As a manager, you want employees to be happy in their jobs. Let me suggest a more worthwhile goal: career contentment. Career contentment is a state of mind that enables your talent to enjoy their work without complaining. True contentment comes from within; it does not come from perks, programs, and pay managers and employers provide. As such, career contentment is not something you can make available to your employees. However, there are steps you can implement immediately that encourage them to recognize and pursue their own career contentment.
An employee who is in the wrong job or lacks meaningful work will leave, no matter how hard managers like you try to keep him or her satisfied. But one who is content in the right job is more likely to stay, even if he or she is not entirely satisfied with pay, working conditions, benefits, and other “things” that are out of that employee's control. Therefore, it is possible to lack job satisfaction but still have contentment about one's work.
Because employees can’t control the outside factors that are supposed to make them happy—pay, co-workers, rate of promotion, benefits, etc.—they also can’t control their level of job satisfaction. Moreover, they have no way to hold on to it once they achieve it. Job satisfaction is temporary; the conditions that create it can be here today and gone tomorrow. Yet career contentment remains a lasting state of mind that an employee possesses—one that no one can take away.
As a talent manager, once you understand the distinction between job satisfaction (provided by employer, and thus temporary) and career contentment (comes from employee, cannot be taken away or given), you can take steps to help your company's talent achieve it.
Managers who want to improve employee retention and performance, and reduce job dissatisfaction complaints, would be wise to train employees how to recognize their own career contentment. Here are eight ways to do it:
- Support them from the start. Have a well-developed orientation program for new hires, and give them the resources they need, or information on how to get them, so they can thrive in their new environment.
- Make sure the employee and job are a good fit. Are the competencies and expectations associated with this employee’s job realistic or sufficiently challenging in relation to her abilities and interests? If not, this employee will complain, under-perform, or leave.
- Know your employee’s career vision. Does the employee have a clear vision of what her future at your company holds for her? Do you have a plan in place regarding where you’d like this employee to go? Do her plans and the company’s plans for her mesh? Discussing her future will help you and the employee identify her role, expectations, assets, limitations, and possible obstacles.
- Match employees with meaningful work. It is not possible to create meaningful work for your talent. It is possible to match employees with work that gives them meaning and fulfillment. An employee who feels fulfilled and supported in the pursuit of meaningful work is a resilient employee—and that is to everyone’s benefit.
- Support them in their development. Let employees know that development is ultimately their responsibility, but you will enable the process. Ask the employee if she feels she receives the right training to suit her needs when she needs it. Make training and resources from professional and trade associations abundantly available to employees who seek them.
- Give them the resources they need. Do you make sure employees have the resources they need when they’re involved in special projects? Make sure employees have enough funding, up-to-date equipment, and adequate staff to encourage good performance. Reiterate that the rest is up to them.
- Remind them that career contentment is their job, not yours. As a manager, you should tell employees early and often that it is the employees' responsibility to recognize and pursue their own career contentment, rather than expecting the company to make them satisfied. Employees who learn to take charge of their own happiness at work learn to be self-sufficient and are highly motivated.
- Don’t try to hold on to employees who are discontent in their work. These employees are probably in the wrong job or have not developed a predisposition to recognize their contentment. If despite their efforts and your assistance they cannot find contentment, they should consider changing jobs or careers.
Remember: It’s not your job to make employees happy. Employees have the choice to be happy, roll with the punches, view challenges as opportunities, and take initiative to find fulfillment. It’s their responsibility—not yours or your company’s—to make sure they’re learning, thriving, and progressing in the job. Let them know that you support and will help them accomplish these goals. Employees who really understand that career contentment comes from within will thank you for freeing them from the relentless pursuit of job satisfactions over which they have no control.
Jeff Gartonis founder of Career Contentment, Inc., an executive search and career-coaching firm, and host of “Career Contentment Radio,” broadcast on VoiceAmerica.com Business Radio Network. His new book is Career Contentment: Don’t Settle for Anything Less (ASTD Press, 2008, www.careercontentment-the book.com).