Panch mantras of professional satisfaction

Panch Mantras (five elements) of Professional Satisfaction

What do we expect from our job? Why do some jobs seem to be better and some not? Why do we feel that we enjoy or do not enjoy the work? We will analyze the key factors that, give or take away satisfaction at work.

We will call the five elements that contribute to our professional well-being the Panch Mantras of professional well-being. They are:

Panch Mantras of professional


• Recognition

• Learning

• Achievement

• Efficiency

• Meaningfulness

Any job is a two-way process of development. We offer our capabilities in our workplace as part of the organization’s goal to create products or services. At the same time, we develop our capabilities by deploying them. We become more capable while deploying our capabilities. Development of our capabilities is as much at the core of our job as making a living from our job to fulfill our needs. Development of our potential is a lifelong process. The job is one such context. At our jobs, we get to deploy and in the process, develop our capabilities, and maybe realize our potential.

We seem to be satisfied with our job when we are able to deploy and develop our capabilities well enough. When the job does not offer this opportunity or match our expectations, we are less satisfied. The five factors of learning—recognition, efficiency, achievement and meaningfulness of work—indicate how well we are able to deploy and develop our capabilities.

Similar  to  the Panch Mantras  of  personal  well-being, there  is  no  hierarchy  among  these five  elements  of  professional well-being to indicate which of them is more important than the others.Meaningfulness, perhaps, is of a higher order as it relates to our association with the cause of the organization itself.

We will now explore each of the mantras in detail.

1. Satisfaction with recognition

Every one of us has a sense of self-worth. We would be happy to be accorded the worth we think we deserve. Recognition is an expression of the value which others and most importantly, the organization that we serve places with us—‘as perceived by us.’

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Our worth or value comes from our capabilities—which include our knowledge, skills, experiences etc. (We will discuss the capabilities in great detail, later in the book). They are not absolute, though. Nor are their objectives. We cannot quantify our capabilities exactly and place a price on them. Capabilities change and improve with time, as an individual gains experience and learns to deploy and develop his or her capabilities. The judgment on capabilities is also relative. We pass judgment on who is more capable or less capable in comparison to our self.

The recognition of our capabilities by others, especially the organization in which we associate for deployment of our capabilities, includes tangible and intangible elements. The tangibles include compensation, designation, and position in the hierarchy. The intangibles include responsibilities, authority, power, importance etc.

Based on our assessment of the worth or value of our capabilities, we have notions of our remuneration, our position in the hierarchy, and our title/designation. This is partly based on our experiences in the past but, more importantly, in comparison with our judgment of the value placed on others in the organization who we think have capabilities of similar value. When we see someone else who we think is less capable (in our eyes measured by highly subjective, but important and inevitable notions) being paid more or placed in a better position, we feel less recognized, which in turn, leads to disgruntlement. We use the tangible factors to judge the value of our capabilities vis-à-vis those of others and also intangibles, such as responsibilities, power etc.

If we are consulted, on some very important decisions, we feel very good. However, if our colleagues (whom we consider our peers) are consulted in lieu, we feel dejected. If our colleague is assigned a very important project that has come up recently, we feel dejected.

Our judgment of the worth of our capabilities need not be restricted to the contours of the organization in which we work. We compare our worth with that of professionals in other companies, industries, and even geographies. Thus, we like to look at compensation surveys to see where we are relative to the market. While networking with others,  we  first  try  to  understand  or  get  to  know  the value  of  their capabilities, and their level of recognition.

Our judgments on recognition contribute significantly to our satisfaction with the job. It is of no surprise that when promotions, increments, and elevations in responsibilities are announced in companies after performance cycles, the number of people who start searching for opportunities in the market increases.

Typical questions about recognition include:

  • Am I paid what I think I am worth?
  • Am I paid as much as my peers?
  • Am I given responsibilities and authorities I am capable of handling or are they denied to me?
  • Am I being involved in the areas where I can contribute? Or, am I being denied opportunities to contribute?

2. Satisfaction with learning

We  noted  earlier  that  we  work  in  organizations  and  engage  in creating  products  and  services  to  deploy  and develop our capabilities. We expect our job to be a contributor to our developmental or learning process. ‘I am learning nothing in this job’ is one of the key factors for dissatisfaction among professionals. We need to view the contribution of the job and the organization from different angles to understand this dimension better.

The learning process need not include a typical training and development calendar. Not all organizations have the wherewithal for such a structured approach. However, there are many ways in which an organization contributes to the learning of the individual. These include 1) assigning new  projects where one can observe, contribute, and learn from the feedback, consultation, and involvement in the decision-making process and 2) providing time by way of a ‘no objection’ to the individual’s participation in different forums, seminars etc., either sponsored by the organization or self-sponsored.

I find that when people say that they are not learning they refer to the first of the above i.e. They are not getting new assignments. It is not surprising, though. Most of the learning in adult life happens in experiencing. We want to do and learn. So when we are assigned new customers to sell to or a new region to manage; given the additional responsibilities of improving the quality process of the company; or made part of the group to champion the technology transfer from the company our organization has recently acquired, we believe we have something new to learn. The attraction of such new assignments is partly because of the excitement that any change brings, but mostly because of the subtle underlying feeling that we are going to learn something new!

In fact, I have found that many professionals seldom leave a company in the midst of such new assignments. They relish the experience and are so involved in the learning process that they are satisfied enough not to think of a change.

Typical questions arising on learning include:

  • Am I developing my capabilities further in my job? Is the work in line with my overall development plan?
  • Does the environment provide opportunities for me to invest in my development? Does the environment support my learning process?
  • Do the people around inspire me to learn? Are they aiding me in my earning process?

3. Satisfaction with achievement

Nothing like seeing the final result of the work we have done, right? It gives us such a sense of achievement. We do not want to go to a workplace day after day, do something and come back without knowing what we would accomplish even after a year of such a routine. Even if we are only playing a small role as part of a larger cause, we would like to know what it is. Yes, at an individual level too, we want to feel we are achieving something—making some difference in the process of creation of products or services. We also associate with the overall achievements of the company. It is not enough if the business unit in which I am working is doing very well but other business units are failing. For some time it would seem fine, but later we would be unable to prevent the lack of progress in others from hitting us adversely.

We desire progressive movement in the results. We desire that the company that we work for also achieves better results at least periodically. No one wants to be in a place where there is no change. “How much we sold last year is what we are selling this year too, the number of shirts we produced two years back is what we are producing even now, no new products introduced’’—such statements denote disgruntlement with non-achieved at the organizational level.

At an individual level also, we want to be assigned tasks and assignments where we see progressive improvement in our results. We would not want to be selling a product, which has phased out. We would rather be selling products, which are hot and have a lot of potential. We would like to be a part of the research team designing the new car. We would like to be involved in the lean manufacturing project to show tangible improvement in productivity. We would like to be part of the research team involved in the discovery of a new molecule.

A part of the sense of achievement is about the challenges posed to our abilities.

How much will our abilities be stretched? How much more selling can I do? How many more people can I manage? How much more productivity can I scale? When we have stretched our abilities to realize the challenge, we feel great about our achievement.

When we come home and tell our family that after hectic efforts of six months we have finally won an order worth two million, more than anyone else, we feel so very satisfied.

Typical questions on achievement include:

  • Looking back, do I feel I have significantly contributed to improving results, achieving better results?
  • Is my work challenging enough? Am I required to stretch my capabilities to achieve results?
  • Does the work environment offer a healthy competition, to better our results? Are the goals set for me challenging enough?

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4. Satisfaction with efficiency

‘My day was absolutely unproductive’ is what we would hear after a day when we accomplish nothing useful. Just like how organizations are always looking at productivity and improvements in productivity, we are also looking at being productive or efficient in our individual work. No wonder most of us hate meetings—we find them such a waste of our time.

How well we are able to achieve what we are capable of being what efficiency is all about. Imagine a workplace where everything is chaotic, with lack of process—we would be running around to complete even small things. Our productivity will be considerably reduced or lost completely.

Organizations understand these bottlenecks and invest a lot of processes and systems so that our time is spent on work that adds value, rather than on worrying about those time-wasters. In some organizations, information flows seamlessly, with each entity knowing what he or she is supposed to do and what is expected of others. In others, information flows in multiple directions with little purpose or value addition in the process. This may lead an individual with unwanted information and make finding the right information so much more difficult and time-consuming.

Apart from the systems, processes, and the organizational structure, reasonable clarity of responsibilities and authorities and a culture of openness contribute to the efficiency of individuals in the organization. Great workplaces are those where our time is usefully deployed.

Inefficiency is a bigger contributor to stress than the workload itself. It is what we want to spend time on versus what we actually do, and this makes a lot of difference. We would rather go to a shop where all the items are pretty organized and relevant information, such as price, manufacturing date and quantity are easily available, coupled with a faster billing process, then go to a shop where the salesmen and women are smart and prices lower, but the same purchase would take half an hour more. Our time is precious and we would rather not waste it.

Typical questions on efficiency include:

  • Does the environment, promote efficient usage of resources, particularly of my time?
  • Am I involving myself  in  activities  which  are  unnecessary,  time-consuming and unwarranted?
  • Am  I  provided  with  enough  resources  to  perform  my  work effectively?

5. Satisfaction with meaningfulness

When our mind, body, heart and soul are in our job, we feel bliss. Such a job does not remain detached from and outside of us. It becomes a part of us.

When every bit of the work is part of us, the job no longer remains a job, which we need to do but a job we live. So, when does this happen? When the work or the job we perform is part of a cause with which we associate deeply.

The work appeals to us very much. We believe that it has meaning and usefulness. It aligns to our own philosophy or purposes. The cause takes our involvement to a higher level and many of us have sensed this at some time or the other. However, when the goals are not endearing, we are detached and just go through the motions of work.

Of course, attachment and detachment are not binary. There are degrees of attachment. The same job may involve some people more and others less. It is evident in the way different people pursue the same work. We still remember some of our teachers who were passionate about grooming us when we were kids—they gave us so much care and individual attention, never put us down, and encouraged us even when we faltered. Teaching or bringing up children was a part of their life. The same teaching is just a duty to others. Maybe they are good teachers, but somewhere the connection at an individual level is not effective.

However, it may not be possible for all companies to invent a cause, which may completely involve everyone. After all, work needs to be accomplished, no matter what. Yet some organizations understand this, and assign people to full-time or part-time projects or assignments about which they are very passionate. Then the individual is able to take the assignment to a very high level.

Part of the ‘seeing meaning in what is to be done’ is also the ability of the leadership to make people see meaning in the work, the cause and the long-term purpose. Some do it so well that we are charged up to give ourselves completely to the goal. Thus, it is more about us being charged, up to sense the value in the cause.

Then there is the contrasting side of the meaningfulness. If we come to know that the work or the cause is meaningless, we loathe it, and try to escape the drudgery. Yes, only when we sense value in it do we have the passion for it.