Career Contentment: Worker-Centric Solution

Jeff Garton

For HR professionals to admit that satisfaction and engagement programs don't work would be difficult. Those are HR's most enduring tools in the fight for talent, and against turnover and poor performance. That's like physicians admitting that penicillin doesn't work or teachers admitting that a good education is not important.

Actually, neither of those things work unless people allow them to work. If you choose not to heal, the best medicine may not work. And if you choose not to succeed, it won't matter what you learned in school. Similarly, any efforts by employers to persuade workers are powerless against the will of people who choose to complain or quit.


This is the second of two articles that challenge traditional thinking regarding the effectiveness of satisfaction and engagement programs. This final article reviews how a worker's control over their career contentment is the source of their improved performance, with or without job satisfaction. Click here for part one.

But look what happens when people choose to think differently. They can sometimes heal without medicine, and achieve unimaginable success despite their lack of education. Just as some people are able to remain self-motivated, naturally engaged and productive without relying on employers to make them satisfied or engaged. People have an ability to function in an unyielding manner to their circumstances. The question is, how can employers tap into this ability to improve performance and productivity?

The point: Not unless workers decide first that they are content to work somewhere and stay there can employers hire them, make them satisfied or engaged, or even try to retain them. A person's control from within over their thoughts and emotions to manage their career in an authentic manner always trumps an employer's outside efforts to persuade them by transient and artificial means.

The problem: There is no problem. This is how humans are designed to function. How people achieve their unfulfilled potential is by exercising independent control over their mental and emotional abilities to fulfill their purposes for choosing or later changing their career. Otherwise, when they reach retirement, they may look back on their career with regret that they fulfilled their employer's purposes but neglected their own.

Humans are not resources for the fulfillment of an employer's purposes. Employers are resources for the fulfillment of human purposes. In fact, this is why corporations were originally created in the 1500's -- to fulfill human purposes -- and this country was founded on that principle. For one hundred years following the American Revolution, corporations were banned in America to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of We The People. That revolution was a stand by working Americans against British corporations and indentured servitude -- so we can pursue our individual purposes.

Workers can be persuaded to fulfill an employer's purposes with good jobs, attractive wages and so forth, but only to the extent that they allow themselves to become co-dependent on employers for those satisfactions. However, if they are in a job that fulfills their employer's purposes, but that they think is wasting their time and talents, they will eventually complain or quit and it won't matter what their employer does to make them satisfied. Give me liberty or I'll find a new job.

The truly worker-centric solution to improving retention and productivity involves capitalizing on a person's independent control over their thoughts and emotions to fulfill their most valued purposes for working.

In the same manner that people can think to self-empower the emotions of confidence and enthusiasm to perform well despite conditions that are fearful and boring, they can leverage their emotion of contentment as a source of self-motivation, natural engagement and resilience to perform well despite conditions that are dissatisfying, or even satisfying. By control of their emotions, workers are able to function in an unyielding manner to their circumstances. They do this non-consciously when they believe their job is meaningful or worth fighting for. The idea here is to teach workers how to do this intentionally.

This is "career contentment," whereby people are self-motivated by what they do, not by what others give them and can later be reduced or taken away. Career contentment capitalizes on how people function naturally when in pursuit of their purposes, but this requires a paradigm shift:

  1. Employers must not expect that workers should adapt their purposes to the employer's purposes. Performance improvement is not achieved by simply influencing how workers think so they forfeit or adapt their purposes, but by keeping them in jobs that they believe are meaningful to the fulfillment of their purposes, and/or converging individual and organization purposes. Thereafter, employers should help workers to fulfill their purposes, and then reap the rewards of their career contentment, which is their natural engagement and improved productivity.
  2. Workers must be reconditioned to stop expecting that employers are responsible to make them happy and enthused. Employers are responsible to remunerate workers, but there is a limit to what they can do. They cannot control how workers think or feel. Genuine contentment with one's career is from within. It can't be purchased or persuaded, least of all by transient satisfactions that workers don't control and can't always have.

We know from years of trying that turnover and poor performance are not improved by continuing to make workers satisfied and engaged. Results are temporary and too expensive to maintain. It's time that we teach workers how to recognize their contentment and leverage it to enhance their well-being and performance without depending on employers to make them satisfied or engaged. Career contentment is a timely and relevant new topic that opens a new frontier for training and performance improvement.