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Predictor of Job Happiness

Published November 18, 2019

By Jonathan Phan  Is Knowing What You Dislike a Better Predictor of Job Happiness?

Finding out what people dislike and helping them avoid these dislikes might be more important for their job satisfaction.

My research focuses on examining how you set up your surveys can lead to very different results and often times reveal novel phenomena. For example, many students have received at some point the advice, “find a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Contrary to this popular wisdom, decades of research have demonstrated that interest pursuit only weakly predicts job satisfaction, if at all.

Instead, what an employee dislikes doing maybe a better predictor of whether they will be satisfied at work. Drawing from semantic differential techniques, I replaced bipolar response formats with unipolar affective formats (e.g., asking how much you would feel interested, anxious, bored, etc. in doing a work activity).

I show across two studies and over 700 people, that there are two processes inherent in pursing your work interests: (a) the work people are drawn to, and (b) what they are averse to—both of which need to be captured to understand the link between interest (i.e., passion), fit, and satisfaction.

Notably, interest misfit (e.g., doing work you find boring) completely dominates any satisfaction gained from doing what you love (interest fit). These findings challenge the prevailing use of interests, which focuses only on what people like doing.


Model D  Model E

Model D versus Model E. Testing whether your passions one or two processes. Model E here is a better description of how people engage in their career pursuits. Figure by Phan and Rounds, 2018, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 106, pp. 27.

In another project, I use item response tree modeling over five studies to show that people who use the middle point on scale tells us a lot more about them than just their actual selected response. Namely, they display a trait that my collaborators and I call Middle-point Endorsement Habitude (MEH).

A person high in MEH is the sort of person that does not care about and is generally lacking in effort when doing most things. We show that this MEH trait is as stable as other known personality traits, and predicts life outcomes, such as how satisfied they will be, how likely they are to slack off at work, or even how much weight they will put on—even after a gap of  three years.

What is useful about this method is that it can be obtained from any survey a person has previously taken, making it very easy to researchers and organizations to obtain and apply this research. This paper won the best student research methods paper at the 2019 Academy of Management Conference.    

Images courtesy of Jonathan Phan

Assistant Professor Jonathan Phan Human Resources Management College of Business