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Are you satisfied with your job?
A sanity check of 6 questions
Work is a lot of life. It’s worth spending time discovering if the work you’re currently doing is the work that makes you most satisfied. This is my attempt to ask you a simple set of questions to gauge how you feel about your work.
The 6 Questions
How satisfied are you with your compensation?
How satisfied are you with your work-life balance?
How satisfied are you with your management?
How satisfied are you with your coworkers?
How satisfied are you with the company mission?
How satisfied are you with your role in the company?
Rate these from 1 to 5, sum the scores, and divide by 6.
Now preferably, you don’t actually want to ask these while you’re actually upset or depressed or in some other hot emotion state. So if you come off with 1s across the board, wait a day and retake it.
I expect that this may come up for some people who are feeling like quitting right now. If you’ve come to this, let this list be a little speed bump to check in with yourself before you give your notice.
But this is not how I use this tool. So let’s talk about a proactive step you can take on the regular to determine your next steps.
How to use it normally
Between once a month to once per quarter, check in with yourself. I have a google form (see below) with each question, and I rank my answers from 1 to 5.
Again add all 6 measures and divide by 6. Therefore, the highest score is 5. The lowest is 1. Middle point is 3. Since the answers go into a spreadsheet where I can see my answers over time, I just have a formula to do this math for me.
And so after I take the check, I go to my spreadsheet and I observe the trend over time. If I’m trending down past 3—which for me is my known middle baseline—I start asking myself why this is.
The score doesn’t dictate my decision of what to do next. I use the score to talk with my past selves in the most objective way possible about why I am feeling this way.
This check doesn’t provide answers. It starts the process of talking with myself about whether my current relationship with work is good.
If month after month, I find that I’m averaging below 3, I start questioning what’s the root cause for why I’m feeling this way. Why it’s below this number is invariably highly contextual to my current situation.
If I’m going down near 2 on a regular basis, it’s likely that I need to start looking for another job. However, just the score unto itself isn’t the important part.
Each job I’ve been at it starts very high. Like say 4-5 and I usually settle into 3-4 as the job goes on over the years. Sometimes the score goes below 3, but I don’t fret that too much. All of this jives with on a well-known psychological phenomenon called hedonic adaptation. Basically, you will get used to your new job and treat it as the new normal—because it is.
My score can change over time even though objectively the policy of a company has remained unchanged over time. If that’s the case, it can be that other companies have adapted and improved, the advantages of one environment may just be the normal now for the industry you’re in. A super common example is working from home. That’s 100% normalized.
On the other hand, it could be that I have just started valuing this less and less over time, when I once thought it was very important.
Why these questions and not others?
I came up with them because I wanted a small set of questions that were easily answered. They cover different areas that are valued by most people, so they’re not all the same set of needs.
I find the questions helpful in letting me know where there’s a deficiency because in many ways, they’re in somewhat opposition to each other:
What’s the point in earning $1 million dollars a year if you work 100 hours each week?
Who cares if you have great teammates if boss yells at you on a weekly basis for things outside of your control?
Why do the most interesting work of your life if your organization is engaged in boring applications of it—or worse actively evil applications of it?
These questions also let me analyze my concerns a bit more apart from each other.
For instance, if my work-life balance has gotten out of whack, is it for a good reason? Am I just enjoying work that much? Do I care that much about the mission? Or team score? Basically, is something else making up for it?
If I score high satisfaction with my management, it likely means that I trust them could have a conversation around this work-life balance misalignment. However, if dislike or distrust my management, I expect my score will be low, and that will inform the likelihood of solving my other issues.
Using it with Friends
Over time, I’ve found it valuable to mention to other people as well over time. Every once in a while a friend comes to me wondering if they should quit their job. I overview my approach with them and offer this as a way to help them think about their problem.
One of the key precepts of this approach is that this is individual and contextual. I can give my opinion about how I feel about how someone else is being treated, but fundamentally, that other person is likely to weight what they value differently and therefore their scoring of an identical situation will look different from me.
Using it with Reports
I use it with my reports sometimes. Now to be very clear, I don’t make them report their scores or trend to me. They’ll only be telling me what I want to hear, which destroys the value of this tool. If they choose to disclose specific numbers, that’s up to them if they think it helps improve the conversation.
I want to know what they value, and this tool helps get us there. For example, if there’s a problem with a teammate, my asking them to score this may bring this to their mind, and we can figure out how to make progress there.
I will help frame it up for them when they go use it themselves. Specifically, the tool helps show them there’s more to work than money, because often reports only bring up money. And I can many times demonstrate and advocate for these 5 other areas that have value to them. And to be honest, I actually believe this, and I do not just use it as a tactic. I have changed jobs before for less pay to get stuff out of the other 5 categories. It would behoove you if your beliefs are aligned with this otherwise you’ll likely do damage to your relationship with your reports.
By the way, if the tool results in my report leaving, I wish them well, as I’ve helped them discover that they’ll be more satisfied elsewhere. Since retention is such a big drum that gets beat in management circles, this may seem surprising to hear. But I’m sincere about this because the company is also better off too!
People who are unsatisfied/unmotivated will be less interested in helping their current company be successful. And rather than leaving on a sour note by the person becoming progressively dissatisfied, I would rather be involved in helping this person discover what they want to be doing instead.
Remember that people reporting to you are people. They’re not code or machinery. They can and will change jobs in your career—and relationships live past employment contracts. The people who once reported to you may in the future be at a customer or a vendor.
Talking with Mental Health Haters
I expect that someone will use this article to point out how I’m a snowflake millennial or my generation is or the tech universe is. It’s a common comment used to dismiss or shut down this entire conversation. Normally I’d advocate ignoring these people because engaging with them only amplifies their voice. However, I’m not responding to a particular person—just the idea.
Talking about improving your lot in life used to be a good thing. Once upon a time, as work places improved, it was seen as a positive thing by employee or Western society writ large. For some reason it’s now perceived as asking too much that work places continue to improve.
Sometimes this topic gets framed as us asking for a manager or employer to make people happy. Let me be clear: an employer can’t permanently make you happy. However, your boss or job can do lots of different things that can make you unhappy.
As an employer or a manager, if it’s in your power to remove things that rob people of satisfaction or prevent the adding of things that add satisfaction, you shouldn’t be opposed to it on some sort of perverse principle of people these days asking for too much. Yes, I get it. In your day, things were bad. Wouldn’t it be great to make it better for others after you?
Change is normal. What satisfies you now may not satisfy you tomorrow. What dissatisfies you today may be gone tomorrow—and a new thing may take its place.
Appreciate your work for what it is: something you do for most of your days. It’s probably worth some striving to make it something you enjoy.
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