What’s your formula for satisfaction at work?

Throughout the years, I have been through turmoil periods in my work experiences influenced by events causing me to jump from one job to another. While I was able to describe them vividly when they happened, I had no clue at all once time passes and made them memories. Memories that have no shape, no size, and no measure, and that added to my confusion even more. Year after year, and job after another, and those memories and experiences just got more complicated.

Since I’m a person who admires simplification, I recently started a quest to interpret these memories, paint them back vividly, and attempt to add meaning and shape to them. To be able to do that, I need a model!

Models are very good tools to represent and simplify real life experiences. They help you to depict a complex scenario or a thing by drawing a picture, building a prototype, or crafting a formula. In my attempt to reflect on my memories of work experiences, I solely needed to gauge “satisfaction” by a formula and that’s is simply my model. If you hate algebra, then I have to assure you this is not going to be what you hate! So, please continue reading.

What is a formula?

One type of formulas is a function, and function
y = f(x)

This simply means: x is a factor that gets transformed by a function f to produce y, the outcome.

My version of the formula – the model

Just like how life usually is, there are several factors – not only one – that affects satisfaction, the outcome. So, here is my model for satisfaction@work, which should not necessarily be identical to your version of the model!

satisfaction@work = f ( meaning, autonomy, knowledge, status, money )

What this model says is: my satisfaction at work depends on and is affected by five factors:

  • Meaning: Is the work I’m doing meaningful? Do I make impact with my work?
  • Autonomy: Do I have a high degree of independence? Do I have a high degree of control over what kind of work I do? And what kind of decisions I make?
  • Knowledge: Does my work offer me an opportunity to learn new things? Consistently? I don’t mean training, but practicing new things on the job? Does it give me an opportunity to share acquired knowledge with others?
  • Status: Does the work grant me status in my society? Within my family? In comparison with my friends? Do people point to my work and say “wow, that’s a great work” or “that’s a job I would love to be in”.
  • Money: Is the job financially rewarding? Does it earn me money to live a good (not luxurious) life style? Does is enable me to support my loved ones, and help the needy?

Things to Consider:

Now, there are five things you need to consider when reflecting on your factors of satisfaction:

  1. Different people have different factors
  2. Factors are discovered, not created
  3. You will have different factors at different points in time
  4. Factors have weights to emphasize your priorities
  5. Factors have different weights at different points in time

Let’s talk about each one in details and give some examples.

1 | Different people have different factors

Remember, the factors above are my own factors, and the model is my version. It’s by no means the de facto! Someone else can have completely different factors and live a happier or miserable work life. For instance, another person can have the following model:

satisfaction@work = f ( status, power, money )

Where power means span of control, decision making entitlement, and being the go-to person in his organization.

2 | Factors are not created, they are discovered

Factors are like tenets to you, they simply cannot be crafted. You discover them instead. For instance, you simply cannot force yourself to need or desire to be autonomous. On the other hand, you “are” a person who desires or requires a high degree of autonomy, or a person who does not care about it at all. Period!

Another example: you are a person who cares much of the profile of a job, or a person who is humble and okay with any job profile. You cannot create yourself to be either this or that. Also, there is nothing wrong with either of them, since it is about your character and your preferences.

3 | You will have different factors at different points in time

The factors usually change over time. As your experience grows, you will find yourself settling on a few of them that matters most to you. These become your genuine decision criteria as we’ll discuss later.

For example, you might start with only one factor that is most important to you, say “money”. After a few years, you see yourself seeking, and driven more by, “status”. A decade later, you settle on “meaning” along with, or in replacement to, the other factors.

4 | Factors have weights to reflect your priorities

Different factors have different weights, and that what makes the model practical and interesting. You plug in your measurement of a specific job or work weighing factors differently to emphasize their importance. The model will give you a reading that gears towards your most important ones.

For instance, meaning can have a weight of 50% compared to money that can be 10% only. You can then give autonomy and status 20% each, to have a total of 100% for all weights.

5 | Factors will have different weights at different points in time

Similar to changing factors, weights of factors change over time. One can start with a weight of 10% for status in the early stages of his career, and then reevaluate that to become a whopping 80% after 10 years of experience.

Why this model?

The core objective of crafting this model of satisfaction@work is to help you in your career decisions. You would use your model to evaluate a job offer – or multiple offers – that you have on table. You can also evaluate an upcoming business venture that you plan to pursue.

Let’s assume that your model is: f ( 50% meaning, 30% status, 20% money ) . With that in mind, you should not go for a job that offers you a high salary, while it has no meaningful work, and gives you no status at all. You might be driven by the high figure of this job, but you will just put yourself in misery in no time. This is because the job cannot give you what’s most important to you.

The other usage of the model is evaluate your current job. You might be feeling that you’re unsatisfied, unhappy, and/or unmotivated with your current work. When you reflect on your model, you discover that your current job doesn’t give you a degree of status that you desire. Assuming that you give high weight to “status” in your model, a change of job – internally or externally – is needed in your case.

Meaning – the winning factor of all

Stephen Overell, in his essay “Inwardness: The rise of meaningful work”, says:

One of the more interesting new trends in the world of work is that the story has to some extent gone inward: there is a new culture of inwardness in work that is progressively becoming more mainstream. The search for meaningful work is one startling manifestation of this culture

So, don’t be surprise if you find yourself seeking more meaningful work with time. This is a trend in the 21st century, and it is normal that the weight for “meaning” as a factor your model dominates with time. Also, keep in mind that “meaningful work” can have many forms and is not narrow to high impact and worthy activities. As Mike Martin says, “Usually, work is inherently meaningful when something other than money is gained.” (Mike Martin, Meaningful Work, 2000)

In part II, you will see an application of this model to a real life case. So, stay tuned.