Decades ago, our grandparents would have had easy answers to that question. They would have pointed at a field harvested, a box of widgets manufactured, or at least a pile of papers processed. For knowledge workers in the Information Age, it is much harder to identify the tangible results of a day in the office.
Almost everything that we do is virtual. We debate in meetings, answer emails, fight through bureaucracy, and type away on our computers. The result for many is frustration and decreased job satisfaction. A great article by Jared Sandberg in The Wall Street Journal analyzes the effect of intangible work results on employee satisfaction and makes some great points.
I was struck by the quotes from successful knowledge workers who said that they envy people with lower-paying and less prestigious jobs that offer immediate and tangible feelings of accomplishment. One insurance broker even cited his envy of Mr. Fred Flinstone, who always seemed so satisfied to slide down that dinosaur’s tail when the whistle blew at the end of a work day at the quarry.
The article also speculated that these feelings of frustration may be partially responsible for the boom in weekend do-it-yourselfers. A management consultant confessed that she took up needlework to get the feelings of control and accomplishment that she was missing at work.
I can definitely relate to the sentiments quoted in the article. I used to leave the office at the end of the day exhausted, but feeling like I had just spent hours running on a hamster wheel. Not every day, but far too often.
I don’t think this feeling is inevitable in the Information Age, though I do think it’s hard to avoid in many bureaucratic corporate environments. Sandberg suggests that setting meaningful short-term work goals can help people feel more satisfied. Making to-do lists can also help. It’s an undeniably great feeling to cross an item off the list. Cutting back on meetings and unnecessary red tape can also make you more productive.
Working for myself, I still spend a lot of time on my computer, but I also feel a strong sense of accomplishment almost every day. The drawback of working for myself is that I never get to slide down the dinosaur’s tail when the bell rings at the end of the day. I often work late into the night, but I have autonomy over where, when, and how I work. For me, that has significantly boosted my job satisfaction even when my daily work results are hard to define.
What’s your take on the impact of sense of accomplishment on your job satisfaction?