Is It Me or Is It the Job?
Amy is a 42 year-old school teacher who finds herself struggling to get work every morning. When she comes to meet with me for career counseling, she says she is wondering if she should change jobs due to her serious job-related unhappiness that consumes most of her waking hours. She feels she is a horrible teacher and that her students do not learn anything in her class. There are a few ways I might work with Amy to help improve her mood, but one of the first things we would figure out together is whether Amy’s unhappiness is due to the job itself (i.e., the mismatch between her personality and the job requirements) or due to Amy’s thinking about the job and/or herself.
There is a well-researched, well-supported theory of career satisfaction which looks at how well an individual matches with a specific job. Created by John Holland, this theory suggests that people will be most satisfied with a job that is similar to their personality. Holland found that six categories (realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional) encompass the majority of personalities, as well as describe the majority of jobs. For example, if Joe likes working with his hands on tangible things (a “realistic” personality), he is likely to find jobs such as mechanic, chef, or locksmith appealing because these jobs are “realistic” type jobs. Sal, who likes working with other people (a “social” personality), will enjoy being a teacher, physical therapist, or tour guide (“social” occupations). Similarly, if you are working in a job that has characteristics that are not similar to your interests, you may be unhappy due to the discrepancy between personality and job characteristics.
Looking at job fit
To help Amy determine her fit with teaching we would look at things like her history of satisfaction with teaching, her perception of her own personality, and other types of work or jobs she has had in the past. For example, if Amy tells me that she always wanted to be a teacher, that she has typically enjoyed interacting with students, and enjoyed her previous job as a nanny, it would be likely that her personality is well matched to the “social” job of teaching. However, if Amy says that she finds she is happiest when she is creating lesson plans, grading papers, and received numerous promotions while working as an administrative assistant (what are considered “conventional” job tasks), then there might be some indication that the fit between her personality and the job is not ideal. Amy might be well served into looking into finding a new job, which could improve her job satisfaction and thus her mood. It may also be helpful for Amy to complete a questionnaire that places her in one of these six categories, and compares her to workers in numerous jobs to give further information about which jobs might be more suited for her.
The degree to which Amy’s personality and job characteristics align could explain part of her low mood. Another aspect may be the thoughts that she has about herself and her competency in her job. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help Amy look at what thoughts might be bringing her mood down and provide her with a way to challenge and reframe these thoughts. For example, Amy might occasionally have the thought “I’m a horrible teacher and none of my students are learning anything.” CBT can help Amy examine the validity of this thought, which is clearly lowering her mood and making her experience her job as unpleasant. On the other hand, if we have determined that Amy’s personality is well matched to the job, then it is likely that working on reframing her thoughts could be helpful in improving her mood without changing jobs. In other words, if Amy has had similar thoughts across many different types of jobs or in many different instances, then it is likely that regardless of the fit between personality and job characteristics, she could benefit from CBT to reframe her thoughts about herself as a worker.
For those, like Amy, who are unhappy at their jobs, it can seem like a simple solution to change jobs. While this may be true if the match between personality and job traits is poor, there may be other times when challenging and reframing thoughts about the work may also improve mood.
Adapted from http://www.drmelissahaiello.com/blog/is-it-me-or-is-it-the-job with permission.