We’re satisfied at work — sort of.
A CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey published in April found that while 85% of the 8,664 professionals polled nationally said they were somewhat or very satisfied in their jobs, 30% had also considered quitting within the past three months.
“There’s less contradiction in this statement than you would think,” says Chris Rebholz, a licensed clinical psychologist in Kirkland who has a doctorate in psychology. “It’s quite possible to be happy in your career — because fundamentally, you love what you do — but be miserable at your job.”
The variable nature of happiness can be difficult to navigate in a 9-to-5 setting, and there are a few reasons why seeing a career therapist might be a smart move, even when things are going well.
Defining your priorities
Career happiness is a complicated equation. In their survey, CNBC and SurveyMonkey examined five factors of satisfaction — meaning, autonomy, recognition, opportunity and pay — to form what they called the Workplace Happiness Index.
“If you feel satisfied in some of these categories but not in others, that may still lead to overall dissatisfaction with your job,” says Jennifer Chain, a licensed psychologist in Ballard who has a doctorate in counseling psychology. “For example, an individual who is extremely satisfied with three out of five categories, but finds their job meaningless and their contribution unrecognized by their colleagues, can have a high Workplace Happiness Index score. Yet, they may still consider quitting their job because doing something meaningful and feeling recognized are so important to them.”
Priorities shift gradually with age, according to Northwestern University researchers, who found that younger adults were more interested in tasks that maximized performance and exposure, while older adults were primarily concerned with compensation.
As your professional motivations evolve, Chain notes that therapy can help you translate those feelings into meaningful change.
“Working with a trained professional can provide you with the dedicated support and guidance in addition to what your friends, family, colleagues or supervisors can offer,” she says.
Preparing for new challenges
Sometimes work can be more stressful when everything is going right. Rebholz says that professionals with greater responsibility might benefit from additional support.
“Stepping into a higher rank on the corporate ladder can be intimidating, and few companies in tech spend much time training personnel on how to accept their new responsibilities, particularly first-time managers,” she says. “A psychologist can teach the new interpersonal skills that are required to become a manager that people want to work for, instead of flee.”
Research backs her up. In a 2016 survey conducted by micro-learning platform Grovo, 87% of managers said they wish they’d had more training before stepping into their role, and 40% felt their peers were unprepared for their duties.
From a personal growth perspective, Rebholz says those who value emotional intelligence are poised to become more practical and efficient leaders. “It will probably take less time — and potentially be less painful — to learn those skills from a psychologist than by making social faux pas with a new set of direct reports.”
Coping with stress and competition
The Seattle job market is full of opportunity, and with it often comes the pressure to outshine the competition, both in and outside the office.
“There’s often a sense that with a lot of disposable income, self-worth comes from possessions,” Rebholz says. “It’s easy to feel like an underachiever if the person sitting next to you went to Burning Man and is driving a Tesla from the options cashed out after a company’s IPO, while you had a staycation and are driving a Honda Civic because you are a contractor.”
Feeling the effects of anxiety and other negative emotions can force employees into survival mode. Chain encourages her clients to rely on a few steps when things aren’t going well at the office.
Identify your emotions. “Acknowledge to yourself that something does not feel good. Take a quiet moment to ask yourself, ‘What am I feeling right now in my body? What is the dialogue that is running through my mind? How am I making sense of what is happening?’”
Soothe yourself. “What soothes your five senses? What are some things that you can do that are easily accessible in your office? If you like nature, can you take a moment to look out the window? If you like music, can you listen to your favorite song with your headphones? Can you make yourself a cup of herbal tea? Or do some deep breathing exercises behind a closed door? Soothing yourself will help you regain the mental and emotional resources, bandwidth, and balance needed to cope with a stressful environment or situation.”
Talk to someone. “When you express your emotions to another person, your brain processes this emotion differently than when you feel it within yourself. Find someone who can provide the kind of support you need in the moment, whether that is validation, compassion, guidance, advice, or mentorship.”
Satisfaction is a fluid concept, and understanding the emotional forces that drive your work performance and overall happiness is vital.
For Chain, it’s also a proactive step. “You do not have to wait until something is ‘wrong’ to seek help from a therapist.”