Days before the completion of my new book, From Making a Living to Creating a Life, The Conference Board published its annual survey into the job satisfaction levels of America’s workforce. They found that, in the year in question (2009), less than one-half of workers in the United States are satisfied with their jobs. This was the lowest proportion since record-keeping began 22 years ago.
Says Lynn Franco, The Conference Board’s Director of Consumer Research: “There has been a consistent downward trend in job satisfaction [over those 22 years], through both economic boom and bust cycles and despite improvements in the work environment, such as increased vacation days and reduced workplace hazards…This is troubling for overall employee engagement and ultimately employee productivity.”
Just think: all those leadership development programs, all those cultural change initiatives, all that surveying of the corporate climate, all that employee engagement work, all that communication up, down and sideways. And still the trend downwards…
One of the sub-sets of this general disillusionment with work which The Conference Board measures is to do with interest in work – down 18.9 percentage points, apparently, since 1987. The default way of thinking about this is that somehow my employer has to provide me with interesting work and ensure that I keep being interested. In this way, apparently, I’ll be happy and productive.
But like so much of the default thinking about life at work, this misunderstands that the accountability for being interested lies with me.
The word interest derives from Latin: inter esse – literally, to be between.
If I am interested in my work, that interest arises between me and the work, in my relationship with the work. Like my marriage, or any relationship that I am in, it is up to me how I see it. It is up to me how I find it. It is up to me what I bring to it.
The common way of thinking – the big excuse given most often when we think lazily and simplistically about so critical a thing in our life as work – is that there are some jobs which are in and of themselves boring (I’m assuming that to be the opposite of interesting). But this is no more true than saying that there are some hobbies which are boring, when this is patently untrue: every hobby is of interest to someone, or else it would not be a hobby. So too every piece of work can be found to be, can be created by us as, interesting. Probably all work has elements that we find discomforting (I personally don’t enjoy spreadsheets but that’s about confidence, not interest), but even then we have a choice: either we can step back and complain or we can learn patience and equanimity when it comes to learning from those parts of any life which are less than stellar but just as real and rich in potential learning.
And if we are really uninterested – disinterested? – in our work, then surely the question is not How ought my company make the task less dull? but Why am I applying my energy to this work? Or What am I doing with my life that I would choose to spend my time like this?
Now these, I propose, are interesting questions…