Can you love your work?

freedom and independence road signs

Are you happy at work?

If you have a full time job, you spend more time working than pretty much anything else you do other than sleeping.  Having a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our work, along with co-workers whose company we enjoy and a workplace that is comfortable and inviting are the ideals that we hope for when we set out to find employment.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t find those things.  A 2013 Gallup poll found that about 52% of Americans find little or no fulfillment in their jobs.    Another 18% actively dislike their jobs, workplaces, coworkers and/or bosses.  The main reason that so many employees give for their discontent is their supervisors.  Gallup estimates that nearly half a trillion dollars, or nearly 3% of GDP, is wasted annually just because bad or ineffective managers are creating tension and malcontent in their workplaces.

If there’s any good news, it’s that 30% of working Americans  actually enjoy their work and find some fulfillment in it.     These workers expressed a sense of connection with their employers and their jobs, unlike the majority of unhappy employees.

We tend to believe that professionals all love their work while skilled and unskilled laborers are nearly all malcontents.  The opposite is true.  Blue collar workers in the UK tend to be significantly happier with their work than white collar workers by a comfortable margin.   According to a survey conducted in 2004, skilled blue collar workers are far happier in their work than professionals.  The survey showed that even a much larger salary does nothing to guarantee workplace fulfillment.  The highest level of job satisfaction amongst blue collar workers was for “aid workers”, 40% of whom claimed to be happy in their work.  Only 14% of research scientists made the same claim.

If you’re working and unhappy now, or hoping to find a job that you’ll be happy with, these are not encouraging signs.  Don’t be discouraged, though.  There are at least 2 silver linings in all of this.  First, if you choose a career that focuses on helping others, you’re much more likely to find happiness in your work regardless of the working conditions.  Second, if you choose a white collar career and find that you’re making tons of money but are miserable anyway, you’ll find lots of company.  Misery loves that, right?

The joy of ownership

And now for the good news.

By sharp contrast to the polling data on employee contentment, a recent survey of small business owners found that fully 91% expressed at least contentment with their work, with 55% claiming to be extremely happy with it.

The survey’s only criteria was that the business owners employed 2o people or less.  As with he Gallup survey of employees, the results weren’t broken out by the types of business.  Whether we can infer that business owner’s happiness declines as the number employees rises above 20 is a matter of speculation, but from my own experience there’s a huge direct correlation.  We’ll save that for another day.

These results are pretty startling, although they’re in line with what I’ve observed based on the employees and small business owners that I have known.  The size of the disparity is the surprising part, as is the fact that blue collar work seems to be more satisfying than white collar work.

If you’re looking for a job, or planning for a career, this survey of small business owners should be flashing in your brain like a neon sign.  If the Gallup data is accurate, and you pursue a job or a career that entails working for a salary,  you’re reasonably likely to be unhappy in your work.  And since your life outside of work can’t help but be shaped by the more than 2000 hours you spend each at your job, it’s entirely possible that the job or career you’re considering could make your a great deal of you life dull and difficult.

Small business ownership is not for everyone.  But because of the dramatic shifts in our economy, and the crazy pace of technological change, there are new, uncharted opportunities opening up everyday day.  Stay tuned as we explore them.