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Yes, But What Do You Really Want?

In these times of high unemployment, you're the one who should really care about job satisfaction.

You probably heard the news last week. According to a survey done by the Conference Board, employee satisfaction hit an all-time low in the 22 years that the think tank has been conducting the survey. Which sounds like a horrifying sea-change, but in fact two years ago the same survey reported an all-time low in the (then) 20 years it has been conducting the survey.  So maybe the trend is more “more of same” than “oh my gosh!”

In the last 10 years we have come to believe that maybe we’ve gotten this whole employee engagement thing down.  And the challenge before us now is simply not to let all that wisdom go to waste in an era of “they should just be grateful they have a job.”  We want to keep the basic principles alive and relevant. Not something to be unearthed a few centuries from now by corporate archeologists.

But lately I’ve come to wonder about the fundamental belief that we had employee engagement down to, shall we say, a science.  We’re still surrounded by anecdotes of truly twisted management personalities (how do these people get promoted anyway?). I have a couple of friends who work for frequent players on the Best Companies to Work For list (the big one in Fortune). And they say something to the effect of, “yeah, well, if you really knew what goes on here.”  One of my friends says that  if she were to be seriously considering a job at one of those companies and she found out that they had placed in the top 100 on the list, she’d withdraw her application immediately.

(On the other hand, just so you know, I also know of some fantastic managers who inspire trust and creativity – even loyalty -- in their teams primarily because their people know they can relax and focus on the job at hand. So it’s not all dismal out there.  It’s just dismal a lot.)

So really (and I’m just wondering here…I don’t have a confirmed platform on this topic), seeing as how this is definitely a buyer’s market when it comes to employment right now, maybe the burden of being happy in our jobs is currently on us, not our managers?  Remember, I don’t know. I’m just asking. Managers aren’t incented to suddenly become basic decent human beings, because those who weren’t to begin with will be the first to tell you, “Don’t like it here? Leave. Plenty more just like you out there.”  They’re wrong, of course.  But being right is cold comfort when you’re at home scouring the job postings.

Frankly, when it comes to the satisfaction of individual experience at work, who cares what the national trend is?  It’s about you. (The national trend is only interesting to geeks like me who are still fortunate enough to have corporate clients who sincerely care. But that won’t get you a job either.)

So it’s about you and your experience on the job. Given the current buyer’s market situation , what will make you happy? Do you know?  A salary that will help you pay all those bills you rang up when cash was free-flowing? A raise that will help you meet that reset on your ARM? A manager who notices that, yes, you are indeed a human being who takes pride in your work?  And deserves a little common courtesy, thank you very much?  A job that actually might lead you somewhere in your career?

Coworkers who are actually teammembers not competitors over that last scrawny bone that they call a job opportunity?

In reasonable times, it would be, well, reasonable, to expect that you could indeed expect it all.  But for the time being, maybe we should find a way to be happy with what we’ve got (just for now, it’s not forever);  or to know ourselves and our priorities to seek our next job that will meet those must-haves that only you can rank in order of priority.

And you know what?  These times will pass. And employers once again will wonder, “How do we attract and keep the very very best?”  The really terrific employers (that would be my clients now) are asking themselves that question regardless of the economy.  The other ones? The ones who are letting truly brutal managers have a field day with the hearts and minds of their needful  direct reports?

Well, won’t they be sorry?

In the meantime, you will know that you have spent this time taking care of yourself.  And that’s what matters most.