In our recent survey of information security professionals, we found that those who claim they are happy at their jobs make more money. In fact, our numbers suggest that someone who ranks themselves as "very satisfied" or "extremely satisfied" with their job is almost twice as likely to make over $120,000 per year than, for example, one who says that he or she is "unsatisfied" or "somewhat satisfied."
While the cynic may argue that happiness with your job is a direct result of compensation, other academic studies repeatedly find that increased pay only provides a short-lived happiness as other job factors like creativity, teamwork and production come into play.
This begs the question: What other career factors make people happy?
In his book, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about the optimal challenge -- each of us have a level of challenge that offers a peak state of happiness. Similarly, with jobs, if a task is too hard, it's not enjoyable, and we will give up. If a task is too easy, conversely, we will be bored.
This optimal range exists for multiple job factors: effort required to complete tasks, freedom to make decisions, recognition, amount of work expected, creativity, communication and teamwork, for example. In our survey, those that ranked themselves as "very satisfied" or "extremely satisfied" with their circumstances were significantly more likely to rate each of those factors at "just the right amount" compared to those who called themselves "unsatisfied" or "somewhat satisfied." Based on our data and our own conversations with security professionals, many are most concerned with finding a super-challenging or super-creative job.
"Then I'd be happy…"
"If only I could leave the corporate job and go do research all the time," one of our colleagues once said, "Then I'd be happy."
Unfortunately, that's unlikely to be true. Most of us wouldn't be happy with a radical change in our circumstances. In fact, most of the time, we are only slightly off in job satisfaction factors like required effort, communication, teamwork and freedom. The problem is that we rarely know how to address these individual needs. We often think that getting another job is likely to be the fix, but it rarely is.
While it's true that every once in a while you'll find a job that truly is a toxic situation, slight adjustments in either your expectations or your actions will most likely make your situation more ideal.
The best job you can have is your current one
While your first inclination might be to jump ship if you're unhappy, it's our honest assessment that the best job you can have is most likely the one you're in. Coming from the two of us – one who has changed jobs frequently, and the other, who has seen many job paths as a recruiter -- our advice may seem counterintuitive, but it's true nonetheless. In your current job, you know the players, you know the environment, and you have built relationships and political capital that you wouldn't have in a new role.
Luckily, maximizing your current role is a relatively simple process. The key is in understanding the concept of flow that we mentioned above. Rank your current role from 1-5 (with 1 = "none at all", 3 = "just right" and 5 = "way too much") on the following statements:
- How much effort is required of me?
- How much work am I expected to produce?
- How much freedom do I have to make decisions?
- How much recognition do I get for doing a good job?
- How much creative thinking is there?
- How much teamwork is required?
- How much communication do I have with my management and my peers?
Once you have ranked yourself, look at the areas that you find extremes and come up with some strategies for managing those imbalances. For example, if you feel that there is not enough effort required of you (which was the case for 69% of those who said they were "not at all satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied"), approach your manager or your peers and see if you can take on some side projects.
Or if you feel that you don't have enough freedom or creativity, talk with your manager and see if you can structure some of your activities to create more opportunity for creative thinking or autonomy.
While the idea may be uncomfortable, we ask that you trust us on this one: this is much easier and less stressful than switching jobs. Even moving to a new job that you think you'll love is a stressful act, and we'd like to help you avoid that level of stress wherever you can.
This was first published in January 2010