Why People Hate Their Jobs

Author: Matt Morava

Symptoms versus Root Cause

If you had to come up with the top ten reasons people hate their jobs, what would make the list?

In survey after survey you’ll see the usual suspects trotted out…

  1. Poor relationship with their boss
  2. Working too many hours
  3. Not feeling challenged
  4. Not living to their potential
  5. Pay and benefits aren’t competitive
  6. Too much red tape/bureaucracy
  7. Office politics
  8. Personal or professional values and organization don’t align
  9. Lack of development opportunities
  10. Awful coworkers

Are you familiar with one or more of these reasons? Have you heard this from a friend, spouse, coworker or coming out of your own mouth? Statistics show, probably. More than 2 million Americans quit their jobs EVERY MONTH.

As the job market heats up, organizations are looking to Management Consultants and in-house Organizational Development specialists to solve the issues stated above, improve employee satisfaction scores, and reduce voluntary turnover. However, as my dad would say, they’re barking up the wrong tree.

To understand what’s going on with dissatisfaction at work, you have to look at what makes people happy.

The field of positive psychology has pretty much nailed down what makes people happy… Turns out, it’s not that complicated.

  1. Feeling Pleasure — The Ability to Enjoy and Take Pleasure in Life and Maximizing the Skills and Competencies to Amplify Pleasurable Experiences.
  2. The Experience of Flow — Where time stops, you can’t feel anything, and you experience periods of intense concentration; maximizing your strengths.
  3. Bettering Your Community — Using your highest strengths to belong to and contribute to the wellbeing of something larger than yourself. Contributing to positive organizations.

https://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology?language=en

The J.J. Abrams Test

Now, let’s use something I call the “J.J. Abrams Test”. Imagine you’re J.J. Abrams, who has the best job in the world in my world view anyway. You can imagine whomever you think has the best job in the world and take them through the top ten reasons people hate their jobs from above.

Would any of those reasons stop J.J. Abrams from loving his job, being satisfied, and enjoying life?

A few…

  1. Poor relationship with their boss
  2. Working too many hours
  3. Not feeling challenged
  4. Not living to their potential
  5. Pay and benefits aren’t competitive
  6. Too much red tape/bureaucracy
  7. Office politics
  8. Values with organization don’t align
  9. Lack of development opportunities
  10. Awful coworkers

…but not all.

I’m sure J.J. is working too many hours, might not have a great relationship with his boss, and I can’t even begin to imagine the egos and “office politics” in making Star Wars for Disney. I’m sure there are coworkers who suck, I’m also almost positive that J.J. would work for free on this project if that were an option. Yet, J.J. would still be very happy at work.

J.J. Abrams at work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

J.J. Abrams at work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Note: This first ran January 20, 2015. Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out December 18, 2015. I loved it. Mostly everyone did too. And clearly a box office success.

The Power of Positive Psychology

When we think about using Positive Psychology in the design and development of generating happiness at work, increase engagement, and retain top talent we see both challenges and opportunities:

Designing Pleasure — We know that gratitude, savoriness, mindfulness, and being social contribute to happiness. In my experience, the number one way that organizations can do this are by addressing Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory:

Specifically, work conditions. Having pleasant meeting space, clean and comfortable bathrooms, human friendly lighting and ventilation systems, physical and mental safety, as well as spaces designed to invite and enhance gratitude, savoriness, mindfulness and being social all work to support the Pleasure.

Designing Flow — The first step in designing flow begins in HR. Having clearly designed jobs, roles and responsibilities, as well as effective compensation and benefits structure, and a solid hiring practice, maximizes your opportunity to match an employee’s strengths with the position, thereby encouraging flow.

However, flow is the most threatened of the three positive psychology principles at work. The reason?

Technology.

It’s become increasingly hard to get into flow because of the number of interruptions by technology. Who has three hours of uninterrupted time during the day? Technology may very well be making your workforce unhappy. Which is a problem, because increasing flow is the single best way to improve job satisfaction on any employee satisfaction survey.

Designing Community — This may be the second biggest barrier of preventing happiness at work. For two reasons:

  1. Many employees rarely, if ever, see how their contributions impact the organization in a positive way, making it hard to judge their value.
  2. Workers, especially Millennials, are becoming dissatisfied with increasing shareholder value, sales, etc. as the purpose of their work. Making someone else profitable is less desirable as a goal and the more multinational the organization, the less it seems to impact their immediate community.

The remedy for both is for organizations to provide philanthropic opportunities that are local and fun to employees. Imagine if McDonald’s made it their mission to save the rainforest and workers had an opportunity, paid, to work on projects that worked toward this goal? Or if Coca Cola made it their mission to save coral reefs? Or IBM to improve literacy rates and build schools across rural America?

The organizations of the future, in order to attract and retain top talent, are going to have to become more than just deliverers of products and services, they’re going to have to become change agents with deep missions.

They’re going to have to nurture, care for, and even protect employee flow during the workday, even if it means limiting or removing interruptive technology.

They’re going to have to both model gratitude, mindfulness, savoriness and social connection and provide places/opportunities for employees to do the same.


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