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What Makes for a “Good Job”?

My daughter is an avid player of the iPhone/iPad game “Tiny Tower.”  The object of the game is to make your tower as tall as possible, all the while managing the businesses and apartments within and seeing to the happiness of your residents or “bitizens.”  I think it says something about our recessionary world that the way to make your bitizens happy (complete with smiley faces) is to put them into their “dream job” – whether it is to work in a bakery, a dental office, or a tattoo parlour. 

Consider that for a moment.  The way to happiness is not presented as being through leisure, family and loving relationships, knowledge or spiritual enlightenment.  The way to be happy is to have the right job. 

Most of us spend a lot of time at work, and there is no doubt what happens at work contributes to our sense of well-being.  And most of us recognize that we are better suited to (and would be happier doing) certain jobs rather than others.  But a recent study suggests that what makes us happy at work is not always what we think it is.  Thomas Cornelissen examined the data collected by the German Socio-Economic Panel, a household-based survey of the German population which started in 1984 and has now surveyed over 20,000 adults.  He found that the most important factor in job satisfaction was relations with colleagues and supervisors (“Task diversity” and “job security” ranked second and third).

Cornelissen’s article, “The interaction of job satisfaction, job search, and job changes. An empirical investigation with German panel data” appeared in volume 10, no. 3 of the Journal of Happiness Studies. He also found that lack of job satisfaction leads to the probability of job search, which in turn leads to increased likelihood of job change, especially when labour market conditions are favourable (which is exactly what one would expect.) 

The lessons for managers seem clear, if not always easy or obvious to put into practice.  Employees will be happier and will be more likely to stay on the job if their relations with one another and with management are good.  But how can managers help employees to develop and maintain good relations?  Doesn’t it depend on the mix of personalities in a workplace? 

Yes and no.  While personalities can make a difference, the goal is not for employees to be best friends; the goal is respectful behaviour and mutual civility.  And management can do a lot to make these a reality.  Management sets the tone.  When managers ignore workplace conflict, it sends the message that employees’ interests are not important.  When managers ignore bullying and disrespectful behaviour (or are even guilty of these themselves), it sends the message that employees’ emotional well-being is not valued.  When expectations of civility and respectful behaviour are not made clear to all, it sends the message that rudeness is tolerated.

Doing a job that suits one does indeed contribute to happiness, both in the world of “Tiny Tower” and in the real world.  But it is just as important to have good relations with others in the workplace and to be treated with respect.


Jeanette Bicknell

Jeanette Bicknell is the owner of Principled Dispute Resolution and Consulting. She provides civil mediation for legal disputes, and helps organizational clients manage conflict, create flourishing workplaces and build effective teams. Jeanette holds an Advanced Certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution and a PhD in philosophy. Jeanette combines a naturally calm… MORE >

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