About Jeff Garton - Career Coach
After devoting the majority of his career to human resources (HR) and career coaching, Jeff Garton questions whether job satisfaction and engagement programs are as effective as we think they are. While it’s customary for employers to rely on these programs, and we have data that supports their use, there is one variable that researchers overlooked that can undermine their effectiveness.
Not unless an employee decides first that they are content to be somewhere and stay there can employers attempt to persuade with satisfying and engaging work conditions. And when an employee decides that they are no longer content, they may leave and without regard to their work conditions.
Perhaps this would explain why employees still complain and quit after making them satisfied and engaged. Is it possible that an employee’s decision to be content or discontent is more powerful than an employer’s efforts to make them satisfied and engaged? Jeff provides two reasons that explain how this is possible:
- An employer’s outside-in efforts to persuade employees to fulfill the employer’s purposes are never more powerful than an employee’s control of their emotions to manage their career to fulfill their own purposes.
- By the control of their emotions to be content or discontent, an employee can function in a manner that is unyielding to their conditions. He or she can choose to be content and continue to perform well in their job, or they can choose to be discontent can leave, and in both cases, these decisions can be made regardless if their work conditions are satisfying, dissatisfying, engaging or disengaging. More influential to an employee’s resilience and self-motivation than employer efforts to make them satisfied or engaged is the control of their emotions to be content or discontent.
This is the idea of career contentment. If these observations are correct, employers may want to help their employees to achieve career contentment first, and then implement job satisfaction and engagement programs. But by that point, those programs may not be necessary.
How did Jeff come to these conclusions? Jeff’s career in HR was with Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing. His employers made it a priority to provide employees with superior pay and benefits, and plied them with sophisticated programs to develop, promote, involve, empower, engage, balance, recognize and retain them. The programs Jeff helped to implement often set the standard for Fortune’s Best Places to Work, and even resulted in Jeff being awarded two SHRM Best in Class awards for employer branding. But despite all the award winning efforts implemented to gratify and retain employees, they still complained, asked for more, and then left when they believed that it was beneficial for their career to do so. Otherwise, if they didn’t leave, employees could remain productive, sometimes for years and despite their ongoing complaints regarding job dissatisfaction.
Something was amiss. Jeff noted that employees were never completely satisfied, or the conditions for satisfaction and engagement to exist couldn’t be maintained due to conditions that couldn’t be controlled (i.e. the economy, global competitions, terrorism, war, etc.). If this was true, employers were wasting huge sums of money trying. Some workers, not all, were unfazed by their work conditions, as long as they believed that they were on track to fulfill their most meaningful purposes for working.
In 2001, after 23 years inside corporate HR, it dawned on Jeff that he would be unfulfilled if he didn’t leave to pursue his dream of owning a business. It also occurred to Jeff that it was his fear of leaving that was holding him back, not the sophisticated programs that were keeping him comfortably retained. He reasoned that it didn’t matter that he would be leaving behind a fantastic package because his career was not behind him, but ahead of him. And he preferred not to make an important decision about his life and career based on a package that was good today, but could just as easily be reduced or taken away tomorrow. He left.
Functioning for the first time as an entrepreneur career coach, Jeff acknowledged that he was perfectly content in his new work, highly resilient, naturally engaged and self-motivated. This was despite his ongoing dissatisfactions linked with unfamiliar duties, lack of knowledge, inconsistent revenue, insufficient resources, and no health benefits. He was on a self-proclaimed high made possible by work that he believed was meaningful to his most valued purposes for working. He was content even though never consistently satisfied.
After contemplating the observations he had made while working in HR, plus what he learned as an entrepreneur and career coach, Jeff’s conclusions would challenge conventional wisdom regarding job satisfaction, contentment, and how employees should be managed.
Regardless if job satisfaction is intrinsic or extrinsic, it’s a condition that can’t exist unless employers allow it to exist. Employees can’t simply choose to have job satisfaction without the job and all the rewards that go with it, but which are controlled by employers. But with or without a job or job satisfaction, employee’s still have a career or choice of work, and control of their emotions to be content or discontent.
Contrary to what most of us assume, contentment doesn’t mean settling for less. It’s an emotion we rely on to endure when we can’t always be satisfied, and we don’t want to give up on our purposes. For example, that you love a person enough to overlook their flaws doesn’t mean that you’re settling for less. You wouldn’t settle for less than the person you truly love. Your decision to be content despite any flaws is a source of resilience that helps you to maintain this important relationship, if that’s your purpose. If it were not for your contentment, there might not be any relationship because no one is absolutely perfect or consistently satisfying.
Because there is no job, career or employer that is absolutely perfect or consistently satisfying, career contentment enables an employee’s enduring resilience on the job despite their inevitable job dissatisfactions. True contentment is from within whereas someone has to do something or something has to happen for us to be made satisfied, and that’s not always possible. Career contentment is about learning how to love what is as you work towards what you desire – without complaining.
The significant conclusion here is that an employee’s self-motivation to perform and enduring resilience to persevere are controlled by an inner choice regardless of their outer work conditions which they can’t control. If an employee decides that their work is important enough, or meaningful to their purposes, he or she will endure. This is the idea of career contentment, which was developed based on behavioral research in the areas of positive psychology, self-efficacy, resilience and self-transcendence..
This idea helps us to finally understand why employees won’t accept any job, no matter how many perks or job satisfactions an employer might provide. It helps us to understand why workers leave jobs despite an employer’s best efforts to retain them by making them satisfied or engaged. And it explains why some workers choose to stay in a job despite dissatisfying work conditions. Traditional motivation strategies used to satisfy and engage employees are secondary to the contentment employees derive from meaningful work that correlates with their most valued purposes for working.
In March 2008, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) published Jeff’s first book titled, Career Contentment: Don’t Settle For Anything Less. About this new topic, reviewers and experts in medicine, psychology and career have said that it “should birth a revolution in the workplace.”
Jeff has also produced two series of guidebooks and audio programs for use by trainers and career coaches: The Employment Mindset and Recognizing Career Contentment. And starting in 2009, trainers and coaches will be able to attend the first train-the-trainer certificate programs that show employers how to teach their employees how to achieve and maintain their career contentment despite circumstances which can’t always be made satisfying or engaging.
Jeff was born and raised in West Virginia where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from Glenville State College, and a Masters in Organizational Communication and Public Personnel Administration from the University of New Mexico. He has focused his career on showing employers how to help their employees to overcome their job dissatisfactions to achieve career contentment. He now resides on Chicago’s North Shore with his wife Heli, his two sons Brian and Michael, and his daughter Sarah lives and works in California.