Complexity and Autonomy Key to Workplace Satisfaction

Work com­plex­ity and autonomy are the two largest factors in decid­ing work­place sat­is­fac­tion, sug­ges­ted find­ings repor­ted in a 1985 art­icle in The New York Times.

The find­ings came from research by Dr. Jeylan T. Mor­timer and Dr. Melvin L. Kohn and seems to agree with a more recent dis­cus­sion on the three keys to pro­gram­mer work­place sat­is­fac­tion (autonomy, mas­tery, pur­pose).

The most import­ant determ­in­ant of job sat­is­fac­tion is ‘work autonomy,’ or the degree to which employ­ees feel they can make their own decisions and influ­ence what hap­pens on the job.

[The research­er] also found, in sharp con­trast to most pre­vi­ous research, that income had no sig­ni­fic­ant inde­pend­ent effect on job sat­is­fac­tion. People earn­ing high incomes typ­ic­ally enjoy the most autonomy on the job […] which tends to make them happy. But if one looks at indi­vidu­als who have equally autonom­ous jobs […] then they appear equally happy with those jobs, regard­less of any income dis­par­it­ies among them.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing find­ing dis­cussed in this art­icle is how “the social pos­i­tion and job con­di­tions” of your job influ­ence the value sys­tems of your chil­dren:

If the par­ents have jobs that allow self-dir­ec­tion […] then they and their chil­dren are likely to value such traits as depend­ab­ilty, curi­os­ity and respons­ib­il­ity. But if the par­ents have a job that requires con­form­ity to super­vi­sion, he added, then they and their chil­dren tend to value such traits as obed­i­ence, neat­ness and clean­li­ness.

Update: The cur­rent (01 July 2010) most high­lighted pas­sage on the Amazon Kindle is this, from Mal­colm Glad­well­’s Out­liers:

Three things—autonomy, com­plex­ity, and a con­nec­tion between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qual­it­ies that work has to have if it is to be sat­is­fy­ing.