Anticipating a Better Return on Your Work Investment

By Jerry Sain, CVCC Writing Center Director

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As a part of their career discovery process, students in my college classes are asked to interview individuals working in their career fields. One story in particular stood out as the person interviewed shared a story of how working in a skilled manufacturing facility with a family atmosphere had affected him. This person stated that people who choose to learn how to make beautifully upholstered furniture usually remain with the company until they retired. I found this personal story about people who enjoy craftsmanship and working collaboratively in the furniture industry as a lifetime commitment to be extremely interesting in contrast to other employment figures.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of January 2016, today’s American worker remains employed at the same job on average 4.2 years. Entering a field with higher education appears to make a difference. For example, the data shows that individuals with a college degree tend to remain employed in the same job longer than the average employee. “Men and women with at least a college degree had median tenure of 5.2 years and 5.1 years, respectively,” says the BLS.

Gallup polls have been surveying Americans about their satisfaction with aspects of work since 1993. The aspects of satisfaction that the survey addresses cover a wide range of topics that are of interest to workers. These topics include health insurance benefits offered, vacation time, retirement plans, earnings, chances for promotion, job security, recognition for work accomplishments, supervision, work load, relations with coworkers, safety conditions, on-the-job stress, and flexibility of work hours.

While satisfaction with these particular aspects of work has been improving over the past ten years, according to Gallup’s 2015 research, “no more than one in three workers are completely satisfied with their salaries, stress levels, chances for promotion, and retirement plans.

When seeking employment, the choices for work opportunities vary widely in today’s improving economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in the third quarter of 2016 that the number of job openings equaled 5.5 million. Making the right choices can make all the difference in aligning skills, abilities, and interests with the values that make a job opportunity more desirable.

Author and psychologist Barry Schwartz has studied the motivations of workers in order to better understand how work can be more fulfilling and satisfying. Swartz is quoted as saying “We want work that is challenging and engaging, that enables us to exercise some discretion and control over what we do, and that provides us opportunities to learn and grow. We want to work with colleagues we respect and with supervisors who respect us. Most of all, we want work that is meaningful—that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way.” While this generalization does not apply to everyone seeking a job, it does provide some fundamental ways to consider the values that hold importance for others.

Finding the job that you desire often takes serious reflection on the standards that hold the greatest importance for your personal happiness. Many people accept jobs knowing that their pay may return less than other opportunities for the simple fact that they find the work matches their sense of doing good for others. Finding the most interesting job that provides the right elements of satisfaction and contentment requires knowing the values that motivate us most in advance of choosing a field.

The trade-offs for higher wages or benefits can often make individuals unhappy with the workload or the hours required to complete tasks. Finding the work environment that provides the challenges that

you enjoy alongside stimulating people is a great accomplishment. Understanding a sense of purpose in your work can contribute greatly to even the most mundane jobs.

Many people feel that routine work falls short of providing the enjoyment they seek in their work life. However, the interview with the individual working in the furniture industry showed me that some jobs that appear temporary can provide the path to achieving a more stable and rewarding career. Choosing work that allows you to express creativity and find greater purpose in daily tasks and responsibilities makes for a longer career. Choosing the returns on your work investment that are most important to your objectives can help you establish a better plan for fulfilling work experiences as opposed to random job shopping.