Do you ever dream of the perfect job? Occasionally spend time fantasizing about a career in which you actually get paid to do the thing you love? Or at least something you are good at? Wouldn’t that be a dream come true? The ultimate realization of every underpaid, overworked, unappreciated employee’s most brightly burning desire. Or is it? If the salary remains the same, getting paid to do the thing you love is always preferable than doing something you barely care about. But could such conditions automatically be described as the perfect?
Not necessarily, according to Robert Karasek of the Univ. of Southern California. The 1979 publication of his groundbreaking paper Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly essentially outlined what constitutes the perfect job. The world of labor has undergone some significant changes since 1979, but the elements that make up ideal working conditions that Karasek outlines over the course of 24 pages has held surprisingly firm. How many of these attributes of the perfect job do you identify with in your current position?
Your skills are recognised
Addressing and taking advantage of your specific set of skills is perhaps the very foundation of finding your perfect job. Even if you are paid very good money to do something that does not give you the opportunity to show off your talents and abilities, Karasek predicts that you are bound to be happier doing a job where you not only get to show off your skills, but are given the opportunity to improve and expand them.
You're offered positive challenges
Could you really be happy doing what you love if the job itself never challenged you? The importance of being challenged by your work even when you are getting paid handsomely to do what you love is one of the cornerstones of civilization. The Beatles challenged themselves to go from the simplicity of “She Loves You” to the complexity of the “Sgt. Pepper” album in just the span of a few years. The best of those who get paid handsomely to do the thing they love find ways to challenge themselves to go beyond what makes them successful even if meeting those challenges puts that success at risk.
The work has meaning to you
The perfect job has to be meaningful to you. You might well one day find a career that pays so incredibly well that you can find meaning and purpose to your life outside the job. Being wealthy enough to find meaning away from work clearly does not mean that you’ve found the perfect job, however.
It gives you some sense of being in control
Finding a job that gives you some sense of control is hard enough. Finding a job that provides you with any actual control is inching closer and closer to extinction. According to Karasek, to really find happiness on the job, the perception of even some small amount of control is essential. That doesn’t mean the perfect job is one in which your level of participation or presence could impact the entire enterprise. Control could range from being able to make suggestions for improvement that are actually implemented to having the flexibility to change your schedule on just a few days notice.
The workplace is a democracy, not a dictatorship
If you have no viable means of settling grievances with ownership, the job can never be described as perfect. Working in an atmosphere where majority of employee opinions are routinely made known and regularly dismissed in favor of the minority opinion of the owner is one that will never become an ideal situation. The perfect job is one where democratic principles are not just sound bytes during election season, but are actually implemented throughout the company.
It fosters collaboration as well as competition
Yes, the workplace unquestionably benefits from a spirit of lively competition. If the workplace is not also an arena in which collaboration is fostered and encouraged and rewarded, perfection will never be welcome.
You recognise that work is only a part of life
As earlier indicated, Karasek does not equate finding happiness away from a job that is financially rewarding with exemplifying perfect working conditions. That is not the same thing as being able to find happiness both at work and away from work. In fact, one of the most important considerations for determining ideal working conditions is the ability to seamlessly blend work and your private life. The perfect job means a boss that recognizes the importance of family. It also means that when you are away from work, you feel entirely comfortable really and truly being away. No compulsion to check e-mails at night and not a moment of guilt if you go the entire weekend without checking messages from the office.
How many people can honestly say they have found the perfect job if perfection is defined by these parameters? When you fantasize about your dream job of doing what you love to do, does it include every one of attributes that Robert Karasek implies is a necessary for perfect working conditions? Perhaps more importantly, do you think there is the possibility of landing a job that meets most of these requirements even if you aren’t doing what you love?