TAWN PARENT Commentary: Can't get no (job) satisfaction?

January 16, 2006

-Dylan Thomas

What would it take for you to love your job? For my friend Portia Graves, it's taking a major career change. After 14 years as an insurance adjuster, she has enrolled in nursing school at age 40. She liked her job at first, but eventually the luster wore off. "I saw this huge increase in what I would call greed. It was really starting to get to me," she said. And as the industry became more afraid of litigation, she found herself spending as much time filling out "cover-your-behind" forms as doing her core job.

Still, she stayed on. The comfort of a job she knew, a nice salary, a company car and good benefits were too hard to give up. But things got worse.

"I was so burned out," Portia said. "I had to offer myself incentives first to get to the end of a month, then a week, then a day. I would tell myself, 'If you get out of bed today and go to work, you get a cookie!'"

She finally realized the perks weren't worth the misery. She wanted a job she could feel good about. She decided nursing was the ticket. She left her job in October and immediately felt the difference.

"I'm sleeping. My hair is no longer falling out. I'm excited about school," she said.

Portia is one of several people I have come across recently who have taken a detour on the job track. My cousin Brian was so unfulfilled by his tech job that he quit to become a firefighter. Perhaps the most famous local example is John Myrland, 55, who just left his job as president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce to become a Methodist pastor.

John said he was happy in his job, but suddenly had an overwhelming feeling that he needed to do something else.

"It was very powerful," he said. So powerful that he's taking an 80-percent salary cut.

About 25 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs, according to a June 2005 survey of 3.5 million employees by New York-based Sirota Survey Intelligence. That's one in four workers. How many of them take the trouble to do something about it?

Portia, Brian and John all decided on a helping profession. But fulfillment can come from any job that makes you feel worthwhile and that (on some days, at least) fires your imagination and speaks to your soul.

Money takes you only so far.

Of the 12 factors that most determine people's job satisfaction, not one is related to pay or benefits, according to a 2001 Gallup survey of nearly 200,000 employees nationwide in a variety of industries. What people prize most highly in their careers is making a meaningful contribution, having opportunities for growth, and enjoying their relationships with bosses and colleagues.

If your job isn't giving you that, there are many options besides making a wholesale career change. Something as simple as communicating better with your supervisor could make a big difference, said Mark McNulty, president of HR Dimensions LLC, a local human resources consulting firm.

"Sometimes, we find people just don't take responsibility for themselves," he said.

Take a moment to ask yourself what you could do to improve your job. Delegate more responsibility? Make a lateral move? Get additional training? Tele-commute?

Maybe you're not at the right company. Often, people quit or are fired because they have the skills do to a job, but they just don't fit in with the culture of a given workplace, McNulty said. In such cases, moving to a new employer or going solo might be the answer.

But for some people, changing fields is worth considering in spite of the risks.

"You want to do this in a way that is not going to kill you financially, but also enables you to salvage your inner self," Portia said. John spent three years planning his move. Portia took the time to explore various industries. To test the waters, she started with a night class while still employed full time. John said, "A lot of people say, 'I wish I had your courage, your guts.' I was just open to the possibility of God using me in a different way." Don't allow drifting to define your days. If you find yourself counting the years until retirement or asking, "Is this all there is?" then open yourself to new possibilities. What would it take for you to love your job? Figure it out. Then do it.

Parent is associate editor of IBJ. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.
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