I’ve been chatting with friends recently about job satisfaction, and it’s actually quite hard to put my finger on what it is. Several people love their jobs, others are sick to the back teeth. It’s easy enough to identify highs and lows of any given job (and every job has both). It’s also easy enough to identify frustrations and sources of stress, as well as the ‘buzz’ points.

Obviously there is a corpus of research on job satisfaction, none of which I have read particularly, so these are just my own thoughts and conclusions.

My definition of job satisfaction would be along the lines of the je ne sais quoi which makes one say I wouldn’t do any other job. I guess I take quite a ‘vocation’al perspective, in as much I firmly believe we are made a certain way, and have a certain calling in life. I further believe that if we hook into that calling, suddenly it’s all about being a round peg in a round hole. It may not be easy, but it will just Feel Right. I’m not overspiritualising here – I believe as much in a calling to be a binman, or banker, or software developer as one to be a vicar, or teacher, or doctor. Well, ok, maybe not the banker… <g>

Theologically speaking, work is ‘meant’ to be hard, as a result of the fall: Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life (Gen 3:17b, NIV). On the other hand, we know that Jesus’ death reverses the fall (e.g. in Romans 6:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundent provision of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ). Jesus himself promised I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (John 10:10 CEV) – or as I once heard a preacher say I have come so that you can have life – and have it to the Max.

The not being easy point can’t be overstated either. The New Testament and history is littered with people having a rough old time of it while following their vocation. In fact Rick Warren would say that having a rough old time is evidence of following one’s vocation. Not conclusive evidence, but evidence none-the-less.

The whole topic of identifying calling is a massive one, and one I’m intimely engaging with at present as I prepare to lead a Growing Leaders course (questionable name, fantastic course). One definition I have found particularly helpful is the combination of gift/ability, and passion. Gift/ability tells you what you should be doing, passion tells you where/how you should do it.

Growing Leaders touches on Rick Warren’s 5-fold discernement method, forming the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. – Spiritual Gifts, Heart (or passion), Ability, Personality, and Experience. I think this is helpful too, as it presents a structured approach to work to. My gut instinct is that you can apply this sort of discernment to your day job just as much as to ‘spiritual’ activity. Whether this instinct is correct is another matter.

Perhaps a good example here is Formula 1. Take Michael Schumacher – he never needs to work again, financially. Yet he continues on as an advisor to Ferrari, and leapt at the chance to get back behind the wheel. Even our own Jenson I’m sure is set for life – but he loves driving, and will do it for as long as someone will give him a drive; even if that’s in a dog awful car at the back of the grid. David Coulthard has hung up his gloves, but can’t stay away from the paddock. Nelson Piquet Jr. is, of course, a salutary example of taking things too far, at persuing things at any cost…

John Barrowman is another example who springs to mind. He is like a kid in a sweetie shop when he’s on stage, and several times said thank you for us for letting him do what he loves doing.

I am currently undecided on whether it’s possible for everyone to have job satisfaction. The research I have glanced at suggests up to 50% of workers are dissatisfied in their jobs. We all have bills to pay, and need to put food on the table, and sometimes it’s simply a case of needs must. In my experience jobs can be very rewarding (financially and emotionally) and enjoyable, but still lack the je ne sais quoi that goes I’m going to do this job as long as they’ll let me.

Parenthood is a slightly flakier example of a similar principle. I absolute adore my son, and would not have him any other way. I would be absolutely devastated if anything happened to him, and want to be as big a part of his life as he’ll let me be for as long as possible. But he also drives me absolutely mad sometimes, and makes me have to send him to his room so we can both cool off!! He can be the most awkward, frustrating, hair-tearing piggle – but I wouldn’t change a thing. (Incidentally I’m fully aware that I have lovely child by any objective standard, and have a far easier ride than some people).

Helpful questions one can ask oneself are along the lines of:

  • Would I continue coming in to work after I retire (assuming no financial imperative)?
  • Would I choose to spend my own time in my workplace?
  • If I won the lottery, would I stay in my job?
  • If I knew I couldn’t fail what would I do?
  • On my deathbed, when I look back on my working life, would I wish I’d done things differently?
  • Would I be proud of my obituary if I continued in this vein for the rest of my life?

That list is actually hugely ambitious, I reckon. It kinda makes you stop and think though, too! It comes down whether or not we’re going our jobs because we love them, or (just) because we have to. Or as someone at my work once said “doing what you were born to do.”

So if feel that you’re not satisfied in your current situation, I can see there are four basic options:

  1. Put up with it,
  2. Try and change something about you or it to make it satisfying,
  3. Seek satisfaction from another quarter – a sport or hobby,
  4. if all else fails, change job

I don’t think the first one should be overlooked. Our working life is not the full story, and sometimes one just has to get on with it. Similarly, our attitude and approach can have a substantial impact in this area, I believe.

Even if you put aside my firm believe that only God can truly itch where we’re scratching in our souls, I reckon that it’s an unrealisitic expectation to think that any job is going to be satify every need. If you are in a job that truly satisifies you, then I guess you’re a ski instructor or a professional surfer? Seriously though, there isn’t a job in the world that isn’t going to make you come home in the very depths of the dumps and go That’s it – I’ve had all I can take. I give up. (it is at this point – or rather at somepoint before this – that you need a holiday. Or at least wine/beer and chocolate/ice-cream!!)

I also think that changing jobs is a last resort thing. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s pointless changing jobs within the same sector (from a job satisfaction perspective), unless the place were you work has clearly identifiable and unacceptable failings. I reckon that bouncing from career to career will also end up being soul-destroying, and with every chance of untimately rendering you unemployable.

We need to be big enough to turn the mirror on ourselves and say How much am I part of the problem here?. Even better, get someone you trust and you know loves you to answer that question (easier said than done).

More postively, there are inspiring stories of people who have made the Big Switch, and become teachers, or farmers, or writers, or whatever it is that floats their boat. Of course, from a Christian perspective it’s about service anyway – it’s not about what makes me feel good, or gives me the most satisfaction, but rather the best opportunity for service and ministry. The beauty of it is that, when we stop chasing our own satisfaction that’s exactly when we find the deepest satisfaction of all. It’s only when we stop living for ourselves that we start living.