.  Take back your day.  You can still deliver exceptional customer service without being a punching bag.

The problem here is that you are constantly having to react to events.  In order to improve your levels of job satisfaction, you have to look for areas in your day that you can control.. and cease them.

2. Overworked. Is your to-do list growing, but you don’t seem to be making a dent?   If so, you need to implement some basic time/task management techniques.

Write down every task you need to do – everything.  Ideally place it in a task management system like Outlook or use a web site like RememberTheMilk.com.

The real trick here is to review your task list every day – first thing.  Set anything that you cannot do that day to have a due date of tomorrow – or next week, or whenever you think you will be able to do it.   Then create a “view” in Outlook or a similar feature in the system that you are using – so that you can only see the tasks that are either due today or are overdue (e.g. they were due yesterday).

This one simple act will change your working life and significantly boost your personal productivity.. I promise.

Whenever something new comes up – e.g. a request from your boss – first, write it down.  After you have it in your list – make a simple decision.. does it need to be done today and can I do it today (is there enough time)?  If not schedule it for tomorrow or another day.

At the end of your day, reschedule any unfinished tasks until tomorrow or another day so that you go home with an empty to-do list and a clear mind.

You see the problem in this scenario is that you really are getting things done – but because you can see all the other things that are left “to-do”, it causes stress and diminishes the sense of accomplishment that you should be getting.  Taking control of your task list helps you get in control of your job.

These were a couple of over-simplified examples but I hope you can see my point.  If you are not in control of the events of your day, then you risk becoming unhappy at work.  This fact is also true in your personal life.  (a topic for another post perhaps).

Here’s my advice – find something in your working day that you can control right now – perhaps even if you just start with the time and place you take lunch.  Make it your decision… and revel in the moment that you begin to get your life back.   I have no doubt that higher levels of job satisfaction will follow.

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