Evaluating Job Satisfaction

By Bjorn F. Lindgren

Originally published in the
National Business Employment Weekly
Wall Street Journal



      You've probably seen friends and colleagues change jobs during the past few years. Hiring has been moving at a frenetic pace, with people job-hopping for salary increases, stock options and incentive and signing bonuses. It's hard not to think, "What about me?"
      Nobody wants to miss good opportunities, but before you update your resume and start networking, analyze how satisfied you are in your career. Ask yourself: Where's my employer taking the business? What do I want to do with my career? How do my business goals and dreams fit the organization's goals? Answering such questions will help you clarify your career priorities.
      As you do this excercise, don't overemphasize the relationship between salary and job satisfaction. Job-hopping is flawed because employers may eventually see you as unstable. While money can be motivating, how content you are with your job will depend on such considerations as your work and family relationships and how well your employer communicates with employees.

Work Relationships

      Often, people resign from jobs because of relationship problems with a peer, supervisor or subordinate. Employers who accept that problems exist and find solutions convey that they care about job satisfaction and want to retain employees.
      Trust is the foundation of good relationships. You may be considering changing employers because your present employer has broken promises. But if you have an otherwise strong relationship with your employer, ask yourself if you want to lose that and if you'll be happier elsewhere. Think about whether your company's managers are honest with employees and if they follow through on promises, even in tough situations. And when management can't compromise, are such decisions explained to employees? Blind loyalty to corporations is rare these days, but employees who feel good about their relationships at work are usually more loyal to their firms.
     To show its commitment to employees' professional development, National Economic Research Associates Inc., a consulting firm in White Plains, N.Y., implemented a program to help employees identify career goals. Researchers who once averaged one or two years with the firm are now staying longer because the work environment offers more learning opportunities, says Susan Hodas, the firm's director of professional development.
      Part of developing good relationships is showing mutual appreciation. Everyone wants to feel liked and highly regarded by peers and managers. Before you take another job, consider whether your current employer offers you opportunities to showcase your strengths. Is it important to you to feel appreciated by your employer? Recognition is tied to job satisfaction, and unfortunately, many companies don't show enough appreciation for their employees' achievements.

Family Dynamics

      As you think about changing jobs, consider how your family might be affected, especially if the change involves a relocation. Because some professionals have working spouses, a decision to relocate can be complicated.
      You may have to reconsider a move if your spouse is reluctant to give up his or her career. Or perhaps you've just purchased your dream house or your children don't want to move to a new community. You'll have to weigh making these sacrifices against the benefits of taking a new job.
      Even if you don't have to relocate, your family may resist your taking a new job for other reasons. Perhaps you'll have to work longer hours or travel more, leaving less time for your family. Your new boss may be tougher than your current one. You may end up bringing home job-related stress. Will your new job really be better?
      To decide if you want to leave your current company and possibly disrupt your family, learn your current firm's long-term goals. Talk to your manager about your career plans. Is he interested in your career development? Does he respect you and appreciate your work? Is he paying attention to what you're saying?

Employee Focus

      In addition to learning about your company's goals, you should consider how much attention your company places on employees' expectations. Most companies say their employees are their most valuable asset, but consider their actions, not their rhetoric. The following programs help employers learn about employees' expectations. Find out if your employer offers these programs.
      Focus groups. &nbps;Focus groups can help improve communication among employees at all levels of an organization. Does your company use them to learn what's on employees' minds? Managers should do more listening than talking and act on employee suggestions.
      PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, a Westport, Conn.-based consulting firm, tests new programs and policies under consideration with focus groups that include employees from all levels of the organization, says David Gray, global human-resources leader for the firm's Financial Advisory Service. "The focus groups ensure that we don't end up with something that won't work," says Mr. Gray.
     Expectations.  It's essential to learn whether your plans for your career path match your supervisor's expectations of you and the company's goals. A proactive manager will try to synchronize your perspectives, perhaps by helping you to develop new skills and improve your performance. If there's a gap, you may want to consider other opportunities.
     Mentoring.  Mentor programs often foster strong business relationships. You may feel more loyal to your firm if a senior-level manager shows interest in your professional development. If you have a mentor at your company and you're considering a job offer, think about whether you want to give up that relationship. You may decide the mentor program is too valuable to sacrifice for a new job.
     Empowered employees.  Because of the current low rate of unemployment, you may have extra bargaining power when negotiating a job offer. To make you "whole" with retirement benefits, your new employer may be willing to accelerate its pension contributions to your account. You also could ask to bring the team you built at your previous company into the organization.
      But consider also that the tight labor market makes you valuable to your current firm. If you decide to stay, your employer may agree to changes that will improve your work environment.
      Some firms are surveying employees to get feedback on the work environment. Mr. Gray says PricewaterhouseCoopers surveys it Financial Advisory Service employees annually about such issues as organizational leadership, policies, compensation, communication and morale.
      As you consider jumping into the job market, remember that the best job you'll ever have could be the one you have now. If you're confident about your career with your current employer, you won't mind hearing about the pay increases or signing bonuses your friends received the last time they changed jobs.

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