Doing what you do best is the first step to making a good job great
At a recent conference, Shane Lopez, Ph.D., Gallup senior scientist and one of the world's leading researchers on hope, was talking with well-known vocational psychologist Mark Savickas, Ph.D. During that conversation, Savickas said, "Work won't love you back anymore." That sentence stuck with Lopez -- and it changed the focus of one of his research projects.
Great bosses want their people to have autonomy.
We've all heard that we should balance our work and family lives because our families, unlike our jobs, will love us back. But what Savickas meant was a little different. "What Savickas was saying is that there's no loyalty in the modern American workplace anymore," Lopez says. "You won't get much professional development anymore. You won't be on a team that stays together two or three years anymore. You won't spend your career in one place. So I started wondering: What if you love your job? Can you buck the trend in the modern workplace and have a job that will love you back?"
Lopez was already conducting research on Career Well-Being, but Savickas' comment prompted Lopez to broaden his view. "I needed to figure out what 'loving your job' means," Lopez says. "What I discovered was that it's not the Confucian notion of 'Choose a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life.' Instead, people who love their jobs aren't choosing jobs they love -- they're making jobs they love."
Of the thousands of workers Lopez researched, only 1% truly loved their jobs. And they weren't necessarily hedge fund managers or rock stars; they were teachers and gas station attendants and preachers. What set them apart from other people is that they were proactive in designing the job they have, as Lopez, author of Making Hope Happen, explains in the following interview.
Gallup Business Journal: What kinds of people love their jobs? Are they just better employees, or are they job-loving people?
Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D.: We often say that a good job is one that engages you, pays you a decent salary, and lets you contribute meaningfully to a company. So I looked deeper into a study of American workers for the most engaged people who also had a high degree of Career Well-Being.
I started asking a series of questions to our research participants and to the most engaged, job-loving employees at companies that received the Gallup Great Workplace Award. I wanted to discover the attributes and behaviors that are shared by people who love their jobs. What I found was that these folks don't have much in common except they believe that they need to design and build their own jobs. When they're given a job, they think it's up to them to turn it into something they love.
At the same time, they are surrounded by -- or they surround themselves with -- people who care about them. They expect it's up to them to shape their job into one that they love, and they can do this because they're surrounded by people who care about and encourage them. What I learned is that a job you love doesn't have to start out as your dream job. People who love their jobs found a good job, then they shaped it into a job they could love.
But how can a person engineer an environment where people care about each other?
Dr. Lopez: Finding a caring environment is fundamental to loving your job, but it's a hard thing to create on your own. That's why we need to be better at picking jobs. We need to respond to our intuition, our gut reaction, when choosing a place where it feels good to work and where we are connected to people who care about one another. I don't mean an "everybody-gets-a-birthday-cake" kind of caring, but a place where folks are interested in you as a human being.
That's especially important for young people looking for their first real job. They need to know that they can work as a teller at a bank where their coworkers and managers ignore them -- or they can work as a teller at a bank where their fellow employees like each other because the work environment has been created over time to enable that.
It's hard to craft that kind of environment yourself because few people have the authority to move some coworkers in and others out. Caring environments are easier to join than to make, so people who love their jobs choose to join them.
So how can you shape a job to suit you?
Dr. Lopez: People who love their jobs make sure they're doing what they do best. They gravitate to opportunities within their job where they can put their talents and strengths to work. Now, many of these folks don't know about the Clifton StrengthsFinder [Gallup's online assessment that reveals users' talents] or strengths science. They just know that they're more productive when they do what they do best. They design their own job, and it gives them the sense that they can craft other things -- their workstation, their relationships, and the opportunities that come their way.
How does this work?
Dr. Lopez: Most people can't control every task they have to do every day, but they can advocate for getting assignments that will allow them to be productive. They can do that by showing they've got the talent for that kind of work, which in turn makes them more productive at it, which means they are more likely to get more of that kind of work in the future. So the first step to designing your job is to start doing more of what you do best. You'll get a little more autonomy because you're more productive, then you can job craft a little bit more.
But it takes autonomy to get autonomy, right?
Dr. Lopez: There is a huge range in how much autonomy a person can have at work. But the amount of autonomy you are given isn't determined by your educational level or the skill level demanded in your job. It's determined by the company you work for and -- more specifically -- by the boss you have.
Autonomy is a local issue, just like engagement. That's why boss shopping -- choosing the right boss -- is so important, because we need as much autonomy as we can handle in our work lives. Regardless of whether you're working on an assembly line or on a sanitation crew or as a banker, autonomy is necessary but not sufficient for loving your job. If you have some autonomy, you can do a little more of what you do best every day. If you have some autonomy, you can job craft. If you have some autonomy, you can spend time with the people who care about you at work. And your boss holds the key to that autonomy.
Wouldn't good bosses want their people to have autonomy or to exercise a little initiative?
Dr. Lopez: Great bosses do. But bosses at every level are trying to meet many different demands from many different people. And if their own boss makes them fearful of granting autonomy to their workers, then they'll try to minimize any ambiguity in their situation. And when they try to minimize ambiguity, they often undermine autonomy.
So if your boss' boss is making him fearful, your boss will become stricter in his thinking. He'll get a little more rigid. Your boss will, in a subtle way, communicate that autonomy is not a good thing right now. When that happens, people start falling into line, but they may become less engaged. They may look busy, but often there's less meaning, mission, and purpose connected to their activities, so they're less productive.
So how do you land yourself a great boss?
Dr. Lopez: By boss shopping -- that's what you do when you're at the black belt level of loving your job. To do that means you've shaped your job over time and you work with people who care about you. But to love your job, you need to work for someone who gets you, who understands your life. Certain people, certain bosses, are better at understanding certain people, getting their people promoted, or developing talent. Once you find someone like this, subtly you start moving in the direction of that boss.
Can you give me an example of someone who made boss shopping work?
Dr. Lopez: I talked to a person in the financial services industry who said she "laid in wait." She knew exactly who she wanted to work for, but there were no immediate opportunities on that team. So she waited -- for two and a half years. Then she finally moved to that team, and it was everything she imagined. Her job went from being good to one she could love because that boss was a genius at tapping into her talent, caring about her, promoting her development, and promoting her well-being. Another person told me, "I'm willing to go two steps back on the status ladder to work for someone who really gets me."
Having a leader who makes us enthusiastic about the future, well, we know that's engaging. But I think also it models Career Well-Being and helps us have the kind of life we want -- not just the kind of work life we want, but the kind of happy life we want. Not everybody can go boss shopping, but the folks who can make the change and maybe even risk taking two steps back to get the right boss find that it pays off in a big way.
-- Interviewed by Jennifer Robison