Understanding the secrets of job satisfaction

Approximately 15 years ago, Paul Colonna’s process review committee met and discussed a desire to move a laboratory printer from one bench to another, some five feet away, a spot more accessible to staff. Colonna—currently UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine’s director of operations of microbiology and immunology, molecular pathology, cytogenetics, and orphan disease—replied by saying, “So why don’t you move it?”

“To this day, I still get people thanking me for moving that printer, because now it’s more efficient [for their work],” Colonna says. “It’s the little things like that—the shining light in my staff ’s eyes, if you will—that define job satisfaction to me.”

Managers often work at instilling job satisfaction in their staff—making sure their employees are treated professionally, well compensated, and furnished with challenging and purposeful tasks. But to do all those things successfully, a manager must also be content in the workplace. And each manager’s recipe for satisfaction—a blend of intrinsic fulfillment and external elements— consists of a unique proportion of factors.

“Different people have different needs—I’m not the kind of person [who] needs pats on the back,” he says. “I get more personal satisfaction [from] doing my job and trying to do it well.”

Happy staff

Managers often feel empowered when their staff is thriving and content. This empowerment is a leading ingredient for a manager’s satisfaction at the workplace. For Colonna, if his workforce of 550 is happy, he feels gratified knowing he is performing his job properly.

“Job satisfaction for me is job satisfaction for my staff,” he says.

Becky Martin, the lab director of a 200-bed hospital, a division of the Baylor Healthcare System in the Dallas Metroplex, also finds fulfillment as a manager when her staff is content.

“We have worked very hard this past year on reducing blood culture contamination and have been very successful,” she says. “But the thing we did not expect was how it would elevate the morale of the staff and their pride in themselves [as a result of] this effort.”

Martin, who spent time with the group making supply bags, didn’t realize how much her joining this effort meant to the group. She also didn’t anticipate how much their contentment was contagious.

“I call these ‘halo moments,’ when the staff really get what our mission is and they embrace this with gusto and have happiness just spilling over,” Martin adds.

Friendships and relationships

Most employed individuals in this country spend half, if not more, of their waking hours at the workplace. Friendships at the office or laboratory facilitate security, trust, increased communication, and gratification.

“My employees are my best friends,” says Jackie Darvish, president of Atlas Environmental Laboratory in Manhattan, NY. “We work like a family here. Even though we’re all different—different ages, different nationalities, and such—we get along well together.”

These types of relationships, according to Darvish, foster a loving atmosphere in which the long lab days are for the most part enjoyable ones, both for the employees and for Darvish.

Outside relationships are also critical to a manager’s contentment. With strong ties to others in the same industry, lab operations run more smoothly, effectively reducing stress and in turn producing more satisfied managers.

“I have contacts all over the health system with the kinds of relationships where they know that you get the job done and they know who you are and what you do and that you communicate well,” Colonna says. “You’d be surprised by the little things they do for you that maybe other people don’t.”

“I think it’s a really critical part of the teamwork that if you don’t have that collaboration and engagement with other people outside of your arena, it’s going to ultimately cause you problems. We’re all interdependent on everyone else,” he adds.

Communication

A top driver of happiness in the workplace is effective and open communication. Proper transmission of information is key to accomplishing both individual and collective goals, which in turn leads to managers who are less taxed and therefore more content running a laboratory.

“Ninety percent of the errors seen in hospitals can be tracked in some way back to communication issues,” Martin, who runs the lab’s communication efforts, says. “The better we communicate with others, the more we can accomplish.”

Others agree and indicate that communication, in all arenas of the workplace, is a necessity.

“I think you need to communicate downward to the staff, but you also need to communicate upward to upper management,” Colonna says. “They need to know everything that’s going on. So you really need to communicate, and once you engage with the staff or upper management, [the discussions] keep growing, and I think that—being collaborative and professional, and treating people with respect—is really the key to all of it.”

This exchange of ideas is important not only within labs but also with the outside world, be it vendors, subcontractors, or clients.

According to Darvish, communicating clearly and efficiently is probably the most important aspect of running her laboratory and company. She constantly works hard to acquire knowledge on a specific topic and then transmits that information to both her employees and clients.

“I have to make sure that each involved person knows what to do,” she says. “I always try to train them and explain issues to them so they know what they are up to.”

And for her, the lines of communication aren’t just open from nine to five, but at all hours of the day.

“We are not doctors, but we are on call 24/7,” she says of her efforts to relay information when necessary. “So in the middle of the night, if there’s an emergency, my clients can feel perfectly free to call me. Same thing with my technicians; I’m always on call to answer any questions.”

Upper management

Research shows that when employees are given some degree of autonomy at the workplace, their satisfaction at the business place rises. This is partially because individuals get a sense of increased accountability for the quality of tasks they perform. Managers are no different, and consider self-governance an important aspect of trust and responsibility on behalf of upper management.

“I think you need to have a boss [who] understands that you are trying to do a good job, someone who is empathetic, someone who understands your challenges and certainly understands the work you’re doing,” says Colonna.

Another factor that allows managers to better enjoy their work atmosphere is the way in which they view upper management. In addition to having autonomy, managers and directors find it important to look up to those higher on the corporate ladder.

“I am the type of person [who] has to like, and respect, who I work for,” Martin says. “That does not mean I have to agree on every issue, but [I need to] respect their opinion to excel in our efforts.”

Organization reputation

One of the most influential factors in job satisfaction is an organization’s reputation. An organization’s image is key to how a company is evaluated by advisory boards and other stakeholders, and therefore it is an important aspect of feeling stable as an employee and therefore feeling satisfied. In fact, studies show that company reputation and employee commitment, pride, and satisfaction are positively associated.

“When they say that UCLA is the best in the West and number five in the nation, that makes me pretty proud,” Colonna says. “I’ve been here 29 years, [and] it’s been an incredible opportunity for me, an incredible job. I work with some incredible people, both staff and management, so I do think that is a big satisfier.”

Similarly for Darvish, the laboratory’s reputation is the reason her business has been successful and that she’s been happily continuing in her pursuit of enhancing and expanding it.

“I don’t have a marketing division in my company,” she says, “but thanks to our reputation, people know and come to us regardless.”

Personal goals

Progress in personal goals is another major force in career fulfillment. For some managers, it’s the overarching mission of the work they do that satisfies that need. For others, it’s achieving a dream of building an organization from the ground up and seeing it thrive.

When Darvish first immigrated to this country, she wanted to enroll in graduate studies in chemistry. But faced with financial barriers and language difficulties, she took a job as a technician in a laboratory during the day and babysat in the evenings. She went on to take odd jobs, including selling real estate and clothing, but never lost sight of her objectives: to be a chemist and have her own business. To that end, Darvish got back into chemistry by working for other companies and quickly began moving up in the lab world.

“I never stopped learning; I kept going to different seminars, reading books, and addressing my weaknesses,” she says. “Little by little, I went from chemist to lab manager to lab supervisor to lab director, and at the end, I started my own company.”

This, Darvish explains, has been the ultimate satisfier.

“Being a part of serving people and seeing clients so happy and grateful makes me joyful,” she says.

Martin’s personal goals have more to do with her leadership role in an organization that works to better patients’ lives.

“Getting the things done that effect change and improvement in my hospital plays a very important part in job satisfaction,” she says. “As leaders, we’re faced with decisions every day that affect our lives and the lives of our patients. Knowing that from [someone with] the smallest job function to the top leader in the company, [we] have a common goal and desire to improve life makes coming to work a great satisfier.”