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Personal job satisfaction

Personal job satisfaction is the term for the combined positive and negative feelings and emotions that you view your work with.

“So why I really love this job is I regularly get those moments that make me go, ‘Yeah, this is why I do this job and this is why it’s brilliant and why I love it’.” 

Christopher Jeffs, Senior Education and Engagement Officer, British Ecological Society 

What is personal job satisfaction? 

In their meta-analysis of 105 studies from across 65 years of employment studies, Hoff et al. (2020) found that people who are more interested in their jobs tend to be more satisfied, but that job satisfaction also depends on a number of other factors related to the person, job and organisation. They also note that interests change throughout an individual's life span, so the process of regularly reflecting on your own interests is important. 

Two main elements of job satisfaction:

The factors that influence your own levels of job satisfaction are unique to you and are dependent on your own working aims, goals and values, as well as factors beyond your workplace (for example financial obligations or family responsibilities). 

Intrinsic Job SatisfactionExtrinsic Job Satisfaction
Comes from within and is related to the work itselfComes from external factors, such as pay and benefits
Examples: feeling a sense of accomplishment, finding work meaningful, enjoying the work itselfExamples: receiving a promotion, earning a bonus, having job security
Often associated with higher levels of job engagement, motivation, and overall life satisfactionMay not necessarily lead to higher levels of job engagement or motivation, but can still impact overall life satisfaction
More sustainable over time, as it is tied to internal factors that are not easily influenced by external circumstancesCan be more susceptible to changes in external circumstances, such as economic downturns or changes in company policies
May lead to higher levels of creativity, innovation, and job satisfaction in the long-termMay lead to short-term increases in job satisfaction, but may not be sustainable over the long-term

“I guess I was looking to work for an organisation that could bring two things together really. One was a real passion and focus on what data could do for a business and how data could help the business reach its objectives. I think that’s definitely the case with Pets at Home. The other was a strong and supportive culture, particularly around people and a focus on people development. Again, I think Pets at Home is a really good culture in terms of that focus on people.” 

Martin Squires, Director of Advanced Analytics, Pets at Home

The dangers of dissatisfaction

Job satisfaction is important for you but it also matters for your employer. High levels of job satisfaction can result in: 

  • Low staff turnover rates 
  • Loyal employees 
  • Higher levels of productivity 
  • Increased outputs and/or profits 

Conversely, dissatisfaction can lead to staff quitting, reduced productivity or even behaviours that might negatively impact other members of staff and their productivity (Flowers and Hughes, 1973). 

If you feel dissatisfied with your current role it’s important to consider whether the dissatisfaction stems from the role or the career. 

Job dissatisfaction is negativity associated with the specific role you currently have. It could be with your line manager, with co-workers, with specific tasks within your job, with policies and procedures, or with the commute you have to make. 

Career dissatisfaction is more fundamental, concerning the aims, field and purpose of your work. 

As with job satisfaction, there are a large number of reasons why an employee might feel dissatisfied, including poor management, unreasonable workloads, perceptions of low pay, not getting along with co-workers, and even factors external to work such as a bad commute. 

“Some people go down the management route and decide that actually they had more reward and more satisfaction doing technical things. Some people go the other way; they find that they have a skill for working in the organisation and managing people and they do less day-to-day science. Both pathways are available.” 

Mike Tobyn, Research Fellow in Materials Science and Engineering, Bristol-Myers Squibb 

Types of dissatisfaction

Example 1: I began my career as a web developer but after 5 years I found myself no longer enjoying my job as a coder. My work wasn’t valued within the company and my line manager never gave me opportunities to develop. I am now a senior coder in a different company where my abilities are appreciated, and I’m encouraged to grow. 

Example 2: I began my career as a web developer but after 5 years I found myself no longer enjoying my job as a coder. I am an extravert and I like talking to lots of different people, but my job involved long periods working in isolation. It was fundamentally wrong for me. I transitioned to work that was more people orientated. 

Assess your job satisfaction

  1. Take a piece of paper or open a new document on your computer.
  2. Make two columns on the paper, and label them "Satisfying" and "Unsatisfying."
  3. Reflect on your current job and make a list of all the things that are satisfying to you about your work, such as tasks that you enjoy doing, positive relationships with coworkers, a sense of accomplishment when completing projects, etc. Write these things down in the "Satisfying" column.
  4. Next, make a list of all the things that are unsatisfying about your job, such as tasks that you dislike doing, conflicts with coworkers or managers, feeling undervalued or underpaid, etc. Write these things down in the "Unsatisfying" column.
  5. Review the two columns and look for patterns or themes. Are there certain tasks or responsibilities that consistently bring you satisfaction or dissatisfaction? Are there certain relationships or aspects of your work environment that impact your job satisfaction?
  6. Use this information to identify areas where you may want to make changes or improvements in your job, such as seeking out new responsibilities or tasks that align with your strengths and interests, or addressing conflicts or challenges that are impacting your satisfaction.
  7. Finally, consider the broader context of your job satisfaction. Are there external factors, such as personal stressors or changes in the organization, that may be impacting your satisfaction? Identifying these factors can help you develop strategies for managing them and improving your overall job satisfaction.
Can use specialist skills and knowledgeUnclear expectations of my role and remit.
Opportunity to build on an develop new techniques and skilsPoor work-life balance, and long hours

This activity can help you gain a deeper understanding of your job satisfaction, and identify areas for growth and improvement in your current role.

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Increasing job satisfaction 

If you find yourself dissatisfied with your current work situation then there are small steps you can take that may increase your levels of job satisfaction.  

  • Reassess: take time to rediscover and understand your role, what you are doing and how your work contributes to yourself, your organisation or wider society. 
  • Help others: assisting co-workers can make your role and work feel more meaningful. 
  • Do something new: asking your manager for experience of a different task may provide you with a new outlook on your job. 
  • Be positive: Surround yourself at work with positive and supportive people – your co-workers’ attitudes can affect your own. 
  • Improve balance: Find a work/life balance that works for you and meets your needs – what would you need to change to make this happen? 
  • Grow: discuss with your manager whether there are any new skills you can learn or existing skills you can further develop in your role. 
  • Goals: Set yourself goals to aim for that can help you advance in your career. 

Remember, however, there may also be fundamental reasons why a job or career isn’t right for you. Be honest with yourself. If you can’t rediscover the spark that your job used to light up inside you, then you may need to make a job or career change. 

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“A massive part of [my career planning] has always been thinking about tying together two things: understanding what my strengths are and combining that with understanding what I’m actually enjoying or not enjoying about the job; and helping that to map out what my aspirations and plans are. You have to be proactive and have some kind of self-awareness.” 

Dr Kate Whelan, former postdoc now co-founder and COO of Notch Communications 

Using ikigai to find job satisfaction 

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that refers to a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life. The word "ikigai" roughly translates to "a reason for being." It is a concept that originated in the Japanese island of Okinawa, where people are known for their longevity and happiness. 

The idea behind ikigai is that everyone has a unique purpose or calling in life, and finding and pursuing that purpose can bring a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment. It is believed that ikigai arises from the intersection of four elements: 

  1. What you love (your passion) 
  1. What you are good at (your profession or skill) 
  1. What the world needs (your mission) 
  1. What you can be paid for (your vocation or job) 

When these four elements come together, it can create a sense of purpose and fulfillment that can enrich one's life. The pursuit of ikigai involves self-reflection, exploration, and a willingness to take risks and make changes in life to align with one's purpose. 

Ikigai self-reflection

  • What brings me joy and fulfillment in life? How can I incorporate these things into my career? 
  • What are my strengths and skills, and how can I apply them to my job or career? 
  • What are my personal values and beliefs, and how can they be reflected in my career? 
  • What kind of impact do I want to make in the world, and how can I achieve this through my career? 
  • What kind of job or career can provide me with financial stability and support my lifestyle? 
  • What activities or tasks do I find most engaging and enjoyable in my current job or career? How can I do more of these things? 
  • What tasks or activities do I find draining or unfulfilling in my current job or career? How can I minimize or delegate these tasks? 
  • What are some potential career paths or opportunities that align with my passions, skills, and values? 
  • What risks am I willing to take to pursue a career that aligns with my ikigai? 
  • What steps can I take today to move closer to aligning my career goals with my sense of purpose and fulfillment? 

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Remember, when it comes to looking for a new job, the question you should ask shouldn’t be ‘What jobs can I get?’ but instead should be ‘What jobs are a good fit for me, for what I’m both good at doing and like to do?’

  • Regularly re-assess your current levels of job satisfaction
  • Compare what your role provides against what you need
  • Act to align your work more closely with your needs, by making changes to your current role or exploring alternative roles and careers
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