We think being satisfied in the work you do is really crucial if you want to make a difference: you won’t be motivated otherwise. This is why we’ve spent time over the past year trying to summarise the evidence-based research on job satisfaction, to help you find a job you’ll love and make a difference in. In doing this, we found something a bit surprising: the common view that you should find a career that is a good fit for your personality type doesn’t have much support in the job satisfaction literature. The evidence seems to point towards the characteristics of the job itself (things like having variety, a sense of contribution, and clearly defined tasks) being more important than your personality fit.
Of course, we don’t think that this is the end of it – that all that matters when it comes to job satisfaction are five simple factors. So we’ve spent a bit more time delving into the job satisfaction literature to get a better sense of what personal or social factors might be most important alongside this. One finding that seems to be fairly well supported is that, whilst “personality fit” might not matter that much, feeling socially supported at work on the other hand, does.
Feeling like you are socially supported at work – that you are able to get help and advice from your supervisors and coworkers – correlates with increased satisfaction at work
This is pretty intuitive, and seems to be both due to the direct benefits of social interactions, and the fact that support from coworkers also means we’re less likely to suffer from stress
This suggests it may be worth explicitly focusing on finding a working environment where you feel supported e.g. having a manager who you can go to with problems, perhaps above things like “personality fit” or “being the right type of person.” It also means that organisations (like 80,000 Hours!) should make creating this environment high priority
The evidence for social support:
Social support at work is defined as “the extent to which a job provides opportunities for getting assistance and advice from supervisors and coworkers.”1 A meta-analysis looking at the effect of social support on both job satisfaction and performance across over 250 studies found that social support was positively related to both job satisfaction (p=.36) and internal work motivation (p=.26). They also found that other social factors, including interdependence (the extent to which your work is contingent on and requires you to deal with others) and feedback from others, were linked to increased satisfaction.
It also just seems pretty intuitively plausible that social support is important for job satisfaction: if you don’t have anyone to turn to with your problems, you seem much less likely to be happy at work. The aforementioned paper also cites a number of past studies which together suggest that:
Having good relationships with your coworkers makes you much more likely to perceive your work as meaningful, which is important for job satisfaction
Social interactions have been linked to improved mood, and also help with role clarification and task identity (components of the work itself that have been shown to be linked to job satisfaction.)
Social support reduces job stress by creating buffers against negative events.2
There seem to be two potential mechanisms here by which social support increase satisfaction: directly by improving mood, sense of contribution or task identity, and indirectly by acting as a buffer against negative events. A meta-study looked at these two explanations (referred to as the “direct model” and “buffer model” respectively) and found that in fact both might play a part: depending on exactly how we define and measure “social support”.3 Evidence for the direct model was found when social support was measured as the extent to which people feel they are integrated in a large social network. When social support was measured by the extent to which people feel they have resources available to help them deal with stressful events, evidence in favour of the buffering model was found.
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Notes and references:
Stephen E. Humphrey, Jennifer D. Nahrgang and Frederick P. Morgeson (2007) integrating motivational, social and contextual work design features: a meta-analytic summary and theoretical extension of the work design literature, journal of applied psychology ↩
Deborah J. Terry, Michelle Nielsen, Linda Perchand (1993) Effects of work stress on psychological well-being and job satisfaction: the stress-buffering role of social support, Australian Journal of Psychology ↩
Sheldon Cohen, Thomas Ashby Wills (1985) Stress, Social Support, and the Buffering Hypothesis, Psychological Bulletin ↩