Is it possible that some people are just born to be dissatisfied at work? That regardless of the supervisor or job or pay scale, some folks will invariably be dissatisfied while others will be quite satisfied?
The question has some interesting implications.For example, if you are one of those people who move from job to job every two or three years because you find the job you happen to be in is no longer fun, perhaps it's you and not the job that's causing the problem.
Similarly, if you're sitting there considering a job move because you're dissatisfied where you are, consider your work history and the possibility that it's something inside you that makes you inclined to be dissatisfied.
And if it is true that some people are prone toward being dissatisfied, perhaps employers could predict your future satisfaction on the job by assessing your satisfaction on your previous jobs.
In fact, there is quite a bit of evidence that some people may just be prone toward satisfaction or dissatisfaction at work.
In a study published in 1985, two psychologists studied a group of youths over time and found statistical evidence of consistency in job satisfaction as the people moved from job to job and from firm to firm.
Perhaps, wrote these researchers, such differences are genetically based, that people who are prone to being dissatisfied simply view the world in such a way as to see reasons to be dissatisfied in everything they do.
"Job attitudes may reflect a biologically based trait that predisposes individuals to see positive or negative content in their lives," they wrote.
In a study published in this month's Journal of Applied Psychology, three University of Minnesota researchers followed up on the question of how heredity influences job satisfaction by studying twins who were brought up apart. (The twins were part of the ongoing Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart; they participated in the study between 1979 and 1987.)
By having the twins complete job-satisfaction questionnaires, the researchers could assess the extent to which genetics explained each twin's satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The study found that heredity did play a significant role, particularly with respect to intrinsic work factors such as "the freedom to use my own judgment" and "the feeling of accomplishment I get from my job."
The fact that heredity may play a role in deciding which of us are unhappy or happy at work doesn't mean we can throw out leadership-training or job-enrichment programs, of course. More studies need to be done, and, in any case, heredity in this study explained less than 30 percent of each person's satisfaction. Other environmental factors such as leadership style and pay still account for most of each person's satisfaction.
However, keep in mind that a person's dissatisfaction at work is usually not just a function of the job itself. Some people do seem predisposed to being dissatisfied at work, and this sometimes means that introspection and counseling - not a job switch - is what they need to be happy at work.