It’s easy for us to check out at work and dread waking up to go to work in the mornings. A 2022 Gallup survey of 1,000 U.S. workers found that the majority, 65 percent, said they feel disengaged or indifferent about their work. So when people are satisfied and engaged with their jobs, it can be a pleasant surprise. Toxic work environments can make building a meaningful, fulfilling career hard, but it is possible. Here are some experiences and traits that keep us happy with our jobs.
You have more control over getting your work done.
What most people want from work is autonomy. A 2016 study of over 2,000 people in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin discovered that the kind of power most people desired wasn’t the power to be a boss but to have the ability to have more autonomy over how their workday goes.
In one of the study’s experiments, most participants were more likely to reject a management promotion that would give them more power within their company if it meant giving up more autonomy to do what they wanted when they wanted, even when both options paid the same. The study concluded that the desire for power doesn’t come from wanting to master others but to master your domain and fate.
Sometimes, work autonomy can be hard to obtain, depending on where and who you work for. You can negotiate for more independence, depending on your trust in your boss. However, if you have a good supervisor, then more becomes possible.
You value life/work boundaries and stick to them.
Like prioritizing autonomy, flexibility isn’t just nice to have; it can be crucial for feeling satisfied and in control of your career. Part of having this control means enforcing life/work boundaries. When thinking about needing more flexibility, connecting that to what you want to do with your extra time is essential. Sometimes, people will say, ‘I want more flexibility,’ but there’s no purpose behind it. Those most successful with achieving flexibility can also let their team know it’s a priority.
For example, you may have a coworker with a wrap-up alarm set for 4:30 p.m. every day because they want to spend more time with their family. The warning is their reminder that for the next 30 minutes, they will finish everything, write down their tasks for the following day, and start making their rounds with staff members so that by 5:00 p.m., they’re headed out the door. What’s clever about this tactic is that they’ve communicated it to their team. Enforcing boundaries can be challenging, but it’s necessary for creating a life that’s true to what you want outside and inside of work.
You have the freedom to make mistakes and experiment.
You can’t be satisfied with your work if you’re always looking over your shoulder. Having a work environment that encourages the psychological safety for professionals to be their true selves at work, be creative, experiment, make mistakes, and have the ability to learn from those mistakes without punishment, shame, or embarrassment, is crucial for feeling fulfilled in to work we dedicate ourselves to.
Psychological safety means you’re comfortable discussing complex topics, like calling out failing or mistakes, without fear of punishment. You want psychological safety and high standards if you’re trying to get ambitious, challenging work done.
You have work friends you can depend on.
Having someone you can roll your eyes with across a meeting and confide in can make all the difference in how you feel about your workday. If you have one person you know is on your team and understand each other, that can change your job satisfaction, and research backs up this sentiment. A Gallup survey of over 195,600 employees in the United States revealed that professionals who said they had a work best friend also reported being the most engaged and committed with their jobs. However, you don’t need a work best friend to help make that positive connection.
Being open to others and friendly makes them feel comfortable working with you, which can also help your workday go smoother. Having a support network away from the people you work with can help define what satisfaction means to you. Your professional community is also there to help you with these reflections, contemplate what career satisfaction looks like to you, and help you recognize the steps to get it.
You get good feedback.
One of the strong predictors of job satisfaction is whether you get job feedback. Researchers found that employee satisfaction depends on five factors: defined tasks with a clear start and end, varying tasks, employee feeling like their role matters, having autonomy, and job feedback. In some ways, getting job feedback can influence other satisfaction factors, like feeling like your tasks matter. Knowing from your supervisor that you’re doing a good job removes uncertainty regarding why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you can be better.
Some bosses are better at proactively giving feedback, but you can also seek it out if you’re not getting what you want. Asking for actionable advice is one way to help build better feedback loops with your boss or other stakeholders. Be specific about the growth you want and how stakeholders and your peers can help you make an impact in your role.
Instead of asking who you can grow in your role, ask questions that show the importance of investing in your potential and move you forward. For example, you could say that you want to grow your technical skills because you know these skills will bring value to the position and significantly impact your role. You could highlight what you’ve tried while asking if there’s a project you could take on to reach your next level.
One of the pillars of career satisfaction is being open to regularly reflecting on what you want out of it. In other words, being happy with your job means being curious about your values and being available to your answers changing over time. Being in control of your career means listening to what you want instead of what other people think would be best for you. Once you know your priorities, you’ll be one step closer to building a satisfying career.