Job dissatisfaction: A general guide to preventing it

Job Dissatisfaction

Job dissatisfaction is a pretty big deal in the world these days. Globally, the state of employee engagement has been called “a crisis” by Gallup. Respect in the workplace, specifically between managers and their direct reports, is not a very rosy picture. In late August 2016, I was sitting in a Bethesda, Maryland Starbucks watching people arrive at work one Friday morning. I pulled out my phone and texted a bunch of my friends: “Lambs to the slaughter.” That’s honestly what it felt like.

Now, some of those people were probably making $200,000 a year. If salary is supposed to be such a motivator, why is job dissatisfaction so high? I’d take two arguments here:

  • Salary is a big motivator, but it isn’t everything
  • A lot of times, “what you have to do for that salary” is what drives job dissatisfaction

On Bullet No. 2: the long and short of it is that we live in an achievement-driven culture, which has created this myth about what “success” looks like. If you spend all week answering the bell for your bellowing boss, and you don’t see your wife/kids/friends/etc., that to me is not “successful.” But to some people, it is. Company-building and market share-stealing is the closest that some men ever get to real fun. As a result, a lot of the rest of us end up working for those men. Job dissatisfaction soars. It’s a nice little circle, yes?

Job dissatisfaction and LinkedIn data

Not really sure how I feel about LinkedIn. It’s annoying people call it “social media” — it’s a CRM or a job board, really — and the “active user” thing is frustrating. (They always claim 450M or whatever, but in reality I bet less than 70M check it more than three times/year.) Still, here’s a post on their official blog: “The Most Fulfilling Jobs And Places To Work In The U.S.” Since LinkedIn’s data was supposedly worth $26 billion to Microsoft, you figure this might be interesting. Then you scroll down to the bottom and apparently this data is based on slightly over 1,000 people. A little bit annoying, but let’s persist.

You get 3/4 of the way down and boom:

Job Dissatisfaction Reversal Factors

There has previously been research (better than this) on the factors we need for meaningful jobs, and that research lines up with this stuff. So that’s good!

The five factors

All seem logical. To wit:

Salary: Makes sense, as your salary determines the type of life you can have in a capitalism. If it’s low but you’re still hitting a lot of targets, I’d auger that would create job dissatisfaction. The issue: most people don’t understand what their salary represents or how it’s determined, which gives all the power back to the organization from hiring through promotions.

Positive relationships: We’re social animals, so this is important. Problem: Wanker-ass bosses fray social bonds on the regular.

Doing work that has a positive impact: Feels logical, although sometimes I think people say this on surveys to sound like better human beings than they really are. We’re still not sure if “mission and vision” lead to profits.

Work-life balance: I could go on a rant about this, but won’t, so read this.

Feeling challenged at work: Honestly, many jobs don’t need to exist. They were the result of unclear priorities and dumb headcount discussions. When you land one of those jobs, it’s super-high job dissatisfaction. You essentially just twiddle your thumbs all day.

How could we lower job dissatisfaction?

The big two would be:

  • Better managers
  • More logical hiring processes

Neither of these is going to happen anytime soon. We still train managers from a playbook written in 1911, and People Analytics — using data instead of subjective bullshit to guide hiring decisions — is 5-10 years off, if not more.


A lot of all this goes back to the concepts above about achievement. For better or worse, a lot of people (both genders) connect their self-worth very deeply to their work. That makes work a very emotional place, but we often try to make it a logical one. Big-time “square peg, round hole” shit there. That intersection point is where job dissatisfaction occurs.

One of my last gigs went down like that. I got sold some grand plan to “be more digital” and “embrace content,” and I ended up moving about 980 miles for it. What happens by like, Day 3? No one has time to meet with me, all the plans we discussed in hiring are essentially scrapped/back-burner, and the real people I need to work with are 1200 miles away in Seattle. They’ve barely met me, so I can’t get an answer from any of them on anything. Now I’m in a meaningless job, doing meaningless shit, twiddling my thumbs, and I don’t know anyone in the city around me. I pulled myself out of that — then got fired! — but that’s the essence of job dissatisfaction. And it happens to people all the time. Why do you think I write this blog? For my health? Nope. It’s to explain these issues.

What else would you say on job dissatisfaction?

Ted Bauer

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