As an employee in the modern economy, career and job change will happen to you - likely several times throughout your life. Your own desires for career advancement might be at the root of these changes, or it may have more to do with the realities of the business world forcing you out of a job you're enjoying. Whatever the cause, chances are you'll end up at jobs that you love, and at jobs that you could have done without.

Job satisfaction can vary widely based on where you derive your motivations, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, and how those motivations change over time. Neither source of motivation is inherently an issue, but if your job satisfaction begins to waiver, it might be time to re-assess yourself. Has the job changed, or have your motivations for doing the work changed?

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivators are ones that come to you from the outside, rather than ones that drive you internally. For example, often the appeal of a position or career path is financially driven - a $10,000 raise or a more attractive bonus. It may also have a desirable title or great perks and benefits. Maybe the hours are flexible, or it might come with recognition from peers. In any of these cases, the motivation is extrinsic in nature.

Roadblock: There may come a time when the novelty of that signing bonus has worn off. Perhaps you’ve grown into the job, and the day to day work could stand to be more rewarding, and thus no longer worth the trade-off of a higher salary. Have the perks that first attracted you since lost their luster?

job satisfaction

Resolution: If it is extrinsic motivation that makes you tick, look deeper into incentives for staying on.

  • Do you get more vacation, recognition, or a raise after a certain tenure? If you attach value to any of these, they could become a major motivator to hang on until that next landmark is reached. Review the policy handbook or ask more tenured employees about the culture of the company as it relates to rewarding tenure.

  • Are there opportunities for promotion? If there is any possibility of moving up on the career ladder into roles with more leadership, this may provide an extrinsic boost and improve your job satisfaction.

  • Do you gain seniority? Even if you’ve reached your ceiling with a company, is there an opportunity to gain seniority over those at your same level?

  • Pro tip: If you answered no to all three, you may have exhausted your extrinsic motivation at your current job.

Next steps: If you've determined that your extrinsic motivation is lacking, picking the right next workplace for you requires a balance between your old motivations and your new ones. Keep in mind that your prior extrinsic motivators, like salary, benefits, hours, vacation time, and the like are still important. Make sure you're willing to make sacrifices for a career change.

Consider what motivates you from the inside - what challenges do you want to overcome? Maybe you worked in finance and really want your next role to involve your passion for writing. A job as a reporter or editor for a financial blog or news outlet can be the right next role. Or maybe you're an IT professional and you want to help your community get out of poverty. Start building websites for local non-profits or teaching technical skills at a community college. Find your motivator and adapt it to the context of your prior work experience.

Intrinsic motivation

It's also part of human nature to be genuinely interested in certain things, to strive to overcome challenges, and to be driven toward mastery of a particular task or endeavor. These motivations are intrinsic. For example, your primary motivation to work for a particular community agency might be your strong desire to see a community's needs met through your work with clients.

Roadblock: Upon your hire, you may have been given a number of objectives to meet. What happens when your challenge is met, you’ve mastered a process, or your curiosity has been satiated? It can be easy at that point to settle into a familiar, comfortable routine. Although this may seem fine at first, or even feel as if you’ve “caught your breath” it may lead to stagnation in productivity and mistake-laden work in the long run.

Resolution: Rather than relocate your talents elsewhere, your job satisfaction may rebound (at least temporarily) by simply considering some of the approaches below.

  • Seek out professional development. Those who are intrinsically motivated often are driven by learning. Simply attending a conference, training, or completing a class may also expose you to new ideas or novel approaches to the same problem.

  • Identify new challenges and brainstorm new projects. It is unlikely you’ve met all objectives for your department or company – picking up a new project may stimulate new energy and fresh thinking.

  • Network with professionals outside of your company. Taking this step will again expand your exposure which may serve a purpose beyond finding new approaches to your work – it may connect you to your next employment opportunity as a by-product once those in your expanded network see your skillset as an asset for their team.

Next steps: None of the above working for you? It might be time to consider a career that is more driven by extrinsic factors like praise, pay, or job title. It might be that you want your name out there more often, or you want a job that interacts more with others and is competitive. A job in sales could be great if you're looking for pay based on your performance, or a job in public relations or marketing could work if you want to make connections in the press. You don't have to forget your intrinsic motivation roots, however, as you can still work for companies and organizations that champion causes you are passionate about.

Which is better?

Neither motivation is necessarily counterproductive. However, intrinsic motivation is easier resolved from within, while extrinsic motivators may be restricted by company policy or budget restraints. Either way, if you find your productivity and job satisfaction waning, look at where you derive your motivation to see whether you're at the right company for your career.

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