• Andrew Wien

Why your people like their job and what you can do about it

I recently left a stable job in the corporate world to pursue something that I am passionate about—helping people be more fulfilled with their work. I asked 70 of my friends questions about how much they liked their job, why, and how long they would stay. The average respondent tends to be in the 25-29 age group, working as an individual contributor, and a university graduate. The results are clear. Managers can make subtle changes that will greatly impact job satisfaction.

I view myself as a happy and positive person, so it is no surprise that most of my friends generally like their job (Figure 1).

What is more surprising is how high they set the bar. People say that millennials can’t stick with one job for very long. This statement is slightly misguided. The results show that people are willing to stay at a company if they really like their job. 88% of people that love their job see themselves with the same company in a year. But the differences in long term retention in liking and loving a job are huge. (See figure 2) People seem to be willing to jump ship for the thought of a better opportunity. If you want your people to stay, you have to get them to think that you are the best. But how?

I asked people about their jobs along six dimensions to understand how they related to job satisfaction:

  • My work has a clear impact: I understand how the work I am doing fits into the success of a particular project, product, or goal

  • I have sufficient opportunities to learn and develop: I am being challenged with my work and continually develop new skills

  • I have meaningful work relationships: I have positive relationships with coworkers, managers, and clients. I have a mentor (formal or informal) that I would go to for advice, and I consider some coworkers as friends.

  • I respect how my company is run

  • I have a predictable work schedule: Before the week starts, I generally know what I have to do and if I'll have to stay late on certain days, and that doesn't change mid-week. I have enough visibility to schedule personal plans (e.g. workouts, dinners with friends/family) on weeknights and do not have to cancel

  • I am having a positive impact in the world

I sorted respondents into three categories based on how much they agreed with the statement “I like my job”.

  • Strongly agree, or “I love my job”

  • Agree, or “I like my job”

  • Everyone else (note: there were not enough people that responded neutrally or negatively to their job to make distinct categories)

The results were clear. Managers have direct control over most things that drive job satisfaction.

1. Impact: If you are not clearly with a company that is having a positive impact in the world, don’t worry. While having a positive impact was correlated with how much people liked their job, 1 in 4 people that love their job did not think they were having a positive impact on the world. So if this dimension is out of your control, make sure you are getting everything else right. Clear impact, on the other hand, is mandatory. If people don’t know how what they are working on fits into the overall picture, they will not love their job. Getting this right is 100% in the hands of the manager. Make sure people understand why what they are doing is important. Start with the bigger picture and goals, and show them how their work is key to achieving those goals. If you can’t show them that, then what they are working on is probably not important!

2. Opportunities to learn and develop: This dimension had the strongest correlation between loving a job and not. Millennials are working for more than a paycheck. They expect a job to be a mutually beneficial relationship between them and the company. The company gets their brains, energy, and time. In return, they get a salary, and more importantly, skills that they can take with them once the relationship ends. If they are not constantly developing new skills, don’t expect them to stay for very long. Do you know the skills that each person is working to develop? If not, then it is hard to help them achieve those objectives. A lot of times, people won’t even realize what they are learning and developing on the job unless a manager points it out. An explicit conversation about this might be all it takes!

3. Meaningful work relationships: If you think your people don’t like coming to work, this is probably why. While people that liked or loved their job have meaningful relationships, others scored significantly lower in this category. Do you understand the goals of the people that work for you? Why are they here? What do they like to do outside of work? When was the last time you had a good conversation with them about something unrelated to work? If you can’t answer any of these questions, then this is something that you want to work on. Something as simple as taking them out to lunch with the context of “I realized that we’ve been working together for X months, and I barely know anything about you! Let’s go to lunch and avoid talking about your day to day work” is a good place to start.

4. Respect how company is run: As a manager, this is hard to change. If you don’t agree with how your company is run, chances are you are not going to love your job, and neither are the people that work for you. You should find a new place to work. However, if you do respect your company, there is no guarantee that your direct reports also do. Make sure that they can see the bigger picture, understand how decisions are made, and see that their feedback is heard. Make sure you’ve worked on clear impact, opportunities to learn and develop, and meaningful work relationships before starting this category. The other dimensions are easier to control and will have a bigger impact on job satisfaction.

5. Predictable work schedule: People are willing to work hard for a job they love. In fact, having a predictable work schedule was not correlated to job satisfaction. Unless you are getting direct feedback from your employees about being overworked, this is likely something you don’t have to focus on.

For a more in depth review of the results and how they relate to your management style, please contact Andrew Wien to start a discussion.

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