Jeff's blog

Job Got You Down? You’re Not Alone

Written By: jeff

Posted On: January 5th, 2010

This topic isn’t going to be my usual focus for blogging, but when I saw this news item today, I couldn’t help but be moved to comment on it.

Just as Captain Renault was shocked to find gambling going on in Rick’s Café in Casablanca, so too was I to read that most Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs.  Earlier today, The Conference Board released it’s study on job satisfaction in the US, aptly called “I Can’t Get No…Job Satisfaction That Is.”  While this study states the obvious, it is still astounding to see the number in print: 45% are satisfied with their job.

How is it possible that in the land of unbridled capitalism, where you can ostensibly be whatever you want to be, where there are fewer social barriers to achievement than most places in the world, that we can still be so miserable with our working lives?  While I’m sure there are a number of reasons, I will speak to one that I believe is fundamental to this phenomenom: We have become so career-focused and engaged, so defined by our career, that we’ve forgotten all the other things we are or want to be.  We engage passively or actively in one-upsmanship with our colleagues about how busy we are.  The worst examples of this I saw when I worked as a business consultant in New York in the late 90s.  Somehow, it was cool in the office to brag about how late you stayed at the office the night before.  The message: Everyone’s watching.

With this kind of dynamic going on to varying degrees, it’s no wonder that we all work ourselves until there’s just nothing left, even if we are in a career that we enjoy.  I have spoken to dozens of career breakers and most of them are walking case studies of the type of phenomenon captured in the Conference Board’s report which states, “Widespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention.”

The issue for employers is that to hang on to good talent, they must build into their system a release valve to allow people’s blood pressure to return to normal, to give them a chance to have a life outside of work.  Work-life balance may be on the lips of every employer, but the fact remains that most of them in action don’t live up to their promises.

One way to release some of that tension and to retain their talent is to institute formal career break or sabbatical programs.  While some career breakers are looking for wholesale change and a long-term break, most don’t let it get to that extreme.  Most people tend to take time off with the expectation that they will go back to their same employer or at least go back into the same field. Providing a career break benefit is more than about being perceived as a cool employer.  It will help you retain your staff for longer and keep them productive without completely wiping them out.  It is a demonstrable policy that says, “We understand you want more out of life than just to climb the ladder here.  For your hard work and sacrifice, here, take some time off and we’ll see you when you get back.”  Finally, a career break policy hits all of drivers in The Conference Board’s model of employee engagement: job design, organizational health, managerial quality and extrinsic awards.

If someone wants to take a career break, they will take one with or without the consent of their employer. But, if that employer enables that career break, the benefits back to the organization could be tremendous.

A copy of the press release of the Conference Board report can be found at

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3 Responses to “Job Got You Down? You’re Not Alone”

  1. Well said Jeff! I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of instituting career breaks and sabbaticals into the work place. We deal a lot with individuals on a career break, but YourSabbatical ( works with companies on creating sabbatical programs for their employees. Hopefully we can all bring the importance of career breaks & sabbaticals to the forefront of Americans and corporate culture.

  2. Job satisfaction is a two way street. Business has to realize that simply employing people isn’t enough; it’s also important to be thankful for an employees contribution.
    Employing people is a business decision, not a human decision. But being employed is a human decision not a business decision. We are bound to have more and more job dissatisfaction if business and their employees don’t figure it out. Businesses: appreciate your employees. Employees: insist that you have to be more “you” in your job.
    The solution: include personal strengths in the workplace. Research shows that job satisfaction and business goals can be achieved by including employees personal strengths as an important part of business and employee success. Strength partnerships and fewer “job titles” is what is needed. Because when you work within your strengths, it doesn’t feel like work… it feels like “you”.

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by CareerBrkSecret: Job Got U Down? UR Not Alone #careerbreak

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