Frederick Herzberg proposed that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are two different things, rather than just two ends of the same continuum. Roughly, he suggested that job satisfaction is related to the inspirational (one’s sense of mission) and internally rewarding (sense of achievement) aspects of a job and that job dissatisfaction is related to the burden (policies) and externally rewarding (benefits) aspects of a job. In talking with clients about their feelings toward their job, I use his theory in at least an exploratory way to facilitate discussion and thinking. Ideally one wants to experience high job satisfaction and low job dissatisfaction. While evidence suggests that the two ideas are not as independent as Herzberg claimed, there is some support for the differential effects of the factors.
In exploring with a client if his or her job is satisfying, I look at what Herzberg called motivation factors: challenging work, opportunity for growth, recognition, responsibility, and personal sense of achievement. A lot of this is task based—“do you enjoy what you are doing in your job?” or “how do you feel about the work (not the job) specifically?” This can include how one feels about the overall importance of one’s work: doing research on the impact of mining on the environment may be very rewarding in itself, but not feel as good if it is for a mining company that is using the information to skirt or exploit environmental protection laws. Job satisfaction appears to be grounded in life-job values. Job satisfaction appears to be associated with how much one aspires in his or her work.
When helping a client explore what feels bothersome about a job, I try to look at what Herzberg refers to as hygiene factors: work environment/corporate culture, hours, working condition, job security, salary (compensation), and fringe benefits. A lot of this is workplace based—“how do you feel treated by your employer?” or “how much do you enjoy your coworkers?” This relates more to job stress: enjoying a task and feeling that it will make a real difference may be very rewarding in itself, but not feel as good if you are constantly behind schedule or working long hours every day. Job dissatisfaction appears to be grounded in how fairly one feels treated. Job dissatisfaction appears to be associated with much one engages in sabotage, theft, or loafing at work.
In working with clients I have also extrapolated the idea onto overall quality of life, as life satisfaction and life dissatisfaction and have found this useful as well (if not actually scientifically founded). Life satisfaction analogously relates to how inspired one is in his her life, while life dissatisfaction is analogous to how burdened or stressed out one feels.
I help clients explore if they are feeling challenged, experiencing personal growth, feel connected, or feel that they are making a difference in their personal lives. In other words, is one socially and intellectually stimulated and rewarded. Similarly, I inquire if clients feel that their lives are monotonous or they feel that they are laboring at what they do outside of work. Ideally, our interpersonal relationships feel fulfilling and that we have some purpose.
In exploring relative levels of life satisfaction I often ask the question as “are you living or simply waiting to die?” A “simply waiting to die” stance suggests low life satisfaction, but also low life dissatisfaction—it is more like numbness. I then try to work with a client to find a sense of purpose or meaning—something to live for or work toward. If a client expresses enthusiasm for life, but also feeling bogged down, that usually suggests that they have high life satisfaction, but also high life dissatisfaction. With a client like this is often a matter of removing what feels like obstacles—often obstacles with which he or she has become comfortable or has come to depend on. Clients both low in life satisfaction and high in life dissatisfaction frequently experience a sense of helplessness/hopelessness—they feel burdened by being alive and without any reason to be alive. These are, of course, the clients that scare me the most and are most challenging. With them I need to work with them to both develop a sense of purpose and simultaneously develop a sense that improvement in life is possible.
How satisfied and dissatisfied are you in your job and in your life? Looking at these ideas as separate things rather than ends of a singular continuum may help you recognize areas of your job or life that you want to improve or change.