The Job Switch Conundrum — To Stay or to Leave?

It is difficult to completely eliminate job dissatisfaction due to psychological and evolutionary reasons. It can, however, be significantly lowered if its root cause is understood well and dealt with intelligently.

If I were to ask you a question, ‘do you love your job?’ What would you say? I bet not more than 20–30 per cent of people would reply in affirmative. That is a pretty low number but is that surprising? I don’t think so. We know for a fact that most of us are not satisfied with our jobs, but why is that? Why are Monday mornings so depressing for a lot of people? Why do we feel that if we get a particular job, we will be satisfied and yet that does not happen? Why do even the best employers of the world face a high attrition rate? Job dissatisfaction is so universal, and yet we hardly try to understand the exact reason behind it. So let’s try doing that.

Before proceeding further, let me tell you that in the last six years, I have been in six jobs. I therefore, have ample first-hand experience of getting dissatisfied with my job. I have worked in different roles in different organizations: startups, private companies, governmental and semi-governmental set ups, I’ve worked as a project officer, an analyst, a consultant, and am currently a civil servant.

During this journey, I’ve learnt something that I would like to share. I feel our understanding about job dissatisfaction is inadequate and merely improving our understanding can significantly lower our dissatisfaction levels, so let us try to improve our understanding.

What are the things we look for in a job? Obviously, it is very subjective. For some people, remuneration might be most important while for others job content might come first. But there are a few common ingredients which most of us look for in a job with varying degrees.

We look primarily at a few things:

· Remuneration

· Work-Life Balance

· People

· Infrastructure

· Connect with Org Goal

· Job Content

· Recognition

· Variety

This is not an exhaustive list of parameters at all. In fact, I believe there cannot be one universal list for everyone. You could have a completely different list of parameters. This is an indicative list, which will serve our purpose for now.

Now what we do is we assign a score between one and ten to all the above parameters based on how we perceive them. For example, if I feel my remuneration is low, I will assign it a value closer to zero (say three) and vice versa. After scoring all the parameters, we plot it on a graph and we get a spider chart like this (See illustration below).

Spider Model

Now, a word of caution, this total score should not be seen in isolation. It should not be considered as an absolute score of your job satisfaction, but just a tool to compare levels of satisfaction across jobs.

From this spider web, we will look at the three values required for our analysis:

i) Lowest Value Parameter or LVP — The parameter(s) with the lowest values(s)

ii) Highest Value Parameter or HVP — The parameter(s) with the highest value(s)

iii) Total Score — Sum of all the scores

Now let us consider three hypothetical scenarios using the spider model

i) Scenario One — LVP

Let us imagine a situation in which a person Bob working in Job 1 is dissatisfied with his job because he does not feel connected with the organization’s goal. He switches to Job 2 in which he feels more connected to the organization’s goal. For some time, he feels happier in the new job. But after some time, he again becomes dissatisfied, as he has to work late hours and he is not able to strike work-life balance. Why does this happen?

The spider charts of Job 1 and Job 2 made by Bob are presented below:

Scenario 1

The apparent reason for Bob’s dissatisfaction with Job1 is the parameter ‘Connect with Organizational Goal’. It is also obvious from the spider chart as it is the Lowest Value Parameter (LVP). This leads him into switching to Job 2 where he perceives a higher score on this parameter. This is pretty intuitive. If we have less of something, we try to increase it. But the underlying functioning of mind is different. This is only the apparent reason. So what is the real reason?

The real reason for dissatisfaction is that we inherently tend to focus (emphasis) on that parameter in the spider chart whose value is the lowest (LVP) more than the other parameters, and make our choices based on that very parameter. Connect with organizational goal just happens to be the LVP in this case.

Had ‘connect with organizational goal’ been the real reason for dissatisfaction for him, he would have been satisfied with Job 2. But he is dissatisfied here also. It’s just that the apparent reason for dissatisfaction has changed from ‘connect with organizational goal’ to ‘work-life balance’ (new LVP of 5). The real reason is the same — focus the LVP more than other parameters. Decisions based on LVP will hardly help him escape the cycle of dissatisfaction.

Another thing to note in this scenario is that the total score hasn’t changed much from Job 1 to Job 2.

ii) Scenario 2 — Total Score

This scenario is not very different from the first one. Here, however, there is significant increase in total score between Job 1 and Job 2 (See illustration below).

Scenario 2

Bob switches to a job not just with a higher score in LPV (i.e., connect with org goal but also with a high total score, i.e., 59) — that is a jump of 16 per cent (Illustration 23.3). Here, the job dissatisfaction levels would be lower than Scenario 1 initially. But sooner or later, he will start getting bugged by his new LPV (i.e., remuneration, in this case). Here again, focus on the new LPV will become the cause of dissatisfaction. As long as our choices are determined by looking at the LPV, there will be job dissatisfaction.

iii) Scenario 3 — Highest Score

In this scenario, Bob lands in a job where he scores at least one of the parameters as perfect ten (See illustration below).

Scenario 3

Chances are high that he has found his passion. A score of ten can compensate for the LVPs, but this is not as simple as it seems. Scoring a parameter as ten means that the person feels there is no further scope for improvement on that parameter. So technically, you cannot score remuneration as ten. Similarly, it is difficult to score recognition as ten, as it depends more on external factors thus involves subjectivity. But it may be possible to score job content as ten. I am pretty sure Sachin Tendulkar and AR Rehman would have scored their job content as ten. Similarly, it could be possible to give a ten on the parameter of connect with organisationaI goal. I guess you got my point.

Reasons for Focusing on Low Value Parameters

We have understood that there is an apparent reason for dissatisfaction, which is the LVP and there is the real reason for dissatisfaction, which is our inherent tendency to focus on the LVP more than the other parameters and make our decisions based on that.

Now let’s try delving in a little deeper, and try to understand the dynamics behind the real reason for dissatisfaction. Are we hardwired to focus more on the negatives than the positives? This is a phenomenon called Negativity Bias — it has been already explained earlier in the book using IPA.

Basically, we get disproportionately affected by negative feelings than positive ones. Imagine yourself in two different situations. In the first situation, you win an Rs 500 gift voucher; and in the second, you lose Rs 500 in a bet. Situation two makes you feel disproportionately bad than situation one makes you feel good. Negativity Bias is most probably an evolutionary phenomenon — negative feelings have helped in making us more aware of and avoiding danger, which has been a critical survival skill.

This was a very essential skill when we were hunters and gatherers. Today, we live in a largely secure physical environment. The kinds of dangers we face are very different, but there has been rapid change in our lifestyles in the last 2000 years or so, but our genes have not kept pace with it.

How to Deal with Job Dissatisfaction?

1. Awareness — Be aware about factors that determine your job dissatisfaction. Make your own spider chart and find out the LPV. This will give you clarity about the reasons for job dissatisfaction.

2. Making Informed Decisions — Understand the importance of the lowest score (LVP) in your spider chart, and don’t take hasty decisions. Try not to fall in the unending cycle of maximizing your LPV.

3. 10/10 — Try extending an already long vertex of the spider web even longer, so that it approaches ten. It is easier said than done, but you should keep trying. You might find your passion and break the cycle of dissatisfaction.

4. Reprogramming your mind — We are hardwired to think, in a particular way, focusing on the negatives. This is a very old habit, which cannot be changed overnight. In the long run, uncondition your mind and start focusing on positives rather than negatives. Meditation can be a good place to start.

The bad news is that we are somehow hardwired to dislike our jobs, so we should not be too harsh on ourselves if we are not able to find that perfect job.

The good news is that it is possible to lower dissatisfaction levels if the factors causing it are understood properly.