If you wake up everyday excited to go to work, consider yourself lucky: You’re one of just 30% of American workers who are “engaged and inspired at work,” according to the 2013 Gallup poll. 50% of American workers are not engaged–“just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.” And the remaining 20%? They’re the ones who are actively disengaged from work, unhappy with their tasks and bosses alike.
Even taking into account the fact that you shouldn’t aim for 100% job satisfaction, this serves as a reality check for professionals at every stage in their career. How you spend most of your waking hours (40-79 hours a week, for 80% of Americans) should be a source of satisfaction, pride, and enjoyment, and not just your biweekly paycheck. According to a new Harvard Business Review piece by entrepreneur Nathaniel Koloc, here are the 3 attributes to fulfilling work, in the order of importance:
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1. Legacy–what’s the higher purpose of your job? When people can identify the mission of their work, they feel more satisfied with their work. That doesn’t just mean working for a nonprofit or producing fuel-efficient stoves that can cut pollution and encourage local economy, like this inspiring Haitian entrepreneur. Even if you work in PR, sales, banking, customer service, or hospitality, meaning can be found if you perceive your job as not just doing the tasks (things or numbers) but as relating to people.
2. Mastery–Are you becoming an expert at some skill through your job? Your job should challenge you to learn new skills and give you an opportunity to master them, so that they “become intertwined with your identity,” according to Koloc. You can imagine a professional dancer or an artisan baker identifying with their professional mastery, but it can also work in other disciplines. For instance, my job as an editor gives me a chance to master the niceties of language, which gives me a great sense of personal fulfillment. Are you a rock star salesman? Take pride in your power of persuasion. A lab scientist? Your dexterity is unmatched, my friend.
3. Freedom–Does your job afford you a degree of procedural and financial independence? Too many of us are stuck in a rat race, stifled by micro-managing bosses and rigid work schedules. How, when, where, and what you work on should be reasonably flexible to give you a sense of autonomy.
Since it’s Friday, take a moment to assess your job using these three criteria, and see how it fits into the career you envision, and ask yourself–is your job right for you? And even if you don’t find that your job scores high, realize that it’s okay, and think about what can change to improve your job satisfaction. It might be taking on a new role at your company, or moving to a different company, or even establishing your own business. By being honest and clear-eyed about your current job, you’ve already taken a first step toward a more fulfilling path.