Job Satisfaction: Crafting the Perfect Job

Job Satisfaction: Crafting the Perfect Job 

{Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007. Positive Psychology Coaching: Putting the Science of Happiness to Work for Your Clients.} 

Jobs fill our days with work.  Inevitably, work-related issues and complaints amount. As a result, people seek coaches for help to explore options and find fulfillment at work. 

When we meet someone new, we often ask, “What do you do?” To a large extent, our jobs are synonymous with our identities. The answer to the question points to our socioeconomic status, educational background, personal interests, and values. A person’s job tells us about her preferences, possible interests, and how she spends much of her time. At its best, work structures our time, provides us with a sense of security, offers opportunities to learn and grow, and is enjoyable. People want to find their passion and infuse their working hours with enthusiasm and fulfillment, pursuing activities they are interested in and find meaningful. We want a job that matches our particular strengths, talents, and interests, expressing our talents and values. 


Work Orientation 

Broad research by Bellah et al. (1996) has revealed how people differ in their “work orientation.” Some people work joyless jobs for the paycheck. Others crave the job perks. Others believe their work contributes to the world.

People with a job orientation are not particularly excited about their work. These are people who “have to” work. They do not like or value the nature of their work and look forward to breaks and the end of their shift. Money or tangible benefits are the primary motivators.

Career people are more likely to like their work. They are motivated by their work’s primary (income) and secondary (social status, authority, power, reverence) benefits. Power, responsibility, and the possibility of advancement appeal to them. Their work is sometimes a stepping stone to somewhere better.

People with a calling orientation typically love and value what they do in and of itself. They believe their work contributes something necessary and good to the world and improves others’ life quality, creating a better world.


People are equally distributed among these three work orientations in various occupations. Work orientation is less about qualifications and educational background and more about how an individual interprets her work, whether she values it, sees it as a possibility for advancement, or dreads it. In any given occupation, people can be in the job, career, or calling orientation.

People with a calling orientation are more satisfied with their lives and work. Teams made up of a majority of calling-oriented individuals generally perform better. Interestingly, for teams comprised of a majority of career orientation members, there is more conflict, less “team spirit,” and worse communication.

Many calling-orientation individuals naturally make minor changes to their work tasks and relations, called job crafting. By taking the initiative in small ways, job crafters meaningfully change their job and increase their sense of purpose. There are several forms of job crafting.

People frequently improvise or otherwise change the job tasks in number, scope, or type to create more efficient or personally meaningful systems of organizing, engage in citizenship behaviors, or improve ergonomics. Seemingly “extra work” provides pathways to fulfillment and satisfaction. 

Suggest your clients look for opportunities to make small but meaningful changes at work.

People frequently modify the quality or type of interaction with others on the job. 

Ask your clients about the quality of their social interactions at work, and strategize small ways to improve them.

Changing cognitive task boundaries changes how people think about their work. For example, a discrete task might involve preparing a report, which can be considered an activity making up a larger whole, such as helping bring a superior product to market. Individuals who make the leap and view their work as part of a larger good have a more satisfying life. 

Attend your client’s language when she talks about her job. For example, what does she see as her job? Does she describe specific tasks or talk about work with its general mission?


Working Identity

Talents develop, values shift, relationships change, and our sense of self evolves, making our “working identity” developmental. Work-related identities are shaped by crafting experiments, such as volunteering, taking a class, or interviewing someone in a different profession. A person’s view of identity impacts the sense of fluidity of their identity. Westerners view their traits as stable across time and situations, and collectivists appear comfortable with rapidly shifting identities, depending on their social setting. Whether you believe there is one authentic self or believe in multiple selves that include both public and private aspects is a culturally endorsed idea.

Job crafting and trying out new identities are fluid activities that match the transformative nature of the coaching endeavor. “Identity shifts” and “possible selves” are not just plausible but inevitable. Experimenting freely with who we are and with enjoyment influences how we approach our work. Liberated from searching for our one true self, we are free to take risks, be spontaneous, and, most importantly, grow.


Action Steps for Positive Psychology Coaches

Decide how to use work orientation and job crafting in your coaching practice. How will you share this research with your clients? What questions can you develop based on these concepts? How might you include assessments of meaning and work orientation in your practice? Which clients are these assessments appropriate for, and when might you administer them?

Consider your work orientation. Are there times you valued your work and others where you find yourself drawn to the job’s earning potential? How do you think your coaching practice is a stepping stone to other endeavors? What does your coaching work contribute to the world?

Share the work orientation and job crafting ideas with friends, colleagues, and family to improve your ability to articulate the main points clearly. Further, it allows you to field questions and concerns before using this information with your clients.


Positive Psychology at Work

Work orientation appeals to clients when couched nonjudgmentally. Assessing and discussing work orientation with clients leads to productive coaching sessions.

Use work orientation to articulate the specific aspects that motivate the client. For example, taking systematic stock of the various work domains: their commute, pay, the supervisor, actual tasks and activities, coworkers, office environment, company mission, and long-term work-related goals, and looking at these domains from a work orientation frame might benefit their work satisfaction and enjoyment.

Job crafting might appeal to some clients more than others. The idea of looking for opportunities to make small modifications to their work or work outside their specific job description can seem dubious. Yet, every moment at work is an opportunity to make a difference. Decisions of how we greet our colleagues, where we sit at lunch and with whom, what we wear, how we use email, and how we decorate our desks are the many work elements that contribute to how satisfied we are with our work. Crafting “managing up” tasks to improve a client’s relationship with a supervisor or emphasizing the value of coworker relationships for a client with little faith in their company’s product or service might bring the needed improvement in fulfillment. Framing work as more than a handful of assigned tasks, job crafting might bring the needed sense of autonomy.

Work identity experiments are another area of potential value for clients’ transformation.


Job Crafting for Job Satisfaction 

Job satisfaction measures subjective work wellbeing across seven domains or indicators: task variety, colleagues, working conditions, workload, autonomy, learning and development opportunities, and person-environment fit.



Considering your current job,  rate the seven job satisfaction domains on a scale from 1 to 10 (from “not at all satisfied” to “completely satisfied”) and plot these on a wheel.  

Inspect the resulting wheel and choose the domains to explore opportunities to increase your job satisfaction.

The tool lets you know key job satisfaction domains in your current job. Additionally, you can rate a previous job to reveal what contributed to your job satisfaction in the past.


The domains are:

Task variety: variation in your role; diverse and interesting versus repetitive and mundane workload.

Colleagues: shared goals and commitment, like-mindedness, engagement, and work ethic amongst colleagues.

Working conditions: physical conditions, such as pleasant workspace, reasonable commute, and appealing lunch options; cultural conditions, such as friendly and inclusive atmosphere, promoting creativity and collaboration.

Workload: the amount of work; how often you feel stressed because of the workload.

Autonomy: degree of control over your job; flexible hours; balance between work and other commitments; projects you take on; deadlines.

Learning and development opportunities: how much you learn and grow at work; progress you make, new skills, becoming competent; external training or on-the-job training.

Person-environment fit: how well matched you are to your working environment; whether your work calls on your strengths, shares your values, and allows you to be yourself.



For each domain you choose to explore opportunities, answer the following questions:

Why does this domain need attention?

Generally speaking, what would it take to raise your satisfaction in this domain?

What action can you take tomorrow to raise your satisfaction in this domain?

Imagine you are crafting your ideal job. What would this new job look like to experience high satisfaction in this domain?

Work Orientation Assessment (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997)

Note for the practitioner:

To avoid contaminating the answers, this assessment ought to be given before discussing the work orientation concept with clients, for example, by including this measure with appropriate clients with the initial paperwork and coaching contract.



Below are three vignettes, each describing one work orientation type. Read each vignette, and use a 1 to 4 scale to indicate the degree to which the vignette describes you.


Category A people work primarily to earn enough money to support their lives outside their jobs. If they were financially secure, they would no longer continue with their current line of work but instead, do something else. To these people, their jobs are a necessity of life, like breathing or sleeping. They often wish the time at work would pass more quickly. They greatly anticipate weekends and vacations. If these people lived their lives over again, they probably would not go into the same line of work. They would not encourage their friends and children to enter their line of work. Category A people are very eager to retire.


Category B people enjoy their work but expect to be outside their current jobs five years from now. Instead, they plan to move on to better, higher-level jobs. They have several goals for their futures about the positions they would eventually like to hold. Sometimes their work seems a waste of time, but they know they must do sufficiently well in their current positions to move on. Category B people can’t wait to get a promotion. For them, a promotion means recognition of their good work. In addition, it is a sign of their success in competition with coworkers.


For Category C people, work is one of the most important parts of life. They are very pleased that they are in their line of work. Because what they do for a living is a vital part of who they are, it is one of the first things they tell people about themselves. They tend to take their work home and on vacations, too. Most of their friends are from their places of employment, and they belong to several organizations and clubs relating to their work. They feel good about their work because they love it and think it makes the world a better place. They would encourage their friends and children to enter their line of work. Category C people would be upset if they were forced to stop working and are not particularly looking forward to retirement.


Category A people are:

(a) Very much like me

(b) Somewhat like me

(c) A little like me

(d) Not at all like me


Category B people are:

(a) Very much like me

(b) Somewhat like me

(c) A little like me

(d) Not at all like me


Category C people are:

(a) Very much like me

(b) Somewhat like me

(c) A little like me

(d) Not at all like me



Typically, clients endorse one orientation more strongly than the others, and it is likely that, to the degree it describes them, this is their work orientation.