There a lot of reasons why people don’t like their jobs. Some of those reasons are solely about the job. Let’s be honest, some jobs are terrible. But some reasons are about the person, and some are about the fit between person and job. But how can you tell which is the problem?
Amy is a 42 year-old schoolteacher who finds herself struggling to get work every morning. When she comes to meet with me for career counseling, she says she is wondering if she should change jobs. Her serious work-related unhappiness consumes most of her waking hours. She thinks she is a horrible teacher and that her students do not learn anything in her class. Last week she came home in tears one day. When her roommate asked her what’s wrong, she was actually surprised when the words escaped her mouth: “I hate my job!”
What a career counselor would advise
There are a few ways I might work with Amy to help improve her mood. One of the first things we would figure out together is whether Amy’s unhappiness is due to the job itself (i.e., the mismatch between her personality and the requirements of teaching) or due to Amy’s thinking about the job and/or herself.
What makes us happy at a job?
There is a well-researched, well-supported theory of career satisfaction about how well an individual matches with a specific job. Created by John Holland, this theory suggests that people will be most satisfied with work that reflects their personality. Holland found that six categories (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional) encompass the majority of personalities. These categories also describe the majority of jobs.
For example, if Joe likes working with his hands on tangible things (a “realistic” personality), he is likely to find vocations such as mechanic, chef, or locksmith appealing. These are “realistic” types of jobs. Sal, who likes working with other people (a “social” personality), will enjoy being a teacher, physical therapist, or tour guide (“social” occupations). Similarly, if you are working in a job that has characteristics that are not similar to your interests, you may be unhappy due to the discrepancy.
Looking at job fit
To help Amy determine her fit with teaching we would look at things like her happiness with past teaching jobs. We would also discuss her perceptions about her work and other types of work or jobs she has had in the past. Let’s say Amy tells me that she always wanted to be a teacher and that she has typically enjoyed interacting with students. She also says she enjoyed her previous job as a nanny. In that case, it would be likely that her personality is well matched to the “social” job of teaching.
However, if Amy says that she finds she is happiest when she is creating lesson plans, grading papers, and received numerous promotions while working as an administrative assistant (what are considered “conventional” job tasks), then there might be some indication that the fit between her personality and the job is not ideal. Amy might be well served into looking into finding a new job. This could improve her job satisfaction and thus her mood. (Read more about how to best approach this kind of career decision.) I would ask Amy to complete a questionnaire that places her in one of these six categories. The questionnaire would compare her to workers in other jobs to give further information about which jobs might best suit Amy.
So why is Amy miserable at work?
The degree to which Amy’s personality and job characteristics don’t align could explain part of her low mood. Another aspect may be the thoughts that she has about herself and her competency at work. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help Amy examine which thoughts might be bringing her mood down. And, helpfully, it would provide her with a way to challenge and reframe these thoughts.
For example, Amy might occasionally have the thought “I’m a horrible teacher and none of my students are learning anything.” CBT can help Amy examine the validity of this thought, which is worsening her depression and making her teaching experience unpleasant. On the other hand, if we have determined that Amy’s personality is well matched to her work, then it is likely that working on changing her thinking could be helpful in improving her mood — without changing jobs.
In other words, if Amy has had similar thoughts across many different types of work, then it is likely that regardless of the fit between personality and job characteristics, she could benefit from CBT to address her thinking about herself as a worker.
For those, like Amy, who are unhappy at work, it can seem like a simple solution to change jobs. This may be true if the match between personality and job traits is poor. But there may be other times when challenging and reframing thoughts about the work may also improve mood.
Life is complicated. There are a lot of reasons why we might hate our job. Understanding the cause of the problem can be a first step toward addressing it. Read more about how to achieve job satisfaction based on the theory described above..
Adapted from http://www.drmelissahaiello.com/blog/is-it-me-or-is-it-the-job with permission.
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