Jobs and the Future of Work

What drives job satisfaction? Researchers think this is the answer


It's less of what you do, but more who you do it with. Image: Unsplash/Marten Bjork

Douglas Broom
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Future of Work

  • Being interested in your work might not be the key to job satisfaction.
  • Your boss and colleagues are more important, a new study of data going back to 1949 says.
  • But being interested in what you do will improve your pay and promotion prospects.

Hate your job and want to move on? Chances are that it's down to your boss or the people you work with, rather than how interesting you find the work.

What defines job satisfaction?

A new study based on data going back to 1949 turns conventional wisdom about the sources of job satisfaction on its head. Far from the generally accepted notion that it's down to the work itself, people, it seems, could be the most important ingredient.

“To be satisfied with a job, you don’t have to worry too much about finding a perfect fit for your interests because we know other things matter too,” says Levin Hoff, an assistant professor of psychology at Houston University.

“As long as it’s something you don’t hate doing, you may find yourself very satisfied if you have a good supervisor, like your coworkers, and are treated fairly by your organization.”

To reach his conclusions, Hoff and his team analyzed 39,600 interviews conducted over 65 years.

a group of co-workers discuss a project in the office
Colleagues may be more important to job satisfaction than your interest in your work. Image: Ronald Carreño/Pixabay

Pay and promotions

They also found that while interest in a job may not matter much when it comes to satisfaction, it does help with career prospects. “Being interested in your work seems more important for job performance and the downstream consequences of performing well, like raises or promotions,” says Hoff.

Career guides have traditionally advised young people to look for a job in an area that fits with their personal interests. Hoff says it's still a useful approach but it's no predictor of long-term job satisfaction.

“In popular career guidance literature, it is widely assumed that interest fit is important for job satisfaction,” he says.

“Our results show that people who are more interested in their jobs tend to be slightly more satisfied, but interest assessments are more useful for guiding people towards jobs in which they will perform better and make more money.”

Job Satisfaction factors

Hoff’s findings are borne out by a study of 2,500 US workers last year in which more than half said the people they worked with and their immediate boss were more important to their job satisfaction than whether they were interested in their work.

Fewer than half of those surveyed said their satisfaction at work depended on their pay or their work-life balance, instead rating job security, paid holidays and their workplace environment, more highly.

A survey in June this year by HR firm Randstad found that although two-thirds felt COVID-19 had negatively impacted on their work, three-quarters thought their boss was supportive and was looking after their well-being.

a chart showing how job satisfaction has decreased
A recent survey found nearly three-quarters of people globally are satisfied with their job. Image: Randstad

Who’s happiest?

In the same survey, workers at both ends of the age range and those with higher qualifications said they were the most satisfied.

Men were more satisfied than women, although the balance was reversed among workers aged 45-67 with older women enjoying more job satisfaction than male colleagues.

On the global stage, India has the most satisfied workforce, followed by Argentina and the US, while, according to Randstad, Portugal, Hong Kong, SAR and Japan sit at the bottom of the job satisfaction league table.

Top skills of 2025. Image: WEF

Future skills

Still, as Hoff’s report says, while it may not always be key to satisfaction, interesting work plays an important role in many people’s careers and performance. And with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, jobs that exercise the grey matter will grow in importance.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 forecasts that COVID-19 will accelerate remote working and automation, predicting that machines will displace 85 million manual repetitive jobs.

At the same time, it says, 97 million new jobs will be created. In-demand skills of the future will include analytical thinking and problem solving as well as creativity, social influencing, team working and resilience.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkStakeholder Capitalism
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