This article unravels a mystery. Why after decades of trying thousands of employers from around the globe cannot eliminate job dissatisfaction. Some things can’t be fixed or increased, unless you try looking at it from another perspective. The solution is so simple it’s profound.

What enables your satisfaction on the job varies for each person. It might be things extrinsic to your job like the industry, work location, pay, benefits, co-workers, working conditions, resources, supervision and training, or it might be things that are intrinsic to your job like the type of work, your challenges and ability to influence results, make a contribution, and the pride, recognition and enjoyment derived from a job well done.

Simple enough, but what’s often overlooked is the fact your job satisfaction is dependent first and always on having a job. It would not exist except for the employer making it possible for you to work and be rewarded, and this applies regardless if your satisfaction is intrinsic or extrinsic. It’s also co-dependent on what you do in exchange for the rewards the employer decides to offer or not take away.

The reality is you have no control over the employer or the satisfactions they offer except by some form of bargaining, by your choice of jobs and employers, and your level of performance and whether it influences the employer’s decisions. This makes your job satisfaction vulnerable to circumstances like controlling bosses, management decisions, layoffs and restructuring, but also to the impacts of the economy, global competition, natural disasters, war and terrorism. Jobs and the satisfactions they portend could be here today but gone tomorrow, and this explains why it’s difficult to try and increase your job satisfaction. It’s also unreasonable to think that employers can satisfy everyone all the time.

Rarely do you think of these things. You do your best choosing the right job and then you work under the expectation that in exchange for your good efforts and results the employer will reciprocate by helping to make you satisfied. It’s only when the threat exists of losing your job, or when the conditions and expectations change that you begin to realize your job satisfaction is dependent, conditional and vulnerable to things that are beyond your control, and sometimes beyond even the employer’s control.

So what do you control, and by this I mean independently of any employer in order to have and enjoy the career you desire?
We’ve already established your intrinsic and extrinsic satisfaction is actually employer provided, dependent and conditional, so it must be something else, something deeper.

What you control exclusively in order to fulfill your callings and purpose is your thoughts, emotions, reasoning, talents and choices. Neither of these things is employer provided or controlled. You take them with you if you change jobs, careers and employers, and they remain with you even if your satisfactions are reduced or taken away. These are the elements of your career contentment.

Contentment is a state of mind that exists independently of employers, other people or material things. In other words, you can be content even if not happy or entirely satisfied. You do this quite naturally by how you reason to recognize the acceptable middle ground in any situation. The peace that results enables you to think clearly, make choices, and to deal more effectively with things that are normally upsetting. Contentment provides overlooked resiliency strength.

On the job this strength and peaceful state of mind is your career contentment. It is the source of your effectiveness to perform and your ability to endure, even job dissatisfaction. It is dependent exclusively on how you think and is conditional on your predisposition to recognize middle ground, but also on your choice of work and whether it is meaningful to the use of your talents and fulfillment of your callings and purpose.
Career is the pursuit of contentment derived from meaningful work, not just the pursuit of the transient satisfactions that keep you dependent on employers.

Contentment proves that you can live without the transient satisfactions but not without your ability to reason and recognize middle ground. Thankfully so because nothing in this world is absolutely perfect and not everything is likely to go your way, or even the way your employer wants it to go. Not only do you need contentment, it’s more valuable to you than mere satisfaction. You have to let this thought sink in.

I first started contemplating these ideas during the mid 1980s when I worked in the brewing industry. Sales were flat, the industry was consolidating and we were laying people off. Benefits, bonuses and pay increases were all reduced and promotions were out of the question. I was young, aggressive and full of complaints. One day my boss calmly told me that if I was so unhappy I should leave and they could eliminate my headcount and save someone from being laid off. No way could I increase my job satisfaction, but I quickly learned how to reason and recognize my career contentment. To this day, and despite some of the most despicable and dissatisfying conditions, those were the absolute best years of my entire career.

You may not be entirely happy or satisfied with your weight, house, car, job or spouse but you don’t upgrade each week either. You focus on the acceptable middle ground, rainbow, silver lining and light at the end of the tunnel, and you leverage this state of mind to endure, make due and still get things done, with or without being made satisfied. Try living without this ability.

A person who is content with their work will be more inclined to tolerate the inevitable job dissatisfactions, but a person who is discontent or in the wrong job will leave despite your extra efforts to retain them. This is why some people stay in jobs despite the lack of satisfactions, or leave highly desirable jobs for lesser satisfactions. Fulfilling their purpose is more important to them than fulfilling the employer’s purpose, and they can’t be paid enough to ignore or waste their talents. They are in pursuit of their career contentment, and it may not have anything to do with the job satisfactions.

You can try but I guarantee you’ll have a difficult time changing the world or attempting to increase your own pay, benefits or other job satisfactions, but you can increase your career contentment any time simply by changing how you think and reason to recognize the acceptable middle ground. You do it all the time but were never trained to apply this to your career. You launched your career looking for success and satisfaction, not contentment. Isn’t it about time to change your thinking? We’ve tried practically everything else and even discovered the grass isn’t greener. And besides, once you get what you want don’t you eventually want more or something different?

One last thing: Don’t confuse contentment with satisfaction. They’re completely different or how else could you still be content if not happy or satisfied? It’s because these terms are used wrongly or interchangeably that conflict exists between reporting entities on the percentage of workers currently dissatisfied. Estimates vary monthly and range from 36%, 60% to 87% of workers being dissatisfied. Whose right?

Many of the so-called dissatisfied are actually content with their job and career, but are unhappy with one or more satisfactions. That we fail to make this distinction is a problem because satisfaction is an either/or proposition. In other words, you may have a good job and are well paid with great benefits and working conditions, but if your boss is a jerk, your entire job begins to sour and you think you need a new one. What’s missing is an understanding of the acceptable middle ground. Once you understand this, your world takes on a whole new appearance and some of the dissatisfactions become a bit more tolerable. This is a strength we can all use more often.

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© 2007 by Jeff Garton All Rights Reserved

Author's Bio: 

Jeff Garton is a career coach, author and host of VoiceAmerica’s “Career Contentment Radio.” His background includes a career in HR with the Philip Morris companies. He now leads the worldwide Campaign To Retire Job Dissatisfaction. For more information, and to join the campaign, visit: