As a Millennial, most likely, your work expectations are clear. Yet, are you truly getting what you want and need from your career? The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to reflect on that question.
Ask yourslef: Do you desire happiness, job satisfaction or engagement?
What? Don’t most people want all three? Of course. However, while related, these work outcomes aren’t the same, and you may need to make some trade-offs.
#1: WORK HAPPINESS
Do you jump out of bed on Monday morning, eager to start your workweek? Or do you hit the snooze button on your alarm several times and, in spite of your dread, finally drag yourself into your morning routine?
Work happiness is an emotional state. The Greater Good Magazine, published by The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, defines it as a feeling of an overall sense of enjoyment and well-being at work.
Happiness at work is probably a minimum requirement for most of you. Yet it may not be enough for many.
Consider the following examples:
Jack Went for the Perks
Jack loved his company’s perks at first. His employer provides free meals and snacks, beer and wine on Fridays, and a gym on-site. However, currently, he is bored with his job.
He expected challenging work. “I thought I would have opportunities to make a difference.” Jack finds that the company perks are not enough to satisfy him.
Mary Enjoys the Camaraderie
Mary appreciates her colleagues. “I love them. When I was sick recently, my coworkers came to see me and supported me.”
Nevertheless, she is not particularly satisfied with her job. She finds the lack of work-life balance in her job to be stressful. She feels she may burn out.
While happiness on the job may well be necessary, it might not be enough.
#2: JOB SATISFACTION
Job satisfaction is about realizing our expectations rather than merely enjoying the workplace.
Take a look at some related examples:
Jerry Dislikes Inconsistencies
Jerry admits he expected his current employer to have fair and consistent policies. However, he says “Some people are allowed to do whatever they want while others are not.” While he likes his coworkers and the job perks, his job satisfaction is low. The organization is not meeting his expectations for fair and impartial treatment.
Sara Welcomes Growth Opportunities
Sara expected and found opportunities for growth in her current job. “I always wanted to work for this organization because I thought I could learn so much.”
However, she is disappointed in the organization’s lack of action on critical social issues. “I can’t engage because arguing for us to take a stand has worn me out.”
All of us have expectations of our employers. And promises met lead to greater job satisfaction. Nevertheless, our real passion for our work is more than mere happiness or job satisfaction.
Engagement is about passion for work. Millennials tend to engage when work is meaningful.
Michael Steger, founder and director of the Centre for Meaning and Purpose, and a professor at Colorado State University, offers the following three questions concerning meaningful work:
- Does work have significance and purpose?
- Does it contribute to finding a broader meaning in life?
- Does it make a positive contribution to the greater good?
Ben Smock, Director of Development for Canopy, a nonprofit promoting good business for Kentucky, says that he chose to work for this organization because he wants to do something transformational. “To me, being part of a movement is more meaningful than simply holding down a job.” He believes he can make a real difference through his work for Canopy.
By engaging with your work, you may trade off some level of workplace happiness and job satisfaction. Work-engaged people sometimes experience more stress because the stakes are high. Likewise, high engagement could skew work-life balance from time to time. The choices are up to you.
Most employers want their workforce to engage because it is good for business. However, you must decide for yourself whether and how you want to participate. Everyone is unique. You have values, needs, and circumstances that differ from others. The level of work engagement that makes sense for you may not work for all.
To determine where work engagement should fit in your career pursuits, ask yourself the following questions:
- What role does work play in my life? Is it merely a means to end or part of my identity?
- Does the time and energy I apply to my work align with its importance to me?
- What would I be willing to give up for a job that provided me with meaning and a way to contribute to the greater good?
There are no right nor wrong answers – only truthful responses based on your current circumstances and desires. Be honest and non-judgemental with yourself. Use your answers and reflections to guide your career choices this year.
This reflection exercise is hardly “one and done.” Circumstances change over time. Commit to this exercise every year as a way to make intentional career decisions.