Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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When I grow up: How to be happy at work

Published 27 February 2013 11:42

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When I grow up: How to be happy at work

Clergy like the vicar of St Peter’s at Eastern Hill, Hugh Kempster, tend to be happier than anyone else in their work, a survey by the National Organisation for Research at the University of Chicago has found. Photo: Stephen Lightfoot

When teenagers are asked what they want to do when they leave school, they generally talk about how much money and fame they want.

These are the things they think will make them happy.

But nowhere on the list of “happiest jobs” are hedge fund traders, CEOs, rock stars or mining engineers. The occupations of the world’s happiest people are far more prosaic and many of these people struggle to pay a mortgage. Jobs with the highest levels of job satisfaction have much in common. They tend to be roles that are creative or involve helping others but unfortunately it is unlikely they are well paid.

A survey from the National Organisation for Research at the University of Chicago shows the top 10 jobs are:


2. Physical therapists

3. Firefighters

4. Education administrators

5. Painters, sculptors

6. Teachers

7. Authors

8. Psychologists

9. Special education teachers

10. Operating engineers

The last entry on that list may seem like an anomaly, but if you are a “boy” at heart who never got over your love of diggers, then being an operating engineer is about as close as you can get to being Bob The Builder.

Great jobs – ones that people never want to leave – not only involve a sense of service, which brings meaning to the work but they also offer a reasonable level of status where people are empowered to make their own decisions. Money is important; we need to feel we are paid fairly and appropriately for the work we do, but satisfying jobs do not have to bring riches.

In his book Three Signs of a Miserable Job, management consultant Patrick Lencioni, uses a fable to describe how workers in a fast food restaurant can be motivated by learning their jobs have value and can actually help their customers. Not everyone can have a glamourous “important” job. Someone has to deliver pizzas, answer phones and clean up after others.

Lencioni’s says it is up to managers to show employees their work is valued and important.

“Certainly you want empowered employees who want to take responsibility but if you work for a manager who doesn’t care about you and if you work for a manager who does not have any time to help you understand why your job matters, there is only so much you can do for yourself,” he said.