Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction

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.

My Personal Lent

Today is the beginning of Lent and I have been thinking about Lent a lot recently. I did not grow up in a religious tradition that celebrated Lent, but the town in which I grew up was about 75% Catholic, so I was exposed to the idea as a child. Many of my classmates gave up chocolate for Lent. I am not sure how many of my elementary school classmates knew what the purpose of the “fasting” was. I was raised in a Baptist tradition in which the idea of making a sacrifice for the Lord for only 40 days (depending on how you count) was offensive and that true repentance meant making the sacrifice year round. I think this indoctrination is part of what led me to reject the concept of Lent for so many years.

In the last few years I have come to have a great appreciation for the idea of Lent, within in my own conceptualization of it. In looking at the meaning/purpose of Lent, I see a lot of good that can be applicable to people who do not engage in this religious practice, but perhaps do see themselves as spiritual. In recently discussing with a client a behavior that she feels she needs to give up, we have been talking about the possibility of her giving up the behavior for Lent and taking this period to reflect upon what role she wants this behavior to play in her life. The idea is that the abstinence/fasting will allow her to see more clearly the role that this behavior does play in her life and see what it might be like without it or, at least, with it in much more moderate or appropriate ways.

In talking about this refraining from behavior, we have talked about it in terms of not just being a fresh start, but in terms of repentance and cleansing her spirit, or at least giving her spirit a rest. We have talked about the fasting in terms of something she can do for her soul—to stop dumping toxicity into her body/self through this behavior. We dump toxicity into our bodies/selves when we invite drama into our lives, not just when we put into our bodies substances that hurt our bodies. We have talked about repentance, not in terms of repenting of sins done unto God, but rather sins done unto oneself.

Another common part of the Lent celebration is prayer. The purpose of prayer is to get one closer to the spirit, traditionally God. If prayer is not the way you connect to your spirit, you can engage in a variety of behaviors that helps you get closer in touch with your own spirit as well. Meditation, for example, is often a quieting of the mind in which extraneous or damaging thoughts are chased away and one focuses on one’s self—it is a communing with oneself, as it were—promoting mindfulness. Recitation or affirmation of the goal can also be prayer-substitute behaviors that can be other ways of connecting the mind and body. Within a non-religious approach “prayer” can be an act of deliberate self-reflection.

I have twice decided to give up deserts/sweet baked goods for an extended period (3 months), not so much in repentance for the sin of cake-eating, but to get back into a better relationship with my body. I have engaged in my Lent-like behavior when I discovered that I was eating deserts at a rate that threatened my health (I am diabetic) and experienced this habit as out of synch with my spirit. In other words, I was not living in accordance with how I see myself and was experiencing internal discomfort with this. I have taken the opportunity during my “Lent” to evaluate my relationship with deserts and my body and consider patterns that are more in accordance with how I want to live following my “Lent” period. I am in the midst of such a Lent-based evaluation of my behavior right now as I reconsider with what frequency and under what conditions do I want to allow myself sweets. My “Lent” followed a period of indulgence (my Mardi Gras, of sorts) of desert consumption during the holiday season. While in this fasting, the temptation of desert seems to be ever present, but each opportunity for desert allows me to look at what role desert plays in my life and what role I would like it to play.

Just as I did not begin my “Lent” on Ash Wednesday, you do not have to begin your period of self-reflective fasting at any particular time—the date is rather arbitrary. But if you are feeling that a persistent behavior of yours in causing you distress, then you may want to consider engaging in an extended fast of that behavior in which you observe and reflect upon what role and impact that behavior is having in your life. I do not imagine that I will give up desert forever after my “Lent,” but I expect to establish a behavior that better suits my intentions and relationship with my body. If I lose the path again, as I did after my last “Lent,” you can again engage in a reflective fast, in your own personal “Lent” at anytime.

Our Dirty Little Secret, So What?

Part 3: Undermining Commitment

I recently wrote about non-monogamy being gay men’s dirty little secret. This is the third and final part of my response to why it matters that it is a dirty little secret. My intent is not to cast a negative light non-monogamy, but rather to encourage that we talk, individually and collectively, about what this means for us. We have forged a working model of the gay male relationship without very good prototypes grounded in the open-mindedness for which the GLBT community is known and which incorporates male sexuality. As we close in on having our relationships recognized on par with heterosexual marriage I would like us to again come out of the shadows about relationships and have open dialogue promoting the development of ways to cope with the particular challenges of these relationships.

Many of us were taught that committing to someone means not having sex with anybody but your single primary love partner. Yet many people in non-monogamous relationships consider themselves in committed relationships. So how do you know if your partner is committed to you in this situation? This question can be especially important during the beginning stages of a relationship or during times of turmoil. This is something that many non-monogamous couples need to figure out that monogamous couples generally do not.

Non-monogamous relationships need to deal with many of the threats that monogamous couples grapple with, but with a twist. Bed-death (the decline or disappearance of sex within a relationship) can happen in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. I know of a number of couples in which both partners are having plenty of sex, just not with each other. When sex is so readily available outside the relationship, sex within the relationship sometimes becomes “boring” and may even cease to be a part of the relationship. Few relationships remain strong when the solitary (or even primary) source of sex is from outside the relationship. The emotional bond may remain strong, but is the relationship still a romantic relationship, or is it more like best friends? How do we deal with the draw of sexual variety available in open relationships such that we do not lose the sexual connection with our partners? The sexual element in monogamous relationships is fostered by the availability of sex only within the relationship, non-monogamous relationships are not buoyed by this.

The loss of sex as a bond can also undermine the sense of commitment. This can become especially threatening if one of the partners finds someone with whom he does enjoy having sex with and enjoys spending non-sexual time with. Even non-monogamous relationships can be subject to affairs, and with the open boundaries perhaps even more at risk.

It is not uncommon for someone to act out sexually when there is conflict in the relationship. Conflict is a common driving force in failures of fidelity in monogamous relationships. It also is a rather unhealthy way to deal with relationship conflict. Non-monogamous relationships make this option even easier and more subtle. How can you differentiate between horny play outside the relationship and sex that is venting unresolved relationship conflict—which is likely to foster the conflict, rather than act as a catharsis for the tension?

I have a friend who is a dad and was in a committed relationship of 8 years. He also likes to trick a lot. His relationship with his partner was explained to his son as being equivalent to his mom’s relationship with his step-father. Only his mother and step-father did not have a train of guys coming through for casual sex. So how do we explain or manage our extra-relationship sexual exploits when our children stay with us or our elderly parents move in? The special form and dynamics of non-monogamous relationships can be hard to explain to people outside of the community, whether they be family or colleague. One of the benefits of having our relationships validated in society is that we can look for support from our friends and families. We likely will not be able to fully utilize our support systems if what we seek support about is something that we feel we cannot share.

I firmly believe that non-monogamy is not in itself a threat to gay male relationships, but rather the ways in which we deal with (or ignore) the unique challenges of these relationships is a threat. Unless we open up a dialogue about these issues we will not know how to deal with them or each couple will have to invent their own way to address the concern. Unless we develop healthy ways to deal with the unique challenges of our relationships our dirty little secret will matter.