Jeanne Sahadi Commentary:
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Signs you have a great job ... or not
Even when you're having a really bad day, your job may be a lot better than you think. Here's how to tell.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( Any job, like any relationship, has its difficult moments. And with the job market heating up, the temptations to change partners are growing.

As with any relationship, however, you really should assess the full value of what you've got before giving it up wholesale, because - let's face it - regret really is a waste of your time.

How stressed are you?
1. Conditions at work are unpleasant or sometimes even unsafe.
Very Often

Regardless of the main task of a job - be it bond trading, teaching, balancing the books, or cleaning hotel rooms - are there objective criteria that you can use to measure whether your job is wonderful or not?

Workplace experts Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman have identified several. In their book "First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently" they offer a useful guide in the form of 12 questions:

  1. Do I know what's expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and to grow?

Buckingham and Coffman picked these 12 questions after looking for patterns among the responses of more than 1 million employees to workplace questions posed by the Gallup Organization over the years.

"We were searching for those special questions where the most engaged employees ... answered positively, and everyone else .... answered neutrally or negatively," they wrote.

Their reasoning: they wanted to identify the key elements of a strong workplace that can attract and retain talent.

Satisfaction with pay and benefits didn't make the list not because they're not important, Coffman told me, but because they're important to all employees, whether they're engaged in their work or not.

So, assuming you feel you're paid the going rate for your job, answering affirmatively to all or even most of the 12 questions can be an indication that you've got a great job that you should part with only for very good reason. And if job satisfaction is important to you, then the promise of a bigger paycheck alone may not be reason enough.

I asked Coffman what percentage of companies he thinks actually pass the 12-question test. His estimate: No more than 15 percent. But within a company, he said, individual departments may meet the test, even if the company overall doesn't.

Why? The manager of a department makes all the difference. Coffman said when an employee quits, 70 percent of the time she's not leaving because of the job, she's leaving because of the manager.

One cautionary note: Your job may not be as wonderful for you as you think if you answer a majority of the 12 questions affirmatively but the few questions that you can't are among the first six.

That's because the first six questions make up the base on which job satisfaction rests, according to Buckingham and Coffman. If your current job doesn't meet the first six criteria, you are more likely to be disengaged with your work and less productive than you could be.

Consider question three after all. Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best everyday? "If you're not able to use your gifts everyday, you'll be pretty frustrated," Coffman said.

Of course, job satisfaction isn't a one-way street with a department either meeting your needs or not. In order to answer the 12 questions honestly, you need to know what it is that makes you tick and not blindly blame your department for any job dissatisfaction.

Do you know what it is you like to do and what you do best? What kind of recognition do you like public or private? What are your values and do they square with your company's goals? How do you like a manager to relate to you?

Otherwise, your career, like a string of bad relationships, can become a case of "different partner, same problems."

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at


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