April 10, 2023

How to Like Your Job: Thoughts for Entering the Workforce

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

Want to like your job? It helps if you are upper income, have earned a postgraduate degree, and are 65 or older. But this probably won’t help you if you are a recent graduate about to look for a job.

As we enter college graduation season and many new grads are beginning their journey into the workforce, it is important to figure out not just what you want to do but how you want to live.

Commencement speeches are filled with platitudes encouraging graduates to go out and conquer the world, to make a difference, and to just “go for it,” whatever that means. I hear these speeches every year at our university’s commencement ceremony, and the advice often rings as hollow today as it did for me when I graduated. The truth is, finding a job and a workplace you like takes a lot of trial and error. Sometimes this might mean switching gears, changing employers or even career paths. But it also might help to consider issues that won’t show up in a job description and aren’t things you will put on your resumé.

Pew Research Center recently published a report, “How Americans View Their Jobs” that contained the findings noted above about Americans’ satisfaction with their jobs. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who report the most job satisfaction are also likely to be those who have jobs that pay well, have more employer-sponsored benefits, and have paid time off. Higher paid (defined in the study as those earning more than $131,000), highly educated workers are more likely than others to report that their job is highly connected with their identity.

What other factors likely contribute to job satisfaction, according to the Pew report?

  • Feeling like your contributions are valued
  • Feeling like your employer cares about you
  • Having paid time off
  • Liking your coworkers
  • Being able to develop new skills
  • Being treated with respect
  • Feeling physically safe

In a separate study, Pew found that working from home or a hybrid schedule helped respondents experience more of a work/life balance and meet deadlines, although those working from home report feeling less of a connection with coworkers. Working from home, at least some of the time, implies a level of trust that you will get your work done and a degree of autonomy.

It’s hard to know if a particular job will tick off all of these boxes until you get started, but looking carefully at the job description might help you identify hours and benefits. Websites like glassdoor.com provide company reviews from current and former employees that might be helpful.

Realistically, your lifestyle will change over time, as will your job-based needs. When I first graduated from college, I liked having a job that allowed me to sleep late and work late. Now I need the opposite. Friends and family members have had jobs they despised, stuck with them out of inertia or the inability to find another job, but found renewed purpose when given more responsibility. And sometimes a difficult supervisor leaves and the whole atmosphere changes—for better or for worse. In some cases, a productive conversation with a supervisor can help redefine one’s job trajectory and satisfaction, or lead to a new job search.

As I wrote about in a previous post, it’s been decades since I have held a nonacademic job, but I had several before finishing graduate school. One job stressed me out so much that I dreaded Sunday morning, knowing that Monday was coming. Another involved drafting rude letters dictated by my employer which violated my values made me feel complicit in degrading other people. On some of these jobs, I was yelled at by strangers and coworkers. These experiences helped motivate me to attend graduate school and find more meaningful work.

I didn’t make a list when navigating my circuitous path to becoming a professor, but here are the things that matter to me today:

  • Autonomy
  • Being in a supportive environment that emphasizes respect for all
  • Doing work that feels meaningful
  • Learning new things (a requirement for professors!)
  • New challenges and opportunities
  • A few hours of downtime during the work week
  • Hybrid work

What’s on your list?

Comments

I totally agree with your opinion.

Seeking feedback from current or former employees through platforms like Glassdoor can provide valuable insights into the work culture and employee satisfaction within a specific organization.

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