Does your job energise you Many international research articles on job satisfaction report that most people are dissatisfied with their jobs. Some common reasons given for this dissatisfaction at work include:

  • Being underpaid
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Not getting recognition
  • Poor management
  • Lack of challenge
  • Boredom
  • Unfulfilling work

Dissatisfaction has serious implications for efficiency, productivity, engagement and just about every factor that influences performance at work. The current economic climate is an added reality… Unemployment levels remain high, job creation is at a low and in the midst of all the economic uncertainties, many employees feel stuck in their current positions. What this tells us is that many employees are unhappy, disengaged and most probably unproductive at work but remaining in their positions. So where does this leave the employer? If employers want a happy, engaged and productive workforce, they need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by their work.

Moving beyond dissatisfaction

The majority of the mentioned reasons for dissatisfaction fall within what Herzberg’s dual-factor theory calls “motivational factors.” Motivational factors, like recognition, achievement, advancement and challenging work contribute a great deal to satisfaction in the workplace. This also correlates with Maslow’s higher order hierarchy of needs: esteem and self-actualisation.

It’s all about meaning.

If we want to find ways to keep people happy at work, we need to help them find meaning in their jobs and affirm this meaning for them through recognition, appreciation and treating them like human capital. Martin Seligman (founder of positive psychology), identifies three different ways to be happy: through pleasure, through engagement and through meaning. Seligman states that the recipe for the good life (a life of engagement) is knowing what your highest strengths are and re-crafting your life to use them as much as you possibly can. He then adds by describing the meaningful life as knowing what your signature strengths are and then using it in the service of something larger than you. This supports the notion of having a “calling” rather than having a “career”.

Knowing your strengths

A strengths-based approach focuses on individual strengths and abilities. Strengths-based methodologies do not ignore problems or deny that people have weaknesses but shift the frame of reference to look beyond the “problems”. Back in 1967 Peter Drucker said: “The effective executive makes strengths productive. (S)he knows that one cannot build on weaknesses. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities.” Strengths Partnership Ltd. the creators of the Strenghtscope assessment, ( defines a strength as “a personal characteristic or quality that makes you feel energised and enthusiastic and leads to you doing great work.” A strength is therefore not only what I’m good at but rather that which puts me into “flow”. Flow can be defined as: “the psychological state that accompanies highly engaging activities. Time passes quickly. Attention is focused on the activity. The sense of self is lost. The aftermath of the flow experience is invigorating” (Peterson, Park & Seligman, 2005).

Focus on strengths before weaknesses

Perhaps the answer to one’s dissatisfaction at work lies in doing not only what I’m good at but doing more of that which energises me, and spending more time on developing my strengths than trying to improve what I’m not good at. Most people understand their weaknesses far better than their strengths, yet it is your natural strengths (or personal qualities that make you feel energised and lead to peak performance) that are sources of mastery and success at work (Brewerton & Brook, 2010). People are often hired into organisations for their strengths and are then performance managed according to their weaknesses. Competencies are enormously useful for stipulating the requirements of a job and competency frameworks are important, but helping employees to gain an understanding of their strengths allow them to find ways of remaining engaged and energised when working on a task, irrespective of their role or the task in hand (Brewerton, 2008). The implication and suggestion for employers is therefore to include a strengths-based focus at work where employees can use their strengths in a meaningful and fulfilling way, while also focusing their contributions on activities that are most important to your business. Employers need to enter into discussions with their employees regarding individual strengths and how employees can use their strengths to contribute to the overall growth of the company.

Warning: Being good at something doesn’t mean it’s energising

Be careful not to assume that just because an individual is good at “detail work” that this kind of work is also fulfilling and energising to him/her. Handing out more specific work to someone in response to their competency (not strengths), may just be the underlying source of their dissatisfaction, inefficiency and disengagement.

Martinette Pienaar heads up the JvR Psychometrics Cape Town office


Adams, S. (2012). New survey: majority of employees dissatisfied. Retrieved from Brewerton, P. (2008, June 19). Helping employees play to their strengths. HR Zone. Retrieved from Brewerton, P. & Brook, J. (2010). Strengths for success: Your pathway to peak performance. London: Strengths Partnership Press. Howard, C. (2012). New job dissatisfaction stats are a wake-up call for employers. Retrieved from Peterson, C., Park, N. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41. Seligman, M.E.P. (2008, July). Martin Seligman: The new era of positive psychology. Retrieved from Photo Credit: iandavidmuir via Compfight cc