How valuable is job satisfaction? Is it worth losing ten thousand dollars a year in income? What about twenty thousand? How much money is job satisfaction worth?

This question is being bantered around the country as:

  • An increasing number of middle-aged workers are deciding if it’s worth it to start a second career
  • College students are deciding what careers to pursue
  • Many of the ten percent of Americans who are currently unemployed decide if it’s worth it to take jobs they suspect they won’t enjoy

How Much is Job Satisfaction Worth?

A white paper evaluating 500 job satisfaction studies (covering over 250,000 employees in total scope) put out by Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM medical journal, April 27, 2005) concluded that job dissatisfaction was associated with mental and psychological problems, self esteem, anxiety, and job burnout to a significant degree. The correlations were in the .4 to .5 range, and anything that is above a .3 correlation is considered significant.

But how much is job satisfaction actually worth? Is there any way to quantify this in dollars? Lucky for us, John Helliwell and Haifang Huang with the University of British Columbia (both are economists) have quantified various aspects of job satisfaction by associating percentages of income increases. They rated aspects of job satisfaction on a ten-point scale and correlated increases or decreases in ratings with financial wealth. Their conclusions were published in December of 2008 in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Helliwell and Huang’s analysis asserts that:

  • A one-point improvement in your trust in the management is equal to a 36% raise
  • A one-point improvement in having enough time to finish your tasks is like getting an 11% raise
  • A one-point increase in how challenging you find your job to be (that you feel you are using your skills and are a skilled employee) is worth a 19% raise

What Contributes to Job Satisfaction?

This leads us to question what exactly determines how satisfied we feel when at work.  Most of us want to blame what we do—meaning what career path we’ve taken—which is only one piece of the puzzle. The following aspects contribute to job satisfaction:

  • What tasks you actually do each day
  • The environment in which you do those tasks
  • The amount you’re paid to perform as expected
  • Who you work with (coworkers and managers)
  • How much you feel appreciated or respected for your position and performance
  • Commute time and stress
  • General atmosphere and morale of the workplace
  • Facility and amenities provided at the workplace

What Factors Matter For Your Personal Job Satisfaction?

Not everyone gains job satisfaction from the same things, just like not everyone would enjoy being a surgeon or an accountant. It’s important to evaluate what makes a job more or less enjoyable for you personally as you evaluate the worth of a job opportunity. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I work better in an office, home office, on the road, in the field, or outside?
  • Do I enjoy managing or doing the work myself more?
  • Do I prefer social contact or to work alone?
  • Do I flourish best under supervision and with deadlines, or am I happiest without restrictions?
  • Do I work best under pressure or without pressure?

Once you’ve determined what factors make you the happiest, you can start identifying the career paths that would be most conducive for your ultimate happiness.

What Does This Have to Do With Education?

When choosing a college major or deciding whether or not to pursue a second career, you’ll need to evaluate several things. It’s easy to think switching career fields or choosing the perfect college major is the only solution, but in actuality, how you get to perform your job (and with whom) may be a bigger factor than what you actually do. Keep this in mind as you evaluate education and career opportunities.

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