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After serving 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, Mark Wolfenden retired from the military to begin his civilian career. He decided to explore an opportunity in the Human Resources field and has spent the past two years working in the HR division of a manufacturing company. Now he questions why he entered this career field in the first place.
The problem? Wolfenden lacks what career counselors call “job satisfaction.” When you feel satisfied with your job, you have a positive attitude towards your work. However, six months into his new job, Wolfenden was not feeling satisfied. He was drawn to the HR field because he enjoys working with people, but he found his methods for assisting others were tied to many formalities and legalities. “I found myself working more on programs and problems than people,” says Wolfenden.
Wolfenden is not the only one with a job satisfaction dilemma. A poll conducted by Gallup last year showed that in 2013, only 30% of workers felt “engaged and inspired” by their jobs. Everyone else either felt no excitement for their job or felt “actively disengaged” at work. So what does the majority of the workforce population have to be unsatisfied about?
In Wolfenden’s case, the new HR position did not meet his job expectations or match his interests. Yet, the list continues.
Work-related factors also affect job satisfaction. Three researchers from the Netherlands surveyed a group of workers and concluded in their article, “Which factors determine job satisfaction?”, that task variety, satisfaction with colleagues and working conditions affect job satisfaction. Other factors could be your chances of career advancement or your work load.
What about your values and beliefs? Does your work align with them, and do you see a greater purpose in the work you do? According to a recent article posted by Quartz contributor Brooke Allen, our problem these days is not a shortage of work–it’s a shortage of purpose. People everywhere from entry level workers to the higher-up executives are unhappy with their jobs because they can’t see how their work is meaningful.
On the up side, experts say there are things people can do to achieve job satisfaction. For example, if task variety is your problem, Mind Tools contributor Dianna Podmoroff says you could switch your shifts, sign up for new training, or ask your boss for different assignments. If you’re exploring different career options, she recommends taking the time to think about your strengths. Then choose a field that compliments them. You’re more likely to feel satisfied at work when you excel at the tasks you’re given.
But what if your problem is harder to fix–like your ability to find purpose in your work? Allen explains you could change your approach to thinking about your job. For example, a retail worker may feel unsatisfied because all she can think about is making money to pay the bills. Instead, what if she focused on the value of helping customers–like helping a mother pick out the right dress for a son’s graduation, or helping a young couple pick out the wedding registry for their new life together? Changing her approach might be what’s needed for the retail worker to feel satisfied.
Or, maybe it’s time to do something more radical–like change careers. Why stay tied down to a job that doesn’t matter to you?
Wolfenden realized he felt the deepest connection to a job when he served as a recruiter for the military. “I always knew when I recruited someone into the Air National Guard that no matter how long they stayed, it could have an incredible positive impact on their lives and future,” says Wolfenden. Recently, he made the decision to leave the HR field and pursue work as a recruiter for a university or the health care sector. “Knowing I assisted someone in finding a job they like or even love is very satisfying,” says Wolfenden.
So if you help make up the 70% who feel unsatisfied at work, start evaluating why. Are you challenged enough? Is your boss a nightmare? Do you value what you do? Making changes on the job–or a career change–is not easy. But if you’re like Wolfenden and question why you took the job in the first place, change might be just what you need. You only have a lifetime to work, so why not feel satisfied doing it?
 Kelli B. Grant, “Americans hate their jobs, even with perks,” USA Today, June 30, 2013, accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/30/americans-hate-jobs-office-perks/2457089/.
 C.A.M. Roelen, P.C. Koopmans, J.W. Groothoff, “Which work factors determine job satisfaction?,” Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation 30 (2008): 433-439.
 Brooke Allen, “To get a job, write your story instead of a resume,” Quartz, March 27, 2014, accessed March 27, 2014, http://qz.com/192347/to-get-a-job-write-your-story-instead-of-a-resume/.
 Mind Tools. “Creating Job Satisfaction,” accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_94.htm.