How serious are you about performance improvement? Are you serious
enough to stop fooling yourself into believing that employers can
control how workers think and feel, and therefore how well they
perform? That's the fundamental idea behind job satisfaction and
engagement programs - make workers happy and enthused about
fulfilling the employer's purposes.
Employers have been gratifying workers to improve performance since
the Industrial Revolution. Sadly, the results have been
consistently inconsistent even during periods when workers were
desperate for work, like today. Here's why:
- People perform in response to their emotions that are caused by
what they think, and employers lack the power to control how
- The ability of workers to independently control their thoughts
to affect performance enables them to function in an unyielding
manner to their work conditions, regardless of whether those
conditions are satisfying, engaging, or not.
- People don't work at, choose, or change their careers with the
intention of fulfilling an employer's purposes, least of all for
job satisfactions that they realize are here today, but could be
gone tomorrow. Workers can't be kept happy or enthused for very
long when expected to fulfill purposes other than their own.
- The conditions for job satisfaction to exist cannot be
maintained except on a temporary basis. As people age and their
interests evolve, they eventually expect more, something new or
different to keep them satisfied, making it impossible for
employers to keep all workers satisfied all the time. Unless
budgets are unlimited, job dissatisfaction is inevitable.
- The futility of attempting to make and keep workers satisfied
jeopardizes the potential of workers to allow themselves to be made
When you objectively analyze those five points it becomes clear why
traditional efforts to improve performance by making workers
satisfied and engaged are problematic. No matter what employers do
to persuade workers, their attitudes and performance are still
optional. This helps us understand why workers continue to complain
and quit after making them satisfied and engaged. But it also gives
some insight into how some workers are able to stay in their jobs
and continue to perform well despite circumstances that are less
Embedded in those five points are clues to a worker-centric,
innovative, and timely solution for improving performance,
regardless of challenges posed by the failed economy, budget cuts,
layoffs, job eliminations, and even reductions to wages and
benefits. But for you to spot that urgent solution, it requires a
Career contentment is controlled by the individual
Not unless I decide first that I am content to work
somewhere and stay there can employers hire me, make me satisfied
or engaged, or even try to retain me. My independent control over
the emotion of contentment to manage my career and fulfill my
purposes, with or without job satisfaction, always trumps an
employer's outside programs to persuade me to fulfill purposes
other than my own. This is referred to as career contentment, and
this powerful emotion has been long overlooked as the source of my
authentic vocation, self-motivation, natural engagement, and
resilience to persevere and perform well despite my circumstances.
For performance improvement to be effective it can't rely on trying
to control how workers think, which is impossible, or making
workers temporarily happy and artificially enthused to fulfill
purposes that are not their own. Instead, it involves capitalizing
on a worker's self-motivation, natural engagement, and resilience
to perform well by control of her career contentment derived from
fulfilling her own purposes for working.
Satisfaction and engagement programs are important to improving
performance, but their effectiveness is inconsistent and
conditional on the degree to which workers allow themselves to
become dependent upon employers for jobs and satisfactions that are
not guaranteed, and their willingness to forfeit or adapt their
purposes to fulfill the employer's purposes.
Neither of those two conditions is conducive to self-motivation,
natural engagement, or good performance, and they potentially
conflict with a worker's desire for authentic vocation and control
of their career contentment to achieve it. Career-minded workers
don't want to look back on their career one day and realize with
regret that they fulfilled their employer's purposes but neglected
their own. In either case, a worker's control over their career
contentment supersedes an employer's attempts to persuade them.
Implementing the new paradigm of career contentment opens a new
frontier for performance improvement and training to implement it.
Here are few suggestions for getting started:
- Stop causing workers to expect that employers are responsible
for making them happy.
- Begin training workers on how to recognize their career
contentment and how to leverage it.
- Provide work that employees decide is meaningful to the
fulfillment of their purposes.
- Give workers control over what they do and how they do it.
- Recognize and reward employees' decision to be content without
- Assume that workers should be happy just to have a job.
- Assume they should forfeit or adapt their purposes to fulfill
the employer's purposes.
- Offer engagement programs in situations where engagement can't
- Disrupt flow in situations where workers are passionate,
self-motivated, and competent.
- Credit yourself or others for the contributions that workers
Now that you understand career contentment, see if you have it.
Follow this link to a free self-assessment: