2006-02-08

What Makes a Good Job?

After doing more detailed results on the salary survey this year, I find myself writing an article in hotnews and saying, "here are some good fields to go into"… but, that made me think… a good job is much more than gender equality, job availability and salary



I am thinking we should really consider adding some questions next year about perceived job security and overall satisfaction with one's current position. Those thoughts led me to analyze what factors make a job "good". These are the types of things I found myself really thinking about on a long flight back from the left coast last weekend, and I came up with a few major points: 
  • Type of Work
  • Change
  • Pay
  • Management
  • Coworkers
  • Physical Environment

Type of work:
Is it interesting? Is it attainable? Is it manageable?
I’ll use myself as an example here… I work mainly with MEP systems, but, break up the monotony with disaster planning, future expansions, historical research and other things. My job is definitely interesting.
Attainable? Are you able to do the things that you know need to be done? In the past 6 years, I have managed to make the common tasks much quicker and more effiecient and yet! there are so many more things we should be doing and further benefits our department could offer to the rest of the facility. But, there are many obstacles: workload, budgets, politics, etc. So, in some parts ‘yes’ but overall ‘not so much’.
Is it Manageable?
Is the workload bearable? Can you handle the tasks you’re expected to do, with an acceptable level of quality? 'Yes, I can complete the tasks without anything blowing up' or, 'No, I’m always so far behind people call for my head at every staff meeting?'
And, this isn’t just about difficulty or volume, but, more of combination of the two. I have many challenging tasks, but, most are just dull and numerous. My most-repeated mantra is that I didn’t spend four years in college to photocopy blueprints. ~shrug~ But, the most important part of working on a team is everyone contributing where they are most needed. 

So, mostly manageable is my diagnosis.

Change:
This can be good and bad… Lynn Allen made a great example at AU a couple years back… something to do with roman chariots and modern automobile wheelbase.That’s an over-simplification of her fabulous example, but, I’m wordy enough already without adding that in.
 

So… is your company so constantly changing that noone can really keep up or become productive before someone trots out the next best thing? 
Or, is your company so mired in the past, or the habits of its users that they just can’t move forward to embrace new technologies?

I think I’m really stuck in the middle on this one myself. Some people are willing to examine new things, but, unfortunately, in a company as old as mine, with such a large number of diverse employees, syncing up with all of the people/workgroups necessary is nearly impossible.

Pay:
I’m not just talking about hourly rate or salary here, I will also throw in other types of compensation: 

  • vacation
  • retirement plans
  • pensions
  • childcare/reimbursement accounts
  • continuing education benefits
This will depend on your industry, your location and your experience. Some companies are more concerned about their bottom line and profit margin than they are about retaining the best employees. I am very lucky in that my department, along with my employer, have a fairly low turnover rate of skilled personnel and routinely review job classifications and payscales to ensure that we’re staying competitive. But! That could be a consequence of being a non-profit as much as anything. Whatever it is, most people are pretty proud to work here. (I would be interested to hear how/if others in for-profit industries ensure their employees’ wages remain competitive)

Management:
This is obviously a huge factor that can make or break a job.


Can you talk to your boss without being scared/dismissed/etc? 


Do you have a clear delineation on management/self-direction? Meaning, are you able to set your own priorities in your work, does your manager inform you which jobs are most important, or does he/she expect you do manage your own work, periodically swooping in to mix it up?


No matter what the problem is, the answer is probably going to be communication. I am not making this assertion because I am female, I assure you that it is vital for all. 

Not only, are you in an environment where you are free to communicate your concerns, but, also, on a more personal level, can you commicate with one another on a level you are both comfortable with, and which is most effective? I won’t go into too many details here, but, sometimes, you just ‘get’ people and their intentions, and other times, you look at them (or they look at you) like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears.

Also… how much manager, and how much human are they (tic)? Are they more interested in making themselves look good, or making their people and their positions the best for the future? Sometimes people have agendas. 

Personally, I operate on a total WYSIWYG level. I do not understand ulterior motives or hidden agendas. This likely means I’ll never excel in management, but, that is quite alright, I think. I like to believe that I am more practical than anything (although, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I might just be oblivious).
I will say that my boss (I want to guess he’s been in management in our company for about 7 years, I’ve been working there for 6), is a cool guy… but, sometimes I think he’s speaking a foreign language. A lot of the time I really have no clue what he’s saying, but, I try to listen closely, because he’s dropped some really important bits of information, about how things work, politically, sociologically, etc. and encourages me to find the answers to difficult questions myself, rather than running to him all of the time.
I reallly try to stay as open-minded as I can, because, I have to admit that I am young and someone who has been in the workforce since I was in diapers (or prior) probably has a lot to teach me. 


Empathy should be the key word in forming opinions about your employer or…

Coworkers:
Well… as much as a boss can make or break the quality of a job, so can your coworkers.
Are you working laterally with them, such as in a situation where you are equally responsible for the outcome of a project? Are they slacking off, or creating more work for you by doing sloppy work? Are they refusing to follow standards or use more efficient methods? Do they ask you the same questions over and over again without, evidently, learning a darned thing? Or… are they just personally offensive to your environment? (Strong perfume or smoke smell? Not washing their hands after restroom or sneezing? Spending too much time invading your workspace? Trying to draw you into their own personal drama? Taking personal calls, listening to voicemails on speakerphone, etc?) 

They can be mean people, or they can be nice people that you just can’t stand for certain reasons. The point is, they add stress to your days, and you have no control over them.

Physical Environment:
Is your job safe? Can you do the work you are paid to do without hurting yourself? Are you given the proper equipment to safely do your job? 


In our field, as drafters and designers, that can mean the often-ignored issue of ergonomics, which I’ve covered before both here on my blog and in my LUG newsletter. We shouldn’t have to end up with carpal-tunnel syndrome. I feel free to tell my boss that my wrist is experiencing some slight pain or tingling and I’d like to order a wristguard for my mousepad or keyboard… or, in my secretary’s case, a stand to position the computer monitor at the proper height.

This could also encompass things like travelling or commuting. Noone wants to spend over two hours in a commute, whether because of boredom or family obligations. Some people might enjoy being able to travel for their jobs, others might resent the time away from home.


So, of course, there is no one thing that makes a job good or bad, but, a combination of everything above and more. 


I would be interested to hear if you think I’ve missed anything major. In your opinion and experience, what factors make a job 'good'? 


If you have found this topic interesting, you might also like to read about "Two-factor Theory" (also known as Herzberg's Motivation-Hygeine theory). This theory suggests that the things which satisfy employees and things which dissatisfy them are separate. It is an interesting read.
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