Saturday, 19 January 2008

How Is A Job Good?

I have an interview next week with a company that needs the one-two punch of modern promotion: graphic design and web coding. I can do one of these things, but I'm allergic to the other. The last job I had was a similar compromise: graphic design and technical writing. "No-one," quoth the Bible,"can serve two masters, for he will love one and hate the other." (While the book is mostly Iron Age fear-mongering, this is a diamond in the rough.) And so it went--I loved the design, but hated the 'writing'... as I grew more accustomed to the role I liked, the role I didn't like lost none of its power to annoy.

The intellectual vacuum that is my current job leaves me acres of opportunity to consider what a suitable, satisfying job would look like. But virtues are not represented best by contrast, but rather by aspiration; saying I want to be inspired is better than saying I don't want to be bored.
There have been studies on what makes two seemingly identical jobs awesome or terrible.

Things that make jobs bad
- not having enough authority to carry out your responsibilities
- being unclear on what you are responsible for
- not having a clear promotion path
- always being behind
- trying to satisfy conflicting demands of superiors
- feeling underqualified
- ambiguous evaluations/unclear expectations
- not having enough information
- making decisions that affect people you know
- not getting on with co-workers
- having your opinions ignored
- having a moral conflict
- not achieving a work/life balance

Things that make jobs good
- freedom over time, procedures, and other decisions
- continual, useful data generated from work itself
- continual, useful feedback from boss and others
- good social interaction
- clear, specific goals
- variety of tasks
- clear tasks with a beginning and an end
- exercising high-level skills
- exercising a variety of skills
- feeling job is significant to the company
- learning, improving
- clear promotion path
- feelings of achievement
- having input in key decisions
- open communication channels
- high-enough pay (not necessarily high pay)
- recognition from others
- good job security

All this is from Dail Fields' book, Taking The Measure Of Work. It assumes that subjects have chosen their jobs rationally and appropriately. Experience shows this is not always the case, but I can see some of these satisfiers in my video store job which make it less bad at times.
My chief question these days is how much compromise will turn an unsuitable element in a job role into a deal-breaker. Some things, like a 20-minute in-and-out workflow would be irritating but livable. Other things, like coding in... well, any programming language, would be a stone wall.

A guy dies and ends up in hell. The Devil greets him and explains that it's really not so bad. "You like drinking?" he asks. "Yeah!" the guy replies. "Well, you're gonna like Mondays." says the Devil. "Tequila shots, beer chasers, free vodka all night. How about gambling? You like that?" The guy says yeah; this place is looking pretty great! "You'll love Tuesdays then!" the Devil grins. "Do you like chronic? Into coke?" "Wow!" the guy says,"you've got drugs here?" "Sure we do! That's what Wednesdays are all about!" the Devil enthuses. "How about male action? You into gay sex?" "Uh, no." the guy says, recoiling. "Ooookayyy..." the Devil mutters. "Well, you're not going to like Thursdays much."

One thing I have noticed is that the worse my day is, the more euphoric I am after I finish. It wears off after a short time, but the contrast between obligation and freedom is great enough to make normality feel like happiness. An ancient Greek called Epictetus said of a angry man being thrown in prison: "What prison?—Where he is already: for he is there against his will; and wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison." A Stoic, he believed that it is not events that shape us, but rather how we interpret them and then twist our thoughts, and then our actions. Born a slave, his mind and thoughts were all he had to bear the suffering of life. Further reading here; bold quotes are most interesting.

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