All I Want for Christmas is a Job I Don’t Hate

A recent survey finds U.S. workers' job satisfaction has plunged.

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If you love your job, you're in the minority. The second half of 2013 saw the release of several studies with similar findings.

The bottom line: Workplace fulfillment has plunged in the past year, with Americans leading the global list of the dissatisfied, despite recent signs of economic growth. And the perks aren't helping.

Working for a Paycheck

The slight uptick shown in the October jobs report may be too little, too late – the extended down economy may have already done its psychological damage to the American workforce. A Salary.com survey of more than 2,000 employees that was released in November suggests that a significant and growing chunk of workers in this country feel crummy about what they do. Among the findings:

  • It's not love or commitment to the job that's keeping people at work: three out of four are working "just for the paycheck" in 2013, a jump from two out of four in 2012.
  • Personal fulfillment at work dropped from nearly 60 percent in 2012 to 38.5 percent in 2013.
  • While close to 75 percent expressed career commitment last year, just over half feel fully committed to their work or career in 2013.
  • Got lottery fantasies? Only 29.5 percent would keep doing what they're doing at work if they won the lottery this year, versus 41.5 percent in 2012.
  • Extra hours are getting old – while last year almost half of workers said they work overtime because they enjoy their jobs, this number plummeted by more than half, to just 19.5 percent, in 2013.
  • World Leaders in Gloom

    A study by Monster.com and GfK, a market research company, showed a somewhat rosier outlook on American job enjoyment. According to the report, a little more than 50 percent of workers in the United States like their jobs.

    But these findings were couched in more dismal news for the United States among its peers, with the U.S. logging the largest amount of job haters globally – at 15 percent – among six other nations. The study of 8,000 workers also compared job attitudes in Canada, the Netherlands, India, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

    Perks Don't Work

    These recent studies add oomph to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report. This mammoth survey had more than 150,000 participants, and found that approximately 70 percent of employees are neither engaged nor inspired at work. The most miserable of the bunch, close to 20 percent, are "actively disengaged."

    While office perks initially held promise for many employers attempting to bring smiles to their staff, perks don't really work that well after all, according to some management experts. In a CNBC.com story, Randy Allen, associate dean of Cornell University's Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, expressed the view that intangible basic benefits, like job satisfaction, are more important than frills. What's more, perk-hungry employees leave jobs sooner than average. In the same CNBC.com story, Bob Nelson, a management consultant, says that millennials who place their priority on perks tend to stay at each job for a little more than a year, compared to the 4.4-year average stay.

    What Can You Do?

    Don't feel disheartened by the news of job haters. Instead, why not resolve to make 2014 a year of improvement when it comes to your head space about work? Here's how:

    • Flex it. While not everyone has flexible job options available, 2013 research by Catalyst found that more than 80 percent do. You're likely one of them, so if you're in a rut, why not ask for a different arrangement? It just might infuse some life back into you. And don't assume only freelance writers can work from home. A new study by FlexJobs.com on the most surprising flexible jobs of 2013 found that jobs from chemists to geologists might also have the opportunity to telecommute.
    • Next it. Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker, recently wrote an extremely popular guest-post in Forbes about the 13 things mentally strong people avoid. One of those things is shying away from change. "Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge," she writes. "Their biggest 'fear,' if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant." If your unhappiness in the office is based on feeling stuck, don't sign on for more years of the same. As Morin suggests, simply say, "Next!"
    • Accept it. If you can't "flex it" or "next it" right now because of timing or circumstances, there's still a way you can feel better about your work. Morin notes that mentally strong people don't squander their energy on things out of their control. If your job is one of those things currently, you might need to accept it – at least temporarily –until you can make a change. "In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well," Morin writes. Shore up your internal resources and focus on what you can control, whether it's taking a regular lunch break or avoiding toxic co-workers. Research shows that you have more control over your happiness than you might believe – around 40 percent of your happiness is within your own power to influence. Use that percentage wisely, and improve how you feel.
    • Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, business journalist, literary agent, and author on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She serves as a speechwriter, ghostwriter, and communications consultant for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Robin has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success, published by Random House. Robin is also the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success. You can reach her at robin.madell@gmail.com.