People aren't good at picking out jobs. Even with a record number of positions to choose from, more American workers feel disengaged and discouraged than engaged and enthused - many more.

Why is finding the right fit so challenging?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an organizational psychologist, has identified several reasons in a new blog for the Harvard Business Review.

Unsurprisingly, money plays a big role. While there's little correlation between salary and satisfaction, impressive paychecks still tempt countless applicants into positions they'll only grow to despise. Chamorro-Premuzic also points to poor self-awareness. He writes, "people are generally quite inept at evaluating their own talents." The same goes for their real interests. Once they've found the job they think they want, these folks tend to work on one skill more than any other: suffering in silence.

So what are professionals really looking for? According to Chamorro-Premuzic, it's not the outrageous perks and near-complete flexibility that make all the headlines. His ideal workplace provides three simple things.

A Sense of Competency and Mastery

It's thrilling to feel good at your job. Even without external recognition, the knowledge that you've persevered past obstacles and mastered once-difficult tasks presents a powerful reminder that you're where you ought to be. 

That's not to say recognition isn't important. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests it's absolutely essential. 89% of survey respondents credit recognition programs and "more frequent check-ins" with promoting professional growth. Managers can't count on every employee to generate feelings of competency and mastery on their own. Sometimes that extra reminder is necessary.  

Fostering feelings of competency and mastery is about more than introducing a program to send out thank-yous. Recognition works best when it's aligned to an organization's core values and serves as an integral part of culture. Effective programs provide a consistent reminder that leadership cares - not just about results, but about the happiness of the entire team.

Chamorro-Premuzic notes that employees feel especially gratified by the opportunity to "perform above the expectation of [their] role[s]." In a business unit like Procurement - one that's long existed in a silo - such opportunities aren't always available. The function's leaders have the potential to change this with rotational programs and ambitious career paths that broaden its role. When they make this investment, managers and executives receive a more invested and inspired team in return. 

A Sense of Community and Affiliation 

Recognition - from managers as well as peers - also goes a long way in stoking these feelings. When co-workers exchange feedback with one another, they begin to establish a collaborative and productive community. Many will go on to build genuine friendships that enliven their day-to-day tasks. While it's easy to make fun of water cooler small talk and the 'mandatory fun' of team building activities, workplace friendships can make a big difference. 60% of employees say they're more likely to stay with a company that's staffed with good friends. This number rises to 74% and 69% for Millennials and Gen-Zers respectively.

Even professionals who work remotely have expressed their desire for a sense of belonging.  They're also more likely to quit - or consider quitting - if they don't feel it. Experts have begun to regard loneliness and isolation as an epidemic among this growing sector of the workforce

Employers have a distinct challenge ahead of them. How do they provide flexibility and promote human connection? Writing for Reuters, Lauren Young advises managers to occasionally place the spotlight on offsite workers. Encouraging them to lead meetings, she suggests, will remind them that their perspective matters and ensure their voice is never muffled. It'll also guarantee they're accountable and always serve as an active participant in workplace conversations. 

A Sense of Meaning and Purpose

Like workplace friendship, corporate purpose is sometimes tempting (and always dangerous) to dismiss. Far more than a buzzword, 'purpose' has become an all-important factor for applicants, employees, and consumers across the globe. And it's not just young loudmouths calling on businesses to do more. 70% of all U.S. adults want to make a difference at work. They're eager to do more than earn a paycheck or advance in their careers. They're hungry to work for companies that operate with a clear mission.

This mission should result from a community effort rather than a top-down decree. Adopting a company-wide approach, one that welcomes all perspectives, will stimulate engagement while providing for a more purpose-driven business. It will also produce a far more authentic sense of purpose than an executive brainstorming session possibly could. 

Introducing a sense of purpose doesn't have to mean setting ambitious goals to fight climate change or eradicate waste in the supply chain. While organizations should always identify opportunities to serve the planet and its people, workplace purpose can come from far simpler initiatives. It's often enough to remind employees that they have a clearly-defined purpose within the office and that their efforts make a noticeable difference. 

A lot of people hate their jobs. They spend weeks, months, and years regretting their decision to let a big paycheck or exciting location woo them. Surprisingly few, however, ever regret the decision to quit. Are you providing your team with everything they're looking for? 
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Bennett Glace

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