Every time the economic pendulum swings to a recession and the dynamics of the labour market swings towards underemployment, uncertainty and difficult conditions to land the ‘perfect’ job follow. Job satisfaction under these situations should logically plummet downwards. And in a recent survey carried out in the USA last year (1), only 45 percent of workers in the USA were found to be happy with their jobs. But what the researchers reported was something more significant – job satisfaction rates had been falling steadily over the last two decades. Thus it was not all about the recession.
There would be a thousand reasons offered if workers and pundits alike were asked about the underlying causes of this trend – perhaps ranging from the ‘rise of the evil corporation’, the steady drop in loyalty towards organizations commensurate with the general rise in a hire-and-fire policies, worse bosses than before with a production-line mentality, the corrosion of team spirit to reduced benefits including health care (some of these were all mentioned in the Conference Board’s Research Unit’s report quoted above).
But what one can personally do to improve the situation is perhaps largely outside of the zone of influence of work policy makers. The mindset with which problems are created are perhaps least effective to solve them. And for that matter, perhaps Buddhism isn’t the fix-it-all solution to all of life’s challenges either.
Every day I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I’m not there, I go to work.
But three basic Buddhist baby-steps might make a significant difference to our individual work situations :
1. Mindful effort – Focusing on the job at hand, and nothing else but the job at hand, perhaps makes a huge difference to the quality of output. Increasing satisfaction scores too ? Yes, the pleasure of accomplishing a job well done surely beats all the negativity we encounter while ‘on the job’. It makes us more competitive – well yes, but isn’t faking that we enjoy our work a real deterrent to actually liking our jobs ?
2. Using work as a channel to express our kind loving and empathic nature – Even in an evil corporation (specializing in house repossessions for instance), there must be ways to express empathy, and genuine heart-felt kindness. It does make a difference, and although it may require a great deal of inner resources and emotional strength, it makes the worst of workplaces more meaningful for us.
3. A calculated measure of emotional detachment – Every job is a role we are required to play, and the job we do does not really define our life’s most important priorities. In hard times, we play more difficult roles that’s all. Ultimately organizations are collection of people, and angst against a company is as logical as being angry towards the sky when it starts pouring suddenly in the middle of the ‘perfect’ picnic. In this uncertain economic climate, where transferable skills are important, every role we undertake should perhaps be viewed as a prelude to the next role; and an emotional attachment to one role or job is often not in our best interests.
At the end its in our own hands whether to use our minds to our best interests, or to let others dictate our feelings and thoughts. Perhaps better than looking for satisfaction in any job is to focus on how much value we can put in any job-role that we find ourselves obligated to fulfill.
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