Compared to whom?

Apr 04 2011 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

Many people manage to "make a living" without ever experiencing significance or meaning in their work. But rather than exploring or discovering the root causes of their dissatisfaction and their frustration, they choose instead to pin the blame on external factors be it education programs, health and pension programs (albeit, often quite justifiable), poor management or sub-optimal workplace conditions.

These folks are driving themselves to their own spiritual, emotional, and physical poorhouse in new automobiles, eating at swank restaurants, buying the latest must-have gadgets, all the while suffering from stress, overwork, overwhelm and an environment polluted by industry. They allow themselves to be devoured by the corporation and spend relentless amounts of energy and time (a lifetime, for many) clawing their way up the corporate ladder to achieve what they perceive to be success - to be(come) a "somebody".

On the way, they set aside their dreams (dreams that were once real) and tailor their lives and personalities to what the "market" demands. They practice "power dressing" and "power lunching", develop a "winning personality", but all the while mired in the quicksand of emptiness. This leads to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and some flavor of disease. In their quest to be "somebody", they burn out without ever having been on fire.

What is it about work that leads so many to be so dissatisfied and so unhappy?

Some questions for self-reflection

  • Could I be contributing to my own dissatisfaction at work? If so, how?
  • Do I view my company or manager as responsible for my happiness at work?
  • What is it about work that excites me? If nothing or, "not much," then why do I choose to remain there? How might I turn this around?
  • What personal and professional goals have I set for myself? If I don't have any, could that contribute to my unhappiness?
  • What lessons did I learn about myself at work last year? I did learn some lessons, didn't I? How can I leverage these to increase my satisfaction at work this year?
  • What mutually-supportive relationships do I want to develop at work?
  • What self-defeating habits do I want to eliminate?
  • Are there toxic people in my life who contribute to my unhappiness at work?
  • Who can I serve, support, coach or mentor that will bring me satisfaction or increase my happiness at work?
  • How have I grown at work during the past year? I have grown in some positive way, haven't I? If not, why not?
  • What one or two baby steps can I take this week or this month that can increase my satisfaction at work?
  • How did my parents relate to work as I was growing up? Has that influenced how I relate to work?

A while back, a special issue of Time Magazine had an article about what is known as "reference anxiety" in other words, "keeping up with the Joneses", constantly comparing one's self and one's "stuff" with someone else's.

The same thing takes place in work environments and is characteristic of many of today's workplace cultures.

This "reference anxiety" syndrome even accounts for the widening gap in income distribution. As the Time article explains:

"Paradoxically, it is the very increase in money . . . that triggers dissatisfaction [. . .] clinical depression is 3 to 10 times as common today than two generations ago . . . money jangles in our wallets and purses, but we are no happier for it, and for many, more money leads to depression. [. . .] millions of us spend more time and energy pursuing the things money can buy than engaging in activities that create real fulfilment in life . . ."

Perhaps the dissatisfaction element lies on a much deeper level - it's about the inner person, not about the externals.

In other words, it's not the work that's the problem when it comes to worker dissatisfaction.

It's curious that of the thousands of business books that are published each year, barely a word is devoted to friendship in the workplace I mean real friendship, not the empty back-slapping stuff, that is a poor substitute.

Yet relationships rule the world, even the world of work. Finding meaning rules one's deeper sense of happiness, fulfilment and well-being, even in the world of work. It's relationships - first with yourself, then with others - that must be examined to explore the root causes of employee dissatisfaction.

The spirit of an organization begins and ends with the spirit of each individual. When we come to life with the right values, we are grounded on a foundation of truth, honesty, integrity and self-responsibility. From this place, dissatisfaction can more easily morph into satisfaction.

So, ask yourself why worker satisfaction is continually falling?

Perhaps it starts with "me," not with "it," "him," "her" or "them".

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.

Older Comments

I agree, fix the person and the problem gets fixed but often workplaces are not set up for really friendships and individuals find it difficult to be who they really are - out of fear. Regards Mel

Mel Clifford