The business world’s current emphasis is on finding ways to improve employee satisfaction. Surveys, polls and town hall meetings are common ways to examine a company’s culture, satisfaction levels and opportunities for improvement. At first glance, improving employee satisfaction may seem an obvious strategy for improving productivity. Unfortunately, it may also mask advantages that are associated with identifying EMPLOYEE DISSATISFACTION. Please do not misunderstand: We are not advocating unpleasant working conditions, poor leadership or other factors commonly associated with dissatisfaction on the job. Instead, we are recommending that employees (and managers) pay attention to dissatisfaction when it is present, and then identify the source (or sources) of that dissatisfaction. Widespread dissatisfaction may require organization-wide interventions. Other times, however, managers and employees can view sources of dissatisfaction as opportunities for learning, growth and development.
Two of the most common attributes technical people say that they want from their work environment are: (1) “the opportunity to use their best skills”; and (2) “challenges – or what they perceive to be opportunities to resolve difficult issues” on the job using those skills.
When the current work environment does not offer employees opportunities to use their current skills to resolve difficult issues, positive employee motivation suffers and begins a pattern of reversing itself from the highest to the lowest levels of satisfaction. In other words, employees experience dissatisfaction.
When the source of dissatisfaction is the work itself, employees are faced with a career challenge. How can you recognize when dissatisfaction is a temporary misalignment, or if it is a call for a career change? We have found that when dissatisfaction levels are found to be minimal, and have only occurred recently, there is no reason for major concern. Low levels of dissatisfaction may occur when employees are between major projects or when their assignments become routine rather than challenging. Such low levels of dissatisfaction may serve as motivation for individuals to explore other areas of the business or to seek special committee or team assignments – a win-win situation in which both the business and the individual benefit.
In contrast, when the dissatisfaction level seems to be deep-seated and does not seem to be changing or going away, employees’ concern level should transition quickly from the “back burner” to the “very front burner” of their attention.
This scenario is especially true in today’s business environment where, at the majority of businesses, company management is no longer responsible for employee development and training; and it is especially relevant when you consider the marketplace reality that job security is no longer a certainty for the majority of people. The reality of the climate at most businesses today is that the employees are responsible for their own career development – since that responsibility no longer rests with the company.
We have observed that employees’ self-confidence and personal self-esteem levels increase when they decide to personally and proactively take responsibility for their own career development, and they do so in a planned and systemic manner. When employees are no longer simply reacting to “the whims of their company” or the marketplace, and accept the notion that they – not their employers – are responsible for their own career development and begin taking steps to achieve their professional goals, it is as if they have accepted the marketplace reality that they truly are the entrepreneurs, or managers, responsible for their own career and development.
This shift in responsibility means that individual employees must continually be vigilant of how their personal career is developing (or stagnating) at their company of choice.
So, how can you take charge of your career? How can you assess where you stand, in terms of skills and alignment with the business? To help assess your satisfaction/dissatisfaction levels with your current position, you should continually be asking yourself questions like:
- Are my current skills aligned with the needs of the business?
- Is a gap developing between my skill set and company needs?
- Am I being asked to contribute to the cutting edge of product development technologically?
- Am I being relegated to less-challenging assignments and tasks?
When the answers to these questions indicate alignment with company goals and good use of your skills, you will continue to be satisfied with your current position. However, when the answers tend to go in the opposite direction, levels of personal dissatisfaction can increase. And the level of dissatisfaction corresponds to the gap between the two.
When you take charge of your career, it does not mean that you must change companies. In fact, in many cases, it is just the opposite. When you come to the realization that you are being “eased out of the mainstream of technology” at work, you can take charge and change this dynamic within your company. This is when dissatisfaction becomes a positive motivator for career growth. For example, many bosses are pleased when an employee comes to the recognition that his or her skills are beginning to erode and brings this concern to the boss’s attention (who is undoubtedly already aware of it). In turn, it can become a positive when the boss learns that that same employee has already formulated a preliminary plan of action to more closely align his or her skill set with the company’s technological plans.
By discovering and utilizing dissatisfaction in this manner, dissatisfaction can become a major positive, because it creates a magnificent motivator for self-awareness to begin the process of “re-inventing” yourself in your career. In some cases, it will only mean changing or enhancing a few things. In other cases, it may require more of a total “reinvention” of your skills. Each case is different and unique. Motivation for change increases when you become aware of dissatisfaction and its sources.
In future articles, we will articulate how to effectively measure various levels of dissatisfaction; how to create a self-assessment inventory of your own career; how to take charge of your own development; and how to create a plan of action that the boss will positively subscribe to and support.
Richard A. Feller, MBA, Ph.D., has personally reinvented himself several times. He began in academia, first as a faculty member, then dean at a comprehensive technical and liberal arts two- year institution that was later identified as a national model by the U.S. Department of Education. From here, he joined a Fortune 50 company with responsibility for the executive, managerial, and technical education for 7,000 employees; quickly followed by his transition to a corporate level executive position responsible for change management, strategic and succession planning for global electronics technology at the Fortune 50 Company. Following this experience, responsible for enterprise wide change, he teamed with the CEO of a Fortune 200 semiconductor business in Silicon Valley, and assisted the organization to transition from a $500m loss and near bankruptcy to being recognized as the Turnaround Company of the Year. Next, as the CEO of a software company, he crafted the turnaround of the technological organization into a global force. He is currently the CEO of a business which specializes in the design and build of multi-million-dollar, single family, certified green technology, “smart” homes in the Washington, D.C. area.
Peggy G. Hutcheson has reinvented herself from being a working journalist, to corporate manager, and then entrepreneur and academic. Dr. Hutcheson is best known for her expertise in connecting employees to changing work roles through organizational and individual career development. In her work she consults, trains, and manages large and small client projects for businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. Peggy has published numerous articles, e-books, and essays on career development topics including Restoring Balance to Your Work and Life, Maintaining Career Competitiveness in Uncertain Times, Career Development: Developing and Managing Talent, and many others. She is currently on the faculty at Kennesaw State University. Dr. Hutcheson has served in a number of volunteer roles in IEEE-USA. Currently she is a member of the IEEE-USA Communications Committee and the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee, where she is a past committee chair.