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Do People Really Hate Their Job? (And Can You Change That?)

By
Veryable Editorial Team
July 19, 2022
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There is a lot of talk about how difficult it is for businesses to find and keep workers. Whether you call it “The Great Resignation” or another term, something is clearly happening. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is, “What’s driving this?”.

There is no lack of speculation on this question. Some believe people are lazy. Others believe that workers have hated their jobs for a while and used the shuttered economy as a chance to move to new opportunities. 

In this article, we’ll look at what the data says about whether people hate their jobs, what work arrangements are best, and what businesses can do to ensure they have right-sized labor capacity.

 

The biggest drivers of people quitting a job

The Pew Research Center conducted a very interesting survey in February 2022. The top categories of reasons given for quitting a job were:

  • Money - The most frequent reason for quitting a job in 2021 was “Pay was too low” (63% of respondents).  If you add “Benefits weren’t good,” which was mentioned by 43% of respondents, and “Working too few hours” mentioned by 30%, at least 31% of all answers are related to money (respondents could pick multiple reasons in their answers). That, however, was not the biggest reason people left their job.
  • Growth - The second most frequent reason for leaving was “No opportunities for advancement” with 63% of respondents describing it as either a “major reason” or a “minor reason”. This equates to 14% of all answers.
  • Culture - The third biggest answer (57%): employees “Felt disrespected at work.” Let’s place this in the “Culture” category, and note that as a “major reason for leaving,” this one came second only to pay. We can also place in this category “Employer required COVID vaccination” (18%). The total for “culture” is 17% of all answers. Important for sure, but not the main driver.
  • Flexibility - The next most important reason for leaving a job, placing fourth, was “Because of childcare issues,” cited by 48% of respondents. Is flexibility then the least important driver? Not if you place in this category some other responses such as “Not enough flexibility to choose when to put in hours” (45%) and “Working too many hours” (39%) and “Wanted to relocate” (35%): flexibility is in fact the number one reason for leaving, with a total of 38% of all answers.

In summary, it seems that the search for better flexibility and more money were the two largest contributors to the Great Resignation. Which brings up other questions:

  1. Does quitting mean workers hate their job?
  2. Is this a one-time abnormality, or a long-term trend? 

 

Do people hate their job?

If people hate their job, we have a problem, and it’s unlikely to disappear quickly. So, how many people hate their job? Well, how you ask the question and how you conduct the survey will give you different results. Objectively, the data tells us that “hate” isn’t a very good description of how most people relate to their job.

As always, you have to be careful about the details. An article by Zippia claims that 65% of U.S. workers are “happy with their jobs,” but when you look at the source data from Gallup, you find that this is actually the percentage of workers who say they’re “completely satisfied with the physical safety conditions” of their workplace, which is something quite different.  

The wording of a question is definitely important: when looking at job satisfaction by age group, only 31% of those in the 18-29 age group say they are “satisfied with their job,” a number that climbs to 42% for those aged 30-49 and peaks at 49% in the 50-64 group. 

Similar to this correlation between age and satisfaction (the lower one is, the lower the other), there is a pay-satisfaction correlation: the lower pay they receive, the less satisfied a person is. 

But as far as measuring how much people hate their job, Gallup’s engagement survey provides the best insights. This respected organization has been studying work topics for many years and finds in its latest survey that 36% of workers are engaged with their work, 51% are neutral, and 13% are “actively disengaged,” which is the closest description you’ll find for “hate my job.” 

These results are similar to those found by the General Social Survey, which has been asking workers since 2002 about their satisfaction at work and found in 2021 that 16.4% are “a little dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.” The percentage of workers who are engaged at work has been steadily climbing from 26% in 2005 to 36% in 2020.

Still, having between 1-in-8 and 1-in-6 workers dissatisfied is not a good thing, and those numbers might be underestimated.  Dissatisfaction results from a continuing gap between one’s aspirations and reality. It’s possible that the relatively low reported dissatisfaction numbers reflect a coping mechanism by employees that takes the form of lowering one’s expectations or choosing excessively positive answers so as to reduce cognitive dissonance, which would make those numbers just a lower bound.  

In any event, businesses can’t afford to ignore the situation and be content with the relatively high satisfaction numbers. They’re high, but still far from 100%.

 

The importance of control—internal control

As Douglas McGregor recognized, the fact that humans are “perpetually wanting” beings is a good thing, because those wants are a condition for motivation.

A prerequisite to motivation is believing that we have power over our actions and surroundings (this is called “having an internal locus of control”). Some psychologists have even described the need for control as a biological imperative. One way to prove to ourselves we have control is by making decisions. 

In other words, locus of control is a learned skill. Charles Duhigg, in a book I highly recommend (Smarter, Faster, Better), explains that part of what a Marines boot camp is designed to do, is to reinforce internal locus of control, which Marines call teaching a bias toward action. Another thing Marines learn at boot camp is to ask themselves and others “why am I doing this?” when things get tough. That’s because motivation is easier when the task has a personal meaning or purpose. 

According to Duhigg, this might explain why, although a Marine’s starting salary is only $17,616 a year, the Corps has one the highest career satisfaction rates. You can see the same mechanisms at play in nursing homes: residents who take control of their surroundings live longer and healthier lives. 

In summary, motivation increases when the choices we make show us in control, and endow our actions with larger meaning. This brings us to how on-demand labor changes things.

For workers who are most likely to suffer from dissatisfaction at work and for the industry sector that needs as many workers as it can get, on-demand labor platforms offer a solution. We know from talking to Veryable Operators that one of the things they value is being in control. Making decisions about what Ops to bid on gives them the internal locus of control that too often is missing on the shop floor. 

 

Empowering and motivating: a challenge for many managers

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Another aspect in this discussion comes from Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. It basically says that factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from those that lead to job dissatisfaction. 

Among the factors producing job satisfaction we find in order of decreasing power: achievement, recognition for achievement, work itself, responsibility and growth or advancement. 

Among the factors producing job dissatisfaction we find: company policy & administration, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary, relationship with peers, status and security. 

The theory was first drawn from a study of 203 engineers and accountants, but at least 16 other investigations on a wider range of populations have replicated the original. In total, a sample of 1,685 employees from all walks of life were asked what job events had occurred in their work that had led to extreme satisfaction or extreme dissatisfaction on their part.

Two different types of needs are involved here. One set of needs stem from humankind’s animal nature: pain avoidance and all the learned drives that become conditioned to basic physiological needs. The other set of needs relate to the ability to achieve, and through that, to experience psychological growth. 

 

Avoiding dissatisfaction

As an example of pain avoidance, money in our societies is the means to obtain food and shelter, hence pay is a “hygiene factor” which leads to demotivation when it’s too low, but doesn’t mechanically create motivation when it exceeds a certain level.

 

Pursuing satisfaction

The stimuli for growth needs are things like job content, whereas for pain-avoidance, they are found in the job environment.

 

The challenge

The problem is that everybody is different and has different wants. In the traditional organizational design, it is up to HR departments to design the mechanisms by which people are motivated, as can be seen with “Total Rewards” systems. But this is a fallacy; in practice, it is up to managers to understand the true needs of their team members and define ways to increase and maintain their motivation levels. That’s a problem for two reasons:

  1. Managers are rarely trained in or skilled at finding the true needs of their subordinates.
  2. Even if they were, doing so requires an enormous amount of time and effort, and there’s no guarantee that what is true at time t will also be true at time t+1.

 

The solution

A comprehensive analysis of almost 150 research studies shows that empowerment is the best intrinsic motivator. The feeling of empowerment comes from judgments people make about four aspects of their work: 

  • How much choice do I have? 
  • How much impact does my work have on others? 
  • How competent am I when performing my work?
  • How meaningful is my work? 

This dimension is the most powerful source of job performance and satisfaction. Leaders can do three things to strengthen it: 

  1. Display empowering leader behavior (e.g. model desired behaviors, encourage members to participate in decision-making, coach, share valuable information, display concern and care for individuals).
  2. Create empowering structures and systems (maintain a supportive organizational climate; protect your team members; show trust; design work that creates variety, significance, autonomy and feedback; explain expectations, constraints, job purpose, and who the stakeholders are).
  3. Build high-quality empowering relationships (an analysis of almost 250 studies found the strongest correlations with “quality of relationship with leader” to be “satisfaction with supervisor” and “employee empowerment”).

As you can see, empowering takes time!

 

How to use the on-demand labor model to address dissatisfaction at work

Is there an alternative? Yes! Those who know best what workers want and what motivates them are the workers themselves, not the managers. Workers are also the best people to act on this. Furthermore, taking action will provide them with a sense of agency and control, which increases motivation and satisfaction. What is needed, then, is to place people in conditions where they can make decisions based on highly visible and clear information.

When businesses organize in the way Veryable has been advocating, this can be greatly facilitated. We advocate for companies to determine their “stable workload.” This is the workload that is free from typical variation. If you’re familiar with control charts, that’s the lower control limit on a graph of your customer demand. 

We strongly believe that businesses will maximize their performance when they set their full-time employee levels to meet this quantity of workload, and build and manage a pool of on-demand labor to meet the variation of demand beyond this level.

When a business chooses this form of production system, they can provide workers with self-selection opportunities: some people will find the job security and predictability of being a full-time employee more rewarding, while others will find satisfaction in being in control and exploring a variety of companies, industries and jobs.

 

How on-demand labor benefits your full-time employees

When a business has a solid base of full-time employees and an equally solid variable labor base (we call it “Your Labor Pool” or YLP, to indicate that this is a group of on-demand workers you’ve vetted and built up), it can start to structure its organization accordingly. 

This starts by messaging consistently and credibly to its full-time employees that:

  • they have job security
  • with lifetime employment comes mutual responsibility and loyalty
  • the company invests in its people through lifelong learning
  • part of any job is to pursue continuous improvement

The role of managers in this system is to identify and prioritize challenges so that continuous improvement not only drives the company toward its future needs but does so in a way that provides growth to all workers.

 

How on-demand labor benefits on-demand workers

Workers who value an internal locus (i.e., who have a strong need to have control over various aspects of their life) and need more variety and renewal than others will naturally gravitate to on-demand labor. The very nature of this type of work meets their needs better, but businesses working with them should follow some guidelines to increase their attractiveness to these workers: 

  • Develop standards so that work is performed with consistency and the learning phase is shortened
  • Involve these workers in your continuous improvement activities. They will be very valuable because they combine the worker’s intimate knowledge of the process with the outsider’s perspective and questioning mind.
  • Extend learning opportunities to these workers. They may work on demand, but they’re also part of Your Labor Pool and you want this pool of workers to improve their skills just as much as you do for your employees. In doing so, you will also play to their strengths: a sense of initiative, wide exposure to different situations, and a desire for growth.

 

Attaining flexibility for businesses and workers

FlexibilityAgility

In conclusion, the belief that most people hate their job is lacking objective support. Sure, anybody will have bad days, but you’re hating what happened to you that day, not your job per se. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves: a majority of workers do not find their job engaging, much less love it. 

The ability to have a job that engages you depends on a simple question: are your needs met? Because every person has a different set of needs and a different weighting on the common needs we all share, the best way to find a good fit is to maximize their exposure to different environments and thus the probability of finding the right one. 

You can improve this probability by communicating loud and clear about who you are, what work is like at your company, what rewards people can expect and what is expected of them in return. At Veryable, we believe we are changing the conditions under which both workers and businesses struggle, and that flexibility offers the best solution. 

We could even imagine a time when the normal way to hire employees and to find an employer is to get to “know each other” through ops! You can start a new labor model today by creating a free business profile on Veryable's on-demand labor platform.

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Veryable Editorial Team

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