Introspection could be the cure for deep-rooted dissatisfaction at work

Employers must act to curb frequent job changers and improve engagement, argues Ayelet Fishbach

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The UK economy is currently undergoing seismic change. Droves of employees are shifting to different roles and industries, all on a mission to find more flexibility, higher salaries, better perks, and ultimately greater fulfilment and satisfaction from their employment. Such change is best coined as the ‘Great Reshuffle’. At first glance, such a phenomenon should be welcomed and encouraged. But is it in reality?

Why bother stopping the shuffle?

There are many reasons that people and businesses should work to stop the shuffle. From an employee perspective, it’s clear that plenty of people are unhappy at work right now. In fact, Indeed’s recent work happiness score found that one in 10 UK workers start feeling unhappy less than six months into a new job, highlighting the extent of discontentment among the UK workforce. 

Moving restlessly from one job to the next without a clear sense of what will make one happy can be a stressful and tiring process. It is the mindset of the impatient drivers who keep switching lanes on a jammed highway – they tire themselves out without making real progress. Encouraging people to take stock and make more considered career decisions means we’d be helping employees feel more fulfilled in their role, and therefore in their wider lives. And what’s not to like about that?

Beyond that, employees being dissatisfied at work and seeking alternative opportunities doesn’t do businesses any favours either. Short employment periods are a huge resource drain, with each and every new employee needing onboarding and training. Stopping this reshuffle can help employers tackle their turnover rates and reduce the cost and heavy admin associated with hiring – naturally to be welcomed by employers, particularly in the current economic climate.

Ultimately, the ‘Great Reshuffle’ is costly for both people and profits. So what can we do?

Provide better education on goal setting

Such frequent job switching among so many people indicates one thing: a distinct lack of long-term goal-setting skills. There’s a glaring need for better education on goal setting to help people choose jobs they can, and will want to, stick with, and that will ultimately make them happy. 

Better goal-setting behaviour starts with individuals. When setting a work goal, employees should realise that they are setting goals, not writing a list of chores, and look to the long term to focus on what they are trying to achieve. 

Employees could ask themselves why they’re pursuing this goal to help gain a broader perspective. Answering the ‘why’ question allows people to find purpose in their actions, and can also increase intrinsic motivation and satisfaction. An intrinsically motivated employee is the one who wishes they had a few more minutes by the end of the workday to finish what they have started, rather than the one who cannot wait to go home and look for a new job. 

Support people to identify, and work towards, their goals

In the workplace, employers also have a role in supporting employees to sustain their motivation effectively. There are three basic needs at work: compensation, social connection and personal growth. If a job pays well but does not allow for personal development, or misses the social aspect, we expect job satisfaction to not last long and motivation to decline. People need to know what is missing in their equation, be taught how to look inwards and identify what’s important to them. They should identify the type of job role that will allow them to satisfy these needs. 

Employers need to improve their communication with their employees, and really listen to what would bring them contentment and fulfilment at work. Is it more regular performance reviews? Or is it a more tailored benefits package? Improving the employer-employee relationship is the cornerstone of employee satisfaction and, ultimately, in stopping people feeling it’s necessary to seek alternative positions.

Teach the value and patience of self-control

People should be encouraged to ask the question: ‘Will I truly be happier by moving jobs, or will I likely land myself in a different role that makes me unhappy in just the same way?’ The reality is that people often make decisions for their short term, rather than picturing the long term and where they’d like to be in a few years’ time. Such rash decisions mean that all too often people end up in the same position as they were before: discontented and unfulfilled, having made a snap decision driven by impatience. 

Individuals must train themselves to go deeper, to look to the future and really question whether this decision is the right one for them. Instead of moving jobs to satisfy short-term whims, taking more considered decisions will undoubtedly improve happiness and fulfilment in the longer term. 

And these values can be taught from the top. Businesses should look to communicate the value of stability and encourage workers to look at their long-term goals and career objectives before making a move. Encouraging employees to make more processed decisions and look to their futures will help reduce the reshuffling behaviour on the scale we’ve been seeing.

The bottom line is this: while instinct may naturally tempt employees to quit their jobs and start afresh when discontented, or if things aren’t going the right way, it’s clear that this does not always work out. Employees need to take some time to develop their soft skills such as introspection, and practise making more decisions based on their long-term futures.

And employers have a role to play too: workers deserve to feel equipped with the ability to recognise what they value about a workplace, to allow them to set the right career goals for themselves and exercise patience and self-control in reaching them. Ultimately, we want people to move when it is beneficial to do so. And we want to avoid the mentality of drivers who frantically switch lanes. Encouraging and adopting careful decision making is set to benefit employers, and employees, alike – and harness the Great Reshuffle for the greater good.

Ayelet Fishbach is a professor of behavioural science and marketing at the Chicago Booth School of Business and author of Get It Done