A A 2018 survey1 found that only 34% of people in the USA describe themselves as ‘engaged’ in their work, 13% say that they are ‘disengaged’ (really don’t like their jobs), and the remaining 53% describe themselves as ‘not engaged’ (meaning, as psychologist Laurie Santos puts it, they’re just getting through it). That’s a lot of people not really enjoying their work, so what is it that makes a job engaging, and what can you do to enjoy your work more?
B Salary is usually an important factor when choosing a career, but money is only one part of what makes a job satisfying, Santos says. On her Happiness Lab podcast she interviews psychologist Barry Schwartz who explains that people do need to get paid enough to live and support their families, but if they have that, then there are other factors that make a job rewarding. One of the main ones is doing something that matters, and often this means work that has a positive impact on the lives of other people, even if it’s a small one. He adds that work that is varied, challenging and allows people to be creative tends to be more satisfying.
C However, some employers make the mistake of thinking that financial rewards are what motivates people, Schwartz says, and, because of this, in some jobs the meaning and level of challenge has been reduced. When jobs become less meaningful, the only motivation left for employees is money, which then confirms the employers’ incorrect beliefs. Santos adds that financial rewards do work to an extent, as people will do boring jobs for money, but by removing meaning, people are less satisfied, less engaged, and actually less productive.
D Psychologist Jonathan Haidt agrees that variety and challenge are important, and he adds that another key factor for job satisfaction is having more freedom around how you do your job. In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, he talks about a 1960s study which found that people in simple, routine jobs who were closely supervised felt more powerless, dissatisfied and disconnected from their work. In contrast, people whose work was more varied and challenging, and who had more freedom in deciding how they did their jobs enjoyed their work much more.
E Haidt believes that another key to getting more satisfaction from your job is choosing work that allows you to use your strengths. He explains that if you can use your strengths every day, you will be able to experience some moments of flow – periods when you are completely absorbed in what you are doing, and your sense of self disappears. If you can engage your strengths, you will also get more fulfilment from your work, and you’ll be more able to see how you are contributing to something bigger, he says.
F If your job is less challenging, less varied, or doesn’t match your strengths that well, Haidt suggests adapting it so that it does, something that has come to be known as job crafting. Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, also appearing on The Happiness Lab, explains that job crafting is redesigning what you do in your job so that it matches your strengths and values. It can be done in most jobs, even the most mundane, Santos adds, and can increase how much meaning and enjoyment you get from your work.
G As an example of how job crafting works, Wrzeniewski discussed her study of hospital cleaners, and how some of them loved what they did and were much more engaged in their work than others. She found that the more engaged cleaners tended to go beyond their daily cleaning responsibilities, paying attention to patients’ needs and viewing themselves as part of the team that helps patients to heal. She gave an example of a cleaner in a coma unit who would move the artwork around in the hope that changing something in the environment might somehow promote healing.
H Wrzeniewski suggests that managers should give employees more freedom as a way to help make their work more meaningful. Although some managers might not like the idea of job crafting, she argues that it is possible for employees to redesign their jobs to include more of what they care about and still fulfil the key responsibilities of their roles. Santos concludes that if you really hate your job, then it’s probably best to quit, but if you’re just not engaged, it might be worth trying job crafting.