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Job Satisfaction: Lab Managers and Researchers Weigh In

Job satisfaction is often an elusive concept: performing— for pay—a task or a series of tasks that truly fulfill a person. Fulfillment, however, carries a different meaning for each individual. Some may find that competitive compensation provides satisfaction on the job, while others find gratification in recognition from their peers.

by Sara Goudarzi
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Job satisfaction is often an elusive concept: performing— for pay—a task or a series of tasks that truly fulfill a person. Fulfillment, however, carries a different meaning for each individual. Some may find that competitive compensation provides satisfaction on the job, while others find gratification in recognition from their peers.

Still, many aspects of job satisfaction are less quantifiable than are salary or career advancement. For Becky Martin, the lab director of a 200-bed hospital in the Dallas Metroplex, a division of the Baylor Healthcare System, fulfillment comes from the impact her work has on people’s lives.

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“They may never see you or feel your touch, but you have the ability to change someone’s destiny, and who knows what they will go on to become,” she says of the patients who benefit from her work.

“By putting our patients at the center of all that we do, I feel like my focus and mission in life are being met,” she adds. “I very early wanted to heal people and make them well. Being a medical technologist fulfilled those desires.” For others, job satisfaction in a lab is achieved through a sum of several parts, including creativity on the job, coworker relationships, and work and personal life balance.

Employee Autonomy

One of the factors that contributes to a happy work life is providing individuals with some freedom to make decisions on the job—a goal that could be achieved by appointing well-trained individuals and providing them with the necessary space for creative problem solving.

The space and freedom of autonomy not only provide employees with a better work experience but can also benefit the operations of the lab.

“Many scientists are very creative by nature,” says Erich Jacobsen, laboratory manager and universal testing manager at Prince Agri Products, Inc. “I have seen [that] squashing this creativity by micromanagement or forcing everyone to conform to certain standards can really be detrimental to maximizing your department’s ability to solve complex projects that demand out-ofthe- box thinking.

“[Autonomy] allows employees to explore and try different things to figure out what works when trying to accomplish the goals they are given,” he adds. “I have found that individuals who are given this freedom early on are often the ones who require less coaching or managing as they are promoted to positions that have progressively more difficult or challenging job duties.”

Janet Garcia, lab director at the city of Tucumcari in New Mexico, believes that in addition to giving individuals freedom, maintaining standard operating procedures allows lab staff to execute more knowledgeable and assertive decisions. “You have to be confident in your own ability to make a decision,” Garcia says. “You won’t always have somebody by your side to help you make an informed or accurate decision.”

The Role of Communication

Clear communication is known to contribute to a better-run workplace, but it’s also an important tool in building understanding within the staff and between employers and the employees. Such understanding promotes a healthier work life, thereby making individuals feel as though they are clear on the happenings at their lab.

“Typically the larger company goals and directives are directed from the top down. Having clear and consistent communication with your employees is critical to being part of the larger team to allow this to happen,” Jacobsen says. “Having employees who are confused by inconsistent communication leads to apathy and ultimately employee turnover.”

Garcia agrees that without communication, jobs would take longer to finish and might not be performed up to standards and regulations.

For some, this means regularly scheduled meetings and daily visits to various workstations. For others, the interactions are more frequent.

“We communicate daily, hourly, and minute to minute with the operators, production manager, and plant manager regarding sample results,” says Stephanie Ford, lab manager at Glacial Lakes Energy in Mina, South Dakota. “Communication is a huge part [of] our daily activities that makes us all successful.”

Organization's Reputation

The reputation of an organization is another piece of the job satisfaction pie, be it how a company regards its employees or the overall organization’s rank and status in its area of expertise.

“When someone looks for a job, that person is less likely to apply somewhere that either has a reputation for treating employees unfairly or is not a reputable company,” says Garcia.

When an organization is successful and perceived to be so, those working within the system feel as though they are part of a goal and that they are moving forward, or making a difference. Such is the case for Jacobsen, as his company, Prince Agri Products, is considered a leading supplier of feed ingredients and specialty products to the animal feed industry.

“Our laboratory, in particular, is considered expert by many in the industry for mineral analysis,” he says. “I have personally found it very rewarding to be part of a team that helped contribute to this reputation and now as manager [to have the] responsibility to ensure its continued success.”

Coworker Relationships

Most people spend eight hours of their day at the workplace—sometimes more—forming bonds with coworkers and employers that are similar to the bonds of a family. To both employers and employees, it’s important for groups of folks working together to at least get along, if not enjoy working with one another.

“If you can’t get along, you won’t be happy at work and will dread going to work,” says Garcia. “Part of what makes a job more satisfying is enjoying what you’re doing and avoiding conflict.”

To aid the relationship dynamics, leaders of each department take care to treat everyone objectively. With attention, employees don’t feel resentful toward one another.

“I have to make sure that my relationships do not appear as favoritism,” says Martin. “It really helps me to stay focused on what is best for everyone and not just for myself or one person. We cannot please everyone all the time, but I do strive to make sure they all feel cared for and appreciated for the hard work they do every day.”

This sense of appreciation allows many of Martin’s employees to form lifelong bonds with each other.

For many leaders, the relationship dynamics at work are the result of putting together a team that works well together.

“Everyone has a clear understanding of this expectation while at work, and we continually monitor and correct issues when they arise that might jeopardize this,” Jacobsen says. “We also have individuals within our department who have formed friendships with one another that extend outside of working hours.”

Maintaining Work-Life Equilibrium

Employees are happiest when they feel they are spending adequate time doing the things they enjoy with those they love, in addition to performing their jobs. This provides both a sense of productivity from the time spent at work and a sense of reward from time spent outside the laboratory. Maintaining this balance, however, is not always an easy task.

“I worry about the person who lives for a job as much as I worry for the coworker who is consumed with personal issues,” Martin says. “The balance helps them look forward to coming to work and enjoy the time off they have to play and have fun.

“I have always been one to plan my playtime and maximize that time to get the most fun I can out of it. I have been known to come back to work exhausted from my travels and glad to be back at work,” she adds.

Work-life balance not only benefits individuals, but also boosts work productivity, which helps companies function more optimally.

“Having time for my family and other pastimes I enjoy allows me to reduce my stress level and perform at a higher level at work,” Jacobsen explains. To that end, it helps when organizations understand this need and help their employees achieve this delicate equilibrium.

“Our company recognizes the correlation between the two and has established wellness programs to help each employee discover and maintain what his or her individual work-life balance should be,” says Jacobsen of Prince Agri Products.

The Nature of the Work

For many, satisfaction is closely tied into how the work affects the larger picture—be it other people or our understanding of science or medicine or the environment.

For Garcia, her work running the laboratory at the city of Tucumcari and testing water and wastewater achieves a combination of all these things. “By doing this type of testing, we are ensuring the health of the public as well as monitoring how the environment is affected,” she says. “Being thanked by the public for making sure that the water is safe to drink, as well as ensuring that streams are not contaminated, is worth the job and effort.”

Martin can see her efforts in medical technology in the outcomes for her patients.

“I have great pride in those I work for because of some of the research we are conducting and the breakthroughs we have been a part of, [such as] when I see patients’ testimony of how we saved their lives or the quality of their lives just through the new hip or knee we gave them,” Martin explains.

In addition to the overarching goal of the company, employers can select staff members to work on projects that they’re interested and well-versed in.

“Everyone likes to work on things they find enjoyable,” Jacobsen says. “You can make this more enjoyable by taking the time to properly select research team members and get buy-in early on from everyone involved.”

Rewards and Recognition

Finding ways to reward individuals or teams that perform well in the workplace is another aspect of ensuring job satisfaction. Such recognition can serve as a tool to motivate those employees already performing well to try harder and to help others have a goal to strive toward.

“Being recognized makes you take pride in the work you perform, even if it’s just being complimented and patted on the back by your boss,” Garcia says. Sometimes, employers have to be imaginative to acknowledge those who’ve been doing good work or performing at a higher level.

“I think the more creative an employer can be, the more successful this program is—whether it [is something] as simple as a free meal ticket, movie tickets, or a Visa gift card with real money—it all meets a need at different levels,” Martin says. “I love to hear an employee say ‘I have been saving for a certain thing, and now I can go and buy it with my President’s Award.’”

Recognition also boosts group spirits—making the workplace a more enjoyable place to spend time in. “We aim to keep morale and recognition at the forefront of our daily routine,” Ford explains. “We all work hard on a daily basis, and achievement is at the top of our list. We have daily goals and parameters to meet, and when successful, we all celebrate.”

Bottom Line

Although job satisfaction is a combination of several factors, many agree that the most important aspect of job satisfaction is the impact an individual’s work leaves on the world.

Knowing you are making a difference and that good is coming from your hard work and daily discoveries are the true meanings of job satisfaction, Ford says.