The December 2010 issue of T+D magazine mentions six
trends that the editor says will change workplace learning forever.
One of those trends refers to a subject that I developed and wrote
the first book about, which is Career Contentment (2008,
Training on this new topic - career contentment?teaches workers how
to experience a fulfilling career and remain productive despite
work conditions that employers cannot always make satisfying. This
is important because budgets that used to satisfy workers are
shrinking, and people are taking jobs they do not want or staying
longer in jobs they do not like, just to have a job.
Without career contentment training, workers in the new economy are
unlikely to be content with what they have, and they will waste
time and emotional energies complaining about what they lack. They
will be predisposed to whine about what is going wrong and miss
what is going right. Some might even quit and take their
complaining elsewhere, never reaching a point of fulfillment or
peak performance. These are the byproducts of a business culture
that is focused on two dimensions that are employer-centric in
nature or that lack an emphasis on career contentment.
Currently, the business culture focuses on just two dimensions of
employment that employer's can control: a worker's dissatisfaction
or a worker's satisfaction in exchange for the fulfillment of the
employer's purposes for hiring them.
Regardless if job satisfaction is intrinsic or extrinsic, workers
cannot have either without the job and associated rewards that
employers control. Workers may think that they control their
intrinsic job satisfaction, but they have no control over what made
their job intrinsically satisfying in the first place, or how long
it remains that way. Jobs, rewards, and satisfactions exist at the
will of employers. They are here today, but could be gone tomorrow.
What these two dimensions demonstrate is that job satisfaction is
not a human emotion that workers control. It is a condition, which
means that it is provisional on whether employers are able to
fulfill worker expectations and keep them fulfilled.
While employers control job satisfaction, workers control their
career contentment?where they work and their decision to leave to
fulfill their own purposes for working. They make those choices by
flexing their emotions. They can choose to be discontent and leave
despite an employer's best efforts to make their job satisfying and
engaging, or they can choose to be content with their work and
remain productive despite their lack of job satisfaction. It all
depends on whether workers believe that their work allows them to
fulfill their individual and evolving purposes for working, which
may have nothing to do with the employer's purposes for hiring
What these additional two dimensions demonstrate is how workers can
make career choices without regard to any one employer, or the work
conditions they cannot control. They do this by flexing their
emotions, which only they can control. Employers do not have the
power to control how workers think, which is how they create their
How powerful is the emotion of career contentment? Not unless a
worker decides first that he or she is content to work somewhere
and stay there can employers hire them, make them satisfied or
engaged, or even try to retain them. This is a psychological fact.
Career contentment trumps traditional job satisfaction. If a worker
is in a job that fulfills his employer's purposes, but that he
thinks is wasting his time and talents, he will leave and it will
not matter what his employer does to make him satisfied.
Integrating Four Dimensions
Any discussion about worker motivation and performance improvement
would be one-sided or incomplete without taking into account both
the employer-centric dimensions and the worker-centric dimensions.
Just because an employer gives someone a job and makes them
satisfied and engaged does not guarantee they will be happy and
enthused to stay in their job to fulfill the employer's purposes.
Why people choose and later change their job and career is to
fulfill their own purposes. The following points and illustration
will help to shed light on the different dimensions.
- Dimension 1 describes the optimum situation where
the worker has both career contentment and job satisfaction. He is
in the right job that fulfills his individual purposes, and the
employer is making him satisfied. Unfortunately, no job stays
perfectly satisfying forever. This is because circumstances change
and the effects of job satisfaction and engagement programs are
always temporary at best. As people age and their individual
purposes evolve, they eventually expect more and something new or
different to keep them satisfied.
- Dimension 2 is where workers spend the majority of
their careers. They have career contentment without job
satisfaction. This means the worker is in the right job that
fulfills her individual purposes, but that work conditions are less
than satisfying due to long hours, low pay, and lack of
recognition, a bad boss, or other reasons. In this case, career
contentment enables her increased resilience to persevere and
perform well until her circumstances improve, or until her purposes
evolve, causing her to move. The worker is in a job that is wanted,
but she is not happy with the work conditions.
- Dimension 3 describes when the worker is in a job
that does not fulfill his individual purposes for working. He has
job satisfaction without career contentment. Either he is receiving
a new calling to a different job or career, or he knowingly
accepted an interim job for the money until he could find a better
one. In either case, the employer is continuing to make the worker
satisfied with income, benefits, and so forth. However, it is only
a matter of time before the worker's lack of authenticity compels
him to make a move. He is in a job he needs, but does not want on a
- Dimension 4 is the least desirable scenario for
workers. The worker lacks both career contentment and job
satisfaction. Her job does not fulfill her individual purposes for
working and the employer is not making her satisfied. She is in a
job she needs but does not want. It is just a job.
Just because workers are remunerated for their time and talents
does not mean they should forfeit their own purposes for working.
In his now classic article, "Management By Whose Objectives,"
Harvard Professor and Psychologist Harry Levinson made the point
that self-motivation occurs when workers are enabled to pursue
their own purposes. He said the manager's job is to help workers
fulfill their purposes, and then capitalize on their resulting
self-motivation and natural engagement to benefit the business.
However, he says what happens is managers assume that workers
should adapt their purposes, or they should leave. If they choose
to stay, their discontentment will be appeased by making them
The problem with this still current but antiquated logic is that
satisfaction is not a human emotion but discontentment is, which
means that employers are attempting to control what they cannot.
Contentment cannot be given, purchased, or persuaded in the same
manner as job satisfaction or engagement. This helps us to
understand why generations of workers have continued to complain
and quit after decades of attempting to make them satisfied and
engaged. Programs implemented from the outside in do not work,
except on a temporary basis.
Psychologists have known for some time that workers are motivated
by their emotions, not by whether their work conditions are made
satisfying or engaging. Workers create their emotions by what they
think about their work conditions. The best HR programs in the
world could be insignificant to workers, if that is what they
choose to think. Employers can only attempt to persuade how workers
think, but those efforts are futile when workers are preoccupied
with their own purposes. Abraham Maslow told us the same thing with
his hierarchy of needs.
The pathway to increased productivity and retention involves
teaching workers how to achieve and maintain their career
contentment, while simultaneously continuing to make them satisfied
and engaged. This refers to the integration of all four dimensions,
and converging individual purposes with the purposes of the
organization. Google demonstrates how taking this approach has
contributed to their amazing growth.
Google enables workers to spend up to 20 percent of their time on
projects that are meaningful to them. The only caveat is that a
worker's projects must ultimately contribute to the fulfillment of
Google business objectives. Google has not only enabled the career
contentment of workers, they have capitalized on their good ideas.
New multi-million dollar revenue streams were created thanks to
worker ideas, including: Gmail, Google Talk, Google News, instant
messaging, Orkut social networking, and Google Code Jam. All of
these products were the result of enabling workers to pursue their
individual purposes, and then adapting those purposes to Google
Here are few basic tips on how to begin building a career
- Stop causing workers to expect that employers are responsible
for making them happy.
- Begin training workers on how to recognize and leverage their
- Provide work that employees deem meaningful to the fulfillment
of their purposes.
- Give them control over what they do and how they do it.
- Recognize and reward their 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 cannot
- disrupt flow in situations where workers are passionate,
self-motivated, and competent
- credit yourself or others for the contributions that workers
Career Contentment Training
Career contentment opens a new frontier for performance improvement
training. Training on this new topic teaches workers how to do what
they love, but also, how to love what they do without complaining.
They learn how to achieve career contentment in all four dimensions
by intentionally focusing on the fulfillment of their individual
purposes for working?not just the rewards. If they cannot do this,
it is because they will not adjust their thinking, or they have put
themselves into the wrong job and should make a move. The reality
is that workers have no control over what employers do to make them
satisfied, except by their choice of work or their decision to
leave. They accomplish nothing by complaining about what they
cannot control. Alternatively, they can leverage what they do
control, which is their thoughts and emotions to manage their
career to achieve contentment, regardless if they are made
satisfied or not.
Consider this example of the struggling actor. As he develops his
craft and strives for a break, he takes a variety of interim jobs
that he does not like but which he needs to pay bills and put food
on the table. While those interim jobs have nothing to do with his
chosen career path, they do enable him to fulfill his short-term
purposes. He does not care about interim job satisfaction. He cares
about his immediate purposes and long-term career contentment,
which those interim jobs help to enable. Why complain about a job
that is enabling him, and when complaining would not make a
difference except to exacerbate his struggles and deteriorate his
Although generations of workers have been conditioned to believe
that their fulfillment is co-dependent on employers to make them
satisfied, their authenticity and career choices are guided from
within by the emotion of career contentment. A person's career is
the pursuit of contentment derived from work that he decides is
meaningful to the fulfillment of his individual purposes, not
simply the employer's purposes for hiring him.
Enabling workers to fulfill their purposes is the key to unlocking
their self-motivation, natural engagement, and enduring resilience
to achieve higher productivity and retention?provided their
purposes have been converged with the purposes of the business.
This is the idea of career contentment, which is easier and much
less expensive to accomplish than investing to make workers
satisfied, and then reinvesting to make them engaged, only to
continue fixing the same dissatisfactions year after year. What was
tried has not worked, except on a temporary basis.
Now that you have a better understanding of career contentment, see
if you have it. Follow this link to a FREE online self-assessment:
Jeff Garton is a career HR professional and
ASTD bestselling author who developed the concept and wrote the
first book on the topic of career contentment. His company develops
innovative learning resources and training programs that show
employers how to improve performance, productivity and retention by
teaching workers how to achieve and maintain their career
contentment; www.careercontentment-thebook.com .
- Garton, Jeffrey, 2008. Career Contentment: Don't
Settle For Anything Less, ASTD Press.
- Levinson, Harry, 1970 & 2003. Management by Whose
Objectives, Harvard Business Review.
- Maslow, Abraham, 1943, A Theory Of Human
Motivation, Psychological Review, Vol. 50.