6 intangibles of workplace satisfaction

December 14, 2015
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  • Leadership and Management
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Professional photo of Adrian Cornelius.

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

By: Adrian Raul Cornelius, University Registrar, University of Maryland

I have been thinking for some time now about what makes someone feel a sense of satisfaction at work.

Things that readily come to mind are: job competency, supervisor support, working in a collaborative environment with nice and caring people, work and lifestyle balance, and contentment with one’s compensation.  

Depending on who you’re talking with, workplace satisfaction can also mean how well employees work together to accomplish productivity.

What the (formal and informal) research says

I did a google search on workplace satisfaction and found that job satisfaction is often equated to employee happiness. An article written by John Mossman for the Denver Post on April 21, 2013, entitled “Employee-Friendly Workplace Culture, a Key to Company Success,” cited happiness as a determinant of workplace success, and emphasized the value of happiness to resilience, handling stress, and getting along with co-workers. Other influencers of workplace satisfaction that surfaced in my cursory search were: open-mindedness, adaptability, communication, enthusiasm and attitude, problem-solving and critical thinking, professionalism, empathy, and even the lunch test (i.e. being someone your co-workers would want to “grab a bite” with).

A research report entitled “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement,” published by the Society for Human Resources Management in 2013 and posted online, identified the following factors as influencing overall employee satisfaction:

  • Career development.
  • Relationship with management.
  • Compensation and benefits.
  • Work environment.

In a recent meeting, I asked the managers in my office to share with each other one thing they deemed important to workplace satisfaction in our environment. The following were some of the items they proposed:

  • Being credible and dependable.
  • Having determination.
  • Being versatile and adaptable.
  • Having high morale.
  • Working in an environment that fosters creativity and growth.
  • Having adequate resources to get the job done.
  • Being able to plan out accomplishments.
  • Being able to have open communications
  • Having a keen sense of professionalism.

ïExploring 6 key elements of satisfaction

Obviously, there are many factors that influence one’s satisfaction on the job, and all have value and can be very meaningful to success at work. I have chosen to highlight the following six workplace satisfaction elements, which I believe are essential to improving relationships, office morale, and productivity.

1. Being credible. This intangible has a huge impact on how you are perceived by others, particularly on whether colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors can depend on you and your work. It involves keeping your word, following through on tasks, meeting deadlines, and performing your work accurately. Ultimately, having credibility or not can impact your reputation. One important thing I have learned over the years about credibility is that it needs to be built not only with one’s supervisors and colleagues, but that it’s just as critical to build it with one’s staff.

2. Understanding one’s work climate.  This aptitude is especially helpful when you enter into a new work environment. It can help you assess the dynamics of the new workplace so you can align your expectations with the culture of the office. This way, you can find how to best make yourself valuable and begin building credibility. Sometimes, failures at work can be attributed to one’s inability to “fit into” the environment because of misalignment of one’s anticipations and the way business is conducted in the organization.

3. Connecting with others and cultivating relationships.  This ability is extremely important, as we mostly have to work with so many different constituents in our profession. As such, having good relationships is vital to successful teamwork. My advice on this one is to go beyond the superficial, and get to know your colleagues a little bit better. As it turns out, you may find out interesting things about the individuals with whom you work which may help dissipate barriers and establish common ground in your work together. By the way, don’t be hesitant to give first (and don’t expect anything in return), and giving first may very well mean taking the first step in reaching out to others. Often times, we are at a stale mate in developing splendid working relationships because everyone is waiting for the other to take the first step. Another word of advice, at work and in our profession, is to have a collaborative and service disposition in your interactions. Often times, territorialism is the culprit of strained relationships, and can severely hinder accomplishments. On the contrary, by sharing information with others, you will offer value to them, and this can be instrumental in creating long-lasting professional relationships, even beyond the borders of your institution.ï

4. Having supervisor support.  I believe this to be one of the most important factors of one’s satisfaction on the job. As a matter of fact, it has been my signature answer to the interview question, “What would it take for you to be successful in this position?” I believe that knowing that your supervisor “has your back” is critical to your self-confidence on the job, and this will ultimately impact your workplace satisfaction. This element, however, is intricately tied to building credibility. While I believe it is a good thing to let your supervisor know that their support is vital to you, it behooves you to build credibility with your supervisor to foster that support relationship. You supervisor needs to know that they can trust you and your work, and that you will also be loyal and supportive of their vision. This will create a win-win situation for you and your supervisor, and consequently increase your satisfaction as you are assured that you can always count on your supervisor’s support. I venture to say, it is a very liberating feeling!

5. Being adaptable.  We work in an environment of constant change, which could be triggered by new policies, compliances, practices, or explorations, and which can sometimes cause severe disruption. Our business is heavily driven by policy and we are increasingly seeing more of these coming from our federal and State governments, requiring our immediate attention and reaction. One example of such change was last year’s new requirements from the Department of Education for National Student Loan Data Services reporting. This change in reporting requirements and its strict compliance timeline caused severe disruptions in many of our operations and required us to readjust business processes very quickly. Having an attitude of adaptability, particularly in compulsory circumstances, can be a meaningful asset in the way we approach meeting expectations. This often means choosing the right strategy and engaging the expertise of the right people, in which case, having good working relationships with these individuals is of prime significance. Being adaptable means being open to engaging in the process of change, as opposed to an attitude of resistance, which could be injurious and costly to the organization.

6. Accentuating the lighter side.  Often times our satisfaction on the job is held hostage by our need to complete our tasks. Indeed, the priority at work is to get the job done. However, I have always believed that working hard and working happy are not mutually exclusive. Being this the case, I am a huge proponent of integrating a sense of humor into one’s work life so that “the lighter side of you” can help balance the “intensity” of getting the job done. Bringing out one’s lighter side will not only have an impact on cultivating professional relationships and contribute to enhancing morale in the office, but it will also make you feel a greater sense of belonging in your environment and, ultimately, contribute to your satisfaction at work.

What matters to you?

While I only selected to underscore these six factors, there are so many others that are equally significant. The important thing to think about is which among all of these influencers of work satisfaction might be of value to you, and then work on integrating those into your everyday work life.

As I was typing these last few sentences, a couple of the managers walked into my office for a brief conversation. I mentioned to them that I was just finishing up the article I had previously mentioned to them, which immediately generated some more meaningful conversation on the topic. As they left, one of them turned around, and said, “Adrian, folks just need to stop and smell the roses.” You can’t make this stuff up!



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