Everyone wants a career they love and that brings them happiness or at least job satisfaction. But what makes for the perfect job? While there’s no definite answer, emerging research suggests that four workplace characteristics — realness, collaboration, security, and belonging — factor heavily into the job satisfaction equation.
Here’s why these four characteristics are so important and why they should be on your radar in your current role or when searching for a new one.
The 4 Pillars of Job Satisfaction
1. Find a job that brings out your “realness.”
Our jobs can sometimes force us to act in ways that don’t align with our true beliefs and attitudes. While this is often the price we pay for being a part of an organization, it can be psychologically destructive — especially when the gap between our personal values and the interests of the organization becomes too wide.
In fact, new research appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that the personality trait of “realness,” or the tendency to behave in a way one feels on the inside without regard for personal or social consequences, is a more central part of personality than previously thought — and one that has implications for healthy psychological functioning.
Across a series of studies, a team of researchers led by Christopher Hopwood of the University of California-Davis found that people who expressed higher levels of realness had fewer maladaptive personality traits such as neuroticism, self-monitoring, and fear of negative evaluation.
In other words, realness is a product of psychological maturity — and the ability to express realness in one’s job reflects a mature and mutually beneficial relationship between the employee and the employer.
This does not mean that employees should feel empowered to express themselves in ways that might be construed as impolite or offensive. But they should never feel like they can’t express their true beliefs, especially when those beliefs are made with the best interests of the organization in mind.
2. Collaborative offices are happy offices.
All companies strive to be collaborative. Collaboration is often seen as the organizational glue that brings about higher levels of productivity.
But there is a non-economic case to be made for collaboration as well. Research suggests that helping our colleagues can positively impact our own psychological well-being.
For instance, a recent study conducted by a team of psychologists at the University of Missouri-Columbia asked a group of research participants to engage in a series of behaviors that pitted acts of self-directed happiness against those aimed at improving the happiness of others. In one experiment, people were approached on the street after parking their cars. They were given a few quarters and were asked to either feed their own parking meters or the meters of an adjacent car. The researchers then asked participants how happy they felt. Interestingly, people who fed others’ meters showed a greater boost in happiness than those who fed their own meters.
The same logic applies in a work setting. We feel good when we are given the opportunity to make our colleagues shine. We gain job satisfaction for ourselves when we see others are satisfied too.
3. Job security is a basic human need.
Anyone who has ever had to stick it out at a bad job is aware of the toll this can take on our mood. But less of us may be aware that a bad job can fundamentally change our personality.
According to recent research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, people who experience prolonged episodes of job insecurity are at risk of becoming less agreeable, less conscientious, and more neurotic.
These results provide yet another example of “personality fluidity,” or the idea that personality is not as “fixed” or unchangeable as we might think. Emerging research suggests that our personalities evolve gradually over time. For instance, research has shown that people tend to become more conscientious, less narcissistic, and more emotionally stable as they age — a phenomenon known as the “maturity principle.”
However, an uncertain work environment can push things in the other direction, causing the negative aspects of personality to become a more central part of who we are. For this reason, it’s a good idea to prioritize stability and security in one’s current and future professional roles.
4. Find a job where you truly feel like you belong.
Being employed is one of the best ways to improve our psychological well-being. Research consistently shows that employed individuals are more satisfied with their lives than unemployed individuals.
But not all jobs are created equal. A new study covered in this year’s World Happiness Report shows exactly what to look for to maximize your workplace happiness.
The researchers examined the extent to which the following 11 characteristics influenced workplace happiness:
- Feeling like we achieve our goals at work
- Having a clear sense of purpose
- Feeling appreciated
- Feeling a sense of belonging
- Having time and location flexibility
- Working in an inclusive and respectful environment
- Learning at work
- Having a manager who helps us succeed
- Being paid fairly
- Feeling supported
- Trusting our colleagues
They found that the top four drivers of job satisfaction were belonging, flexibility, inclusiveness, and purpose. Interestingly, having a helpful manager was the characteristic least associated with workplace happiness.
Conclusion: Looking for a job that allows you to express your realness, incentivizes collaboration, is stable and secure, and makes you feel like you belong is a great way to find career happiness.