Monday 14 June 2010

A different view on Job Satisfaction

If you’ve been here before then you will know that I don’t just regurgitate content here unless I think I can add something significant to it, but I guess every rule has an exception.  One of my guys sent this around a while ago, and again quite recently (OK I get the point), and I think it’s too good not to share:

Jobs are not meant to satisfy us. Jobs are not animate things that have knowledge of who we are, what we are seeking and what our special needs could be. You may say that I am just making a philosophical statement. To the contrary, I believe that it is the most practical and rewarding way of looking at many things in a professional career. When I see scores of successful people around me, I believe that their achievements are largely because of such a perspective. It also occurs to me that developing this perspective is eventually beneficial in every way possible.

Let me go back a century and tell you a story. My grandfather was a medical practitioner in the Bihar of 1920s. He had a brood of children who were orphaned due to his untimely death. Two of my uncles had just about finished high school when he moved on. Their older brothers could not afford to send them to college. The two had to be gainfully employed, somehow, as soon as possible. They were taken to Tata Steel, an hour away from where they lived. Tata Steel and the government of Bihar were the only two employers you could think of in a five-hundred mile radius of my uncles’ hometown. The possible work one could get at Tata Steel was that of a technologist- engineer or of a manual worker. So, what could be done with the two boys with their high school qualifications? They were neither fish nor fowl. “Take them to the lab,’’ someone said. A German technician who ran the place was looking for a few hands. The burly German took a hard look at the two. Then he showed them a broom standing at one corner of the lab and asked them to sweep the floor. By the end of day, one of the two just ran away. To him, it was too much to handle. The one who stayed back retired as a chief supervisor of Tata Steel. The difference between the two? The one that stayed on was not trying to seek ‘job satisfaction’. Instead, he focused on satisfying the job.

The more prosperous the industry, the higher the number of people looking for this elusive thing called ‘job satisfaction’. Similarly, the more qualified some people are, the higher is their need for ‘job satisfaction’. Sometimes, it is as elusive as seeking ‘true love’. There are times when we get lucky deservedly or otherwise. But we also get used to it and conclude that it is the responsibility of the organization to maintain a continuous supply of job satisfaction.
Whenever I think of job satisfaction, I remember all those who have to work at night—policemen, airline pilots, nurses and doctors, ambulance drivers and hotel staff, and of course the sentinel of the snow and the desert and the mountains. Do their jobs ‘satisfy’ these people or do these people satisfy the jobs with which they have been entrusted? Are jobs living things that can ever ‘satisfy’ us?

In the corporate world, like any other place, when we open the bonnet and look under it, we find a whole bunch of tough, dirty but strategic tasks that must get done for the bacon to come home. Sometimes, they are so tough and so dirty that they overshadow the strategic nature of the job. So, all such jobs have to be ‘sold’ to prospective incumbents. More they are sold, less buyers they attract. Often, the man who takes up the job is either a loser who has no other choice, or someone who just views it as a transit camp. For many potentially high-performance individuals, a false sense of survival, desire for glamour or just the need for creature comforts make these jobs undesirable. “I would rather be in Kolkata than be posted to Mungher.’’ “I rather have the corporate planning job than be collecting bad debts.’’ Or, consider this one here: “Give me a cerebral job, I do not enjoy handling transactions. ..’’

Few of us ever ask the boss to be rewarded with a tough and dirty job. We only look for the ‘plum’ ones. Yet, there are people, who given a tough and dirty job, make it strategic: they transform the job in unbelievable ways. In a typical career span, there must be at least four such solid stints in one’s life to make the person a solid professional. All the great people I know have been in the trenches for much of their lives, and their inventory of bruises outnumber the commendations they have received. The occasional commendations stay on the wall. It is the bruises that these people carry with pride.

Subroto Bagchi

That can come across a little old fashioned on a quick read, however I think there is a lot to it when you take the time to internalise it.  When I think about the times that I’ve loved the most in my career, I can see a strong correlation with the times when I’ve been the most focussed on what needs done and making that happen.  Weird how that seems to come back to you in the form of satisfaction…

No comments: