Job satisfaction and personal development at workplace

What is a great job? We immediately think of suits: status, money, challenge. But what about satisfaction? Will the job make you miserable or happy? Today I suggest that you read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Job fulfillment, a myth?

We are paid to do our job, but we are not paid to enjoy it. In fact,  we are more likely to volunteer if we want to enjoy the job that we do. This is the common state of mind. Fortunately, it is not reality.

I was lucky to get a great job very early in my career. I got a job in a startup company as a developer. We developed products for mobile carriers that were installed in more than 100 countries. When I came to the company it had only 5 people, and we were purchased later on. The job was exciting. The people felt like family. I really did not want to go home. Unfortunately once the company was purchased the magic disappeared.

Since then I am on a quest for a job that I love. Sometimes this happens and I work in the same place till it changes. Other times I get disappointed and eventually leave after a year.

Things to look for

When we try to find a new job, there are only so many things we can check:

  • The total compensation, e.g. salary, stocks, and social benefits we get. This is something everybody wants, and we can easily check what we get. Unfortunately, it is often the least meaningful number for our job satisfaction.
  • Job title and responsibility. We need to do something interesting that corresponds to our expertise and challenges us. Quite often the thing that defines our job actually takes about 20% of our schedule. Job descriptions are partially a marketing act. After all, who wants to work as a statist in a meeting room? Being a data scientist is cool, but marking a dataset is not cool at all…
  • Management. We want the founders of our company to be top sharks, and our direct boss to be a great mentor. Hopefully, the company which we work for should not be overly political. In fact, it is not clear to what extent we can trust the first impression.  Even worse, things can get pretty bad without any warning. Structural changes are hard to predict.
  • Growth opportunities. Working in a company that growth provides plenty of opportunities to get better compensation, responsibility, perks, and joy. Nobody really likes to work in a downsizing company. It is very depressing.
  • Vital skills. Sometimes we jump too many steps and end up without certain skills. This effect can be fought via self-education and mentoring, but eventually, we may fail. It may be a good decision to climb down the career ladder and acquire the missing skills as a part of our new job responsibility. We risk being overqualified for our job, which is not very good, in order to be more relevant for future opportunities.
  • Work-life balance. Raising children or building side projects may require a lot of energy. We may want to give up the official career growth and focus instead on the alternative growth path.  Most workplaces will not like this approach but will tolerate it if our skillset is sufficiently unique.  They will usually treat this like a time-limited crisis, understanding that we are likely to fail in our passions, and fall back to work extra hours.

How is that different from a common wisdom

Here are some ideas which I want to demystify. This section is based on my bad experiences.

  • Follow your passion. Don’t. A boring job under a dumb boss is the best way to lose all traces of passion. You should not look for a job that is inherently boring, but the passion should come with job experience and not necessarily predate it.
  • Focus focus focus. Building very narrow expertise is dangerous as we do not know where the market will go, and we are open up to fluctuations of the increasingly narrow market. This does not mean we should strive to become a “jack of all trades master of none”. Expertise will get us well-paid and promoted, but it can also make us irrelevant if we are not sufficiently vigilant.
  • Personal branding. As you spend more efforts to build up your personal brand, you become overqualified for increasingly more jobs. Eventually, you will need to open your own business or become a top-level manager just to get paid. This can be great if you mastered all the skills and connections needed to do such a job, but devastating otherwise.
  • Come to work first and leave last. Investing a lot of your personal resources into any given job is a bad gambit. We sacrifice our time, freedom and sanity to gain some initiative.  The boss may feel anxious about his own position, the coworkers feel we make them look bad.  As we work harder, we are tired and more likely to fail. Sabotage and burnout are more likely outcomes of such devotion than a promotion. If you want to spend all of your time at work, build your own business.
  • A big company with big perks. Working in a big company can mean more money, better connections and a great reputation. Big companies also tend to offer perks that are not available in smaller companies. However, big companies often make their employees feel small and insignificant. Also, it is quite easy to get addicted to the perks and want to stay in a job without any growth potential.  To maximize the benefits of big companies, the employees either need to leave after three years or grow within the organization for decades. The biggest risk is getting fired after doing the same boring job for 10 years, fighting with the boss who will not recommend you now, and becoming virtually irrelevant for the market.

Career growth hacks

While nothing can promise you career growth, some things work better than others.

  • Generating eye contact. We need to get noticed and respected. Shouting everything we have to say every time we are invited to a meeting is the best recipe to get zero invitations. Instead, one of the best courses of action is generating personal relationships through non-verbal communication, like generating eye contact and mirroring body language.
  • Take your time. Creative solutions are either generated during the first encounter with the challenge or after eliminating the more traditional approaches. Either way, we may need time to formulate a compelling proposition and convince your coworkers. Easy challenges should be dealt with quickly, but the hard complex challenges provide us with opportunities to be creative and shine.
  • Smile and feel good.  Wellbeing is addictive. People instinctively thing higher of the individuals who look happy.  Suffering and “powering through” is the standard approach. The job is done, but nobody wants to be with a whiner. Everybody wants to be inspired and uplifted, so take your time and find the angle that will make you happy while doing your job.
  • Master job interviews. Some job interviews are formal and take place in the meeting rooms, while others are informal. Managers may be looking for the best candidate for a certain job without making this job public. I got some of my best job offers in very strange locations ranging from university labs to washing my hands in toilets.  People who ask questions and appear to be concerned about your wellbeing often have a hidden agenda, which can be great for you.
  • Do not be indispensable. If nobody can replace you in your current job, you will not be offered a new position. Become a mentor and teach the person most likely to replace you. This is very counterintuitive, but I have seen this work many times. Mentorship is the best way to show expertise and leadership potential.
  • Show good judgment and never seek vengeance. Some of the people we work with will hurt us, either intentionally or by mistake. If we go for their throat, we may be successful others will not want to work with us. We want to be assertive but not aggressive, calmly proving our claims but not closing communication channels. It is best not to speak negatively about the people we hate, as they might retaliate. A person who harmed us may feel bad about the whole thing and offer ways to make us happy if we provide the opportunity.

Job fulfillment revisited

As far as I get it, and this is a personal perspective, the major step towards job fulfillment is building great personal relationships with people we work with. Once we make others happy and truly invest in their welbeing they will reciprocate.

In our job, we should probably find challenges worthy of our skills. We can either improve our productivity solving easy tasks very fast or work on our creativity addressing hard challenges. It is not in our interests to address issues of medium complexity, but we may be forced to do that by our responsibilities. Fortunately, most of your coworkers will want the medium complexity tasks to feel measurable and continuous progress.

Take responsibilities which are not directly within your job description and step out of your comfort zone to grow.  Taking various courses and classes offered by my workplace never worked for me. Having someone mentoring me through a hard challenge has been extremely useful.

If you do not have a reasonable vision of how to be monumentally successful and happy in your job, you might need to look for a new position. Not every job can be handled successfully, and not every job may make us happy. Being miserable and failing unreasonably defined tasks is a very bad scenario for all the parties involved.

Dealing with toxic situations

Some toxic situations are easy to deal with, while others are harder to swollow.

  • Unreasonable tasks. Quite often we will get unreasonable tasks. Possibly your boss simply does not understand what he asks you to do, or alternatively, he has a vision of a very simple solution which you do not get. Do not withhold your comments. Communication in a comfortable environment is usually the key to success. I suggest a simple phrase “Let us brainstorm this together”.
  • Toxic people. Some people we work with may test our sanity. They will also test the sanity of other people in the company. Distancing yourself from toxic people might be the best approach. In some cases, you may be forced to approach the management with your concerns. Be patient, as toxic people are usually expelled from good teams.
  • Reputation risks.  Salespeople often make promises which are not realistic and engineers feel their reputation in jeopardy.  Typically I follow the three-month policy: it is not a bad lie to say you have something if you will have it for sure within three months. If you approach the management with your concerns, the management might be able to mitigate further risks. No job should require you to lie bluntly and directly.
  • Deadend jobs. Occasionally we will find ourselves working or a product that is doomed one way or another. Typically such positions will offer many benefits: increased job safety, more spare time and ability to run side projects within our organization. The hard thing is saying “no” to all the benefits and leaving a dead-end job. yet it is best to do this.
  • Bad wellbeing. Some otherwise great jobs imply bad offices: old equipment, noise or bad interior design. Alternatively, you may be asked to work strange hours, meet annoying people or travel to strange locations. These jobs may need all of your mindfulness and resilience training. Typically the hardships will be limited to several months. Practice mindfulness and do not despair.

Strength in numbers

It is typically better to be a member of a strong group than a strong professional without a group. There are multiple benefits:

  • Shared wisdom. People will learn from you and will challenge your perspectives. You will have a chance to see how other people approach similar challenges and learn from them.
  • Group support. As a group, you have a lot of strength when asking for resources or suggesting a solution. If the situation gets worse, you also get social support and gain resilience.
  • Grounding. It is very easy to get ridiculous ideas if nobody can challenge them. As a group, you are less likely to make mistakes and fail.
  • Freedom. If you happen to take a vacation or get sick, some of your peers will be able to handle your responsibilities. This means that you have a lot of personal freedom.
  • Recommendations. For future jobs, we will need experts with profiles similar to our own. It is best to work with people who will be able to help us in the future.

Being a part of a strong group is a powerful factor in personal development and job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction

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