Getting people into jobs they love and that make them happy

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Carol Davison 10 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #132136

    Mark Hammer

    This past week, I was attending the Canadian Psychological Association’s annual convention, and stopping by the various sessions put on by the Industrial/Organizational section. One of the themes at this year’s convention was “positive psychology”, and in keeping with that there were some nice papers on loving one’s job, and harmonious vs obsessive passion regarding work.

    It occurred to me that, in the world of staffing, we have these two separate universes of what we call vocational guidance, and selection and assessment. The former tries to identify what general kind of work would make an individual happy and be aptly suited for them, but is not specific to any particular position. The latter attempts to identify who would be competent and qualified for a specific position, but makes no attempt to determine if they would be happy in it, and love it.

    So the challenge arises: how do we reshape assessment and selection systems, procedures, and tools, such that the result is the placement of people into jobs that deliver for the organization, but ALSO deliver for the person in the job. How do we begin the re-engineering of selection systems with the goal of allowing people to be happy and fulfilled in their work?

    Part and parcel of this is, of course, figuring out how the heck we’d tell someone “Look, you are VERY qualified for this work, in terms of skills, but all indices point to you being unlikely to be happy in it, over the long haul”. I think some of that heavy lifting can certainly be done by job ads and RJPs that let people know more about the job and what a typical day/week/year would be like, but you can’t rely on that exclusively. Even very clever people can still make bad judgment calls about what is really right for them; particularly if distracted by the increment to income, or some aspect of a job’s status.

  • #132174

    Carol Davison

    Employee engagement is the term for what you are describing. To some extent it occurs naturally. Employees normally only apply for jobs that interest them. Additionally they only tell you that they are competent in jobs that they wish to perform. I believe that it would be difficult to discern which jobs employees would be unhappy in, so I would leave those decisions up to the individual. And yes employees are tempted to move into jobs with more status and earning power such as leadership ones. I would build “specialist” positions into my office that allowed technically competent to make as much money as leaders to prevent my technicians from stagnating in a leadership position because of its income potential.

  • #132172

    Stephanie Slade

    I would have to agree… it seems really strange to me that a person would have to be told, “You’re unlikely to enjoy this career.” My response would naturally be, “Excuse me but I think I’m probably the most qualified judge of that.”

  • #132170

    Mark Hammer

    Yes and no.

    If I have not represented the job honestly and authentically to you, your judgment may be off, simply because you’ve been misled. A lot of bright young kids enter the public service, fresh off a graduate degree, and find themselves doing much less than what they thought they might, and many steps removed from the public-interest issues that attracted them.

    I’m not trying to depict recruitment as fundamentally dishonest. Rather, as employers, we too often think in a self-serving way, in terms of attracting “good hires”, as opposed to having concern for the employee’s welfare and well-being.

    I posted these same questions on another listserv, and some of the same counter-arguments have been raised there, including some legal things (Title VII, etc.). I still maintain that employers owe something to those people who are going to allocate a big chunk of their limited time on earth to one or more employers.

  • #132168

    Carol Davison

    It is reasonable to expect a person that graduated from college and joined a 2,000,000 member Federal employee group to expect some bureucracy. I don’t think that employers misrepresent jobs; I think that large organizations over manage and under lead their employees.

  • #132166

    Phil Hanson

    Sometimes it is simply a matter of the selecting official using old position descriptions and such because they don’t fully understand that they are investing time in a project – filling a vacancy. They tend to look at everything as some sort of administrative “game” they don’t want to play. Managers need to invest the time it takes to help HR to fully understand the needs of the position so they can be more accurately portrayed and evaluated.

  • #132164

    Alicia Mazzara

    I agree, it’s not always clear-cut. Even if an employer is trying to accurately represent the position, sometimes it’s hard for people on the job to explain it clearly to someone on the outside. So, yes, in theory the candidate should be a better judge of what makes them happy, assuming perfect information. As an employer, I can’t tell the candidate what they should prioritize to ensure happiness, but I can be upfront about the nature of the position and organizational culture and whether that seems like a good fit above and beyond the skills required for the job.

  • #132162

    R. Anne Hull

    Great topic! It reminds me of people who keep getting in bad relationships/marriages. Sometimes we cannot see what we do to ourselves because we don’t know any other way.

    Just because we are good at something doesn’t mean we like doing it.We get good at those things we do repeatedly by figuring out a way to make it easier, take less time, and otherwise less painful to us.

    We also get good at doing things we like because we want to find out more about it, and eventually develop a mastery of it. For example, some accountants really get psyched about finding errors in numbers; they feel like detectives.

    So, perhaps an interview questions should be, “Are you good at this because you like doing it, or because you’ve done a lot of it?” Then get details to validate what aspects they really like doing.

    – Anne

  • #132160

    Kathleen Schafer

    I am a firm believer that every person has something unique to offer the world and in doing so they will be happy and satisfied–the challenge is that for many people they were told early in their life that who they are and what they wanted to do wasn’t good enough, wouldn’t earn them enough money, status, etc.

    I define leadership as “love in action.” If each person discovers their talents, skills and passion and then can muster the courage to communicate that to others, what follows is the power to create work opportunities that match each person’s skills rather than trying to find a job they can squeeze themselves into. In working with my clients, I have never seen them “find” a job that they love–what I have seen time and again, is people who own who they are and then offering employers great opportunities to use their skills in ways the employers hadn’t before thought about and when they hire a leader–it is magic!

  • #132158

    Mark Hammer

    On the listserv where I also posted my query, a number of well-informed and articulate responses have helped me to refine my position.

    It is rather patronizing, and maybe even counterproductive, to *make* such a decision/judgment for others (as has been noted by others here). At the same time, I think when we fail to take into account, as a “horizon objective”, the happiness of the employee, and think only in terms of our immediate staffing needs, we have a propensity to provide less information, and perhaps less honest information, than the candidate truly requires to make the happiness judgment for themselves. We also need to keep reminding ourselves that it IS their judgment too, not just ours as employer.

    So I think the impact of factoring employee happiness into the formula is to do what we currently do, but a bit better, because it is harnessed onto something much larger and more thoughtful.

    All of that being said, as someone on the other forum so aptly noted, happiness in the job does not begin and end with some kind of perfect matchmaking at the point of intake. Just like marriages (thanks, Anne!), there is an enormous amount of ongoing work to be done to sustain that happiness, since we’re aiming for more than a mere honeymoon. Still, if the career trajectory a candidate believes is embedded within the job is not likely to happen, you owe them the honesty of conveying that, in service of their happiness. Otherwise, it becomes a bit like finding out, 6 months after the ceremony “Oh, you wanted to have children? Well, um….errr….”

  • #132156

    Kevin Dubs

    I think we need to help applicants with vocational guidance in person. A job posting can only explain so much of what it is actually like to work somewhere and cannot determine if that person will be happy.

    In my division in GSA, we had our first “Pre-Interview Organizational Culture” discussion with our interviewees. I guess you could call this a Realistic Job Preview (RJP) prior to interviewing. This discussion included a few of our division’s teammates explaining what we do in our day to day jobs as well as the culture of GSA. We included the positives and negatives of our organization to create an open and honest dialogue of what the job entails.

    It seemed to go pretty well and gave our candidates (at least) a fair idea of how happy they might be in this job. I guess we’ll find out for sure once they’re hired.

  • #132154

    Mark Hammer

    I commend you on that practice. It isn’t always replicated elsewhere.

  • #132152

    Steve Ressler

    My friend Frank D has a quadrant

    1-Things you are good at, And like it

    2-Things you aren’t good at yet, And like it

    3-Things you aren’t good at yet, And don’t like it

    4 – Things you are good at, And don’t like it

    His advice is actually you want to be in #2 most of the time (50%), #1 the other 30% of time, and eventually get into #4 but that’s when you need to get a new job

  • #132150

    Stephanie Slade

    I think there’s an enormous difference between providing a person with thorough and honest information about an opening so that he or she can make a smart decision about whether it would be a good fit versus informing a person that you’ve determined they’re unlikely to enjoy a job. The latter strikes me as involving a whole lot of overreach.

    Consider a hypothetical: statistically, there aren’t that many female general officers in the military. And statistically, women are less assertive and decisive than men. Perhaps you could argue that statistically, women aren’t as likely to thrive in such a position. But if I’m a colonel in the Army hoping for a promotion and you come at me with, “Indices point to this being a bad match for you,” that’s called discrimination for a reason.

  • #132148


    Agree! For example, when I was in college I was an international telephone operator. I remember after interviewing and completing testing for the position, the HR person notified me that the company didn’t feel I would be a good fit for the position based on my test results – they told me that I would not find the work challenging enough. I told them I disagreed, and they had me interview again with a manager. They decided to bring me on board. I remained a telephone operator throughout my college years and for a time after graduation while I obtained a job in my career field. It turned out they were right – I was bored being tied to a computer, sitting at a terminal taking phone call after phone call muttering the same phrases in pretty much the same order time after time, year after year. However, I made it a point to stick it out – there were great benefits for me – a paycheck, medical benefits, and most importantly tuition reimbursement (I graduated with NO student loans!). I’m glad they took the chance on me, and I was willing and motivated to work crappy hours (Fri. and Sat. nites during my college years, and every holiday). I am grateful that they just didn’t turn me down for the job, but came to me and voiced their concerns, and gave me the chance to make my own decision.

  • #132146

    Mark Hammer

    I seem to recall a case some years back where a New Jersey police department (or one in a nearby state) screened out candidates who had scored above some cut-point on a cognitive ability test, in addition to those who had scored below some other cut-score. The rationale was that if one was “too smart”, you’d be a poor fit for the job and probably move on.

    Needless to say, those who had applied for the positions in earnest, were left wondering “Wait, you don’t want me because I’m too intelligent?”. A court case ensued.

  • #132144

    Phil Hanson

    There seem to be a couple of different trains of thought in this discussion: unclear or misleading information in recruiting; and, general job satisfaction and involvement.

    It’s up the the hiring manager (and HR) to ensure that the needs of the position and organizational climate are represented accurately. This will reduce the “bait & switch” feeling new employees tend to get.

    Everyone is an individual and their wants/needs vary accordingly. What makes someone get fully involved in work and what makes them happy may actually be different – but are typically related at the least. We may be able to be actively involved without being happy in the work because we have the drive to be successful, but may be unhappy in the work and will be unable to sustain that level of involvement for a prolonged time.

    People must understand themselves enough to know what they value most and will help them to become fully involved AND happy. That’s why we see so much emphasis on work-live balance and generational differences.

    Should we – as employers – provide counseling to employees to help them know themselves better and find a better “fit” for themselves? As a retention tool, it might not be a bad idea.

  • #132142

    Stephanie Slade

    Absolutely. But again, in that case, the employees are the ones deciding whether they are or are going to be happy. You’re just helping them do so.

  • #132140

    Mark Hammer

    I think you are both on the right track. My concern is that, when we think “Well, it’s their decision, not mine to make”, we may be less likely to provide the sorts of supports that allow candidates to make the best decisions for themselves.

    My contention here, is that the employee’s happiness is an essential part of the transaction that occurs when someone offers someone else a job, and that if the employer sees it that way then they’ll provide more of what’s needed for employees to make the best decisions. I’m just trying to keep happiness on the radar, standing alongside competence, and all those other good things.

    The initial post and musing was borne of the observation that vocational guidance and selection assumed the other was taking care of things, and had sort of drifted out of productive contact with each other.

  • #132138

    Craig Morony

    Well done Tricia. You nicely bring out the point that even in an age when competition and pressure to over-achieve seem to drive every aspect of our lives, success and suitability involves more than mere happiness and that overused cliche “passion”. Maybe the un-taxing nature of the role even helped reserve your mental energies for college studies? And with long experience in the role, I bet the employer was getting great value from it too.

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