Changing Careers

Happiness at Work – Are These the Big 4?

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

We know that people are changing careers more frequently these days and we expect the newer generations of workers to continue to grow this trend.

But one question seems to stand out:

If employees are changing careers a number of times, why aren’t the statistics for employee engagement and satisfaction increasing dramatically?

Could it be that companies are becoming worse places to work as they demand more and give less? Or is it that job seekers are simply not improving in the process of finding a ‘better’ job? Can a job seeker moving to a new job with the same broad set of daily activities and responsibilities expect to find long term improvements in their levels of performance, enjoyment and overall job satisfaction?

Finding a more satisfying job that engages you is a challenging endeavour. Research from the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows thirty two aspects (see table below) contributing to employee satisfaction with a similarly large number impacting employee engagement.

At least half of all respondents rated fourteen items as very important when it comes to their job satisfaction. Is it really this complex? Do all these factors contribute equally to your experience and happiness at work or do some count more than others?


SHRM Job Satisfaction Factors


Are These The BIG 4?

In my own experience I can relate to a number of items on this list, but some seem to stand out more as having a greater perceived impact on my performance, engagement, enjoyment and overall sense of happiness at work. Interestingly, these factors seem to be the ones that as an individual you have the greatest control over.

  1. Opportunities to use skills / abilities
  2. The work itself
  3. Meaningfulness of the job
  4. Variety of work

Working to Your Strengths

What isn’t surprising to me is the order in which these four items appear in the survey results. People intuitively know that they are better served working to their strengths (skills / abilities). Knowing what these strengths are is another matter and may only be realised over time, given more self analysis and more experience to look back on. Unless you are changing careers to be better aligned to your strengths then you may not see a long term improvement in satisfaction and engagement.

Assessing your Daily Activities

The work itself is what you are actually doing each day. If these tasks are essentially boring to you then you are going to struggle to maintain high levels of engagement and satisfaction. Standardisation and automation are two unavoidable elements of modern working, which can impact the variety and degree of freedom and creativity involved in certain roles. Although challenge and meaning can be found in every role, it is going to be more difficult if your role involves filling in the same forms each and every day.

The Meaning of Work

Meaningfulness of the job is another factor that jumps off the page to me. In essence this aspect is also represented by the following other measures:

  • Immediate supervisor’s respect for employee’s ideas
  • Communication between employees and senior management
  • Management’s recognition of employee job performance
  • Management’s communication of organization’s goals and strategies
  • Contribution of work to organization’s business goals

This is the desire for employees to feel part of something; to feel that their contribution is making a difference. At the core is the concept of individual values and aligning those with organisational values, but simpler differences can be made at the departmental and organizational level.

I once worked on a project that introduced a new life insurance product to market. At the end of the project (I was the IT Project Manager), I was invited to a launch dinner where people from the media and related financial institutions attended and were briefed on the product and its overall purpose. I left the dinner very well informed and feeling like a valued part of the team, but couldn’t help but wonder why this level of information (and effort) wasn’t shared internally with the team at the onset of the project.

Meaningfulness is an individual concept that each employee has a good level of control over. Making sure that you are aware of what is meaningful to you (your values) and then aligning your career to such is a very worthwhile experience.

The SHRM report states that…

“44% of employees indicated it would be ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ that they would look for a job outside of their current organization within the next year. Two of the leading reasons for seeking employment elsewhere were better career advancement opportunities (33%) and more meaningful work (23%).”


You cannot control all those items listed in the table above, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about those items that are more in your control. If you are thinking about changing careers then think about these 4 elements as they just might hold the key to a better long term situation of higher satisfaction and engagement.