3 Cautions About Workplace Satisfaction

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then dissatisfaction must be its father.”
Jeffrey Fry


Positive Work EnvironmentMorale, employee engagement, workplace satisfaction. There have been a thousand books written on these topics in the last ten years. And almost every one of those books has emphasized the need for “customer satisfaction” and the importance of having a “satisfied” workforce.

Sounds good. But I wonder if some of those authors haven’t been hoodwinked by a hot business buzzword or some latest flavor-of-the month training.

I actually think that dissatisfaction can be good for you, your career, and your relationships. At least to a certain degree.

I address that in my new book coming out later this year, “The Payoff Principle: Discover The 3 Secrets For Getting What You Want Out Of Life and Work.” Click here for a sneak peak.

Yes, a little dissatisfaction can be good for you, but you’ve got to be careful that you…

1. Don’t turn satisfaction into satiation.

You see the word “satisfaction” comes from the term “satiation.” When you’re satiated, you are SO satisfied that you get bored; it’s what happens when you see the same great movie so many times you find it boring. Or if you’re satiated, you may get disgusted; it’s what happens when you eat too much food, even good food.

It’s what happened to Mary who was a patient in a mental hospital. Mary was a kleptomaniac and would steal towels from the housekeepers’ supplies or other patients’ rooms. She would then pile the towels in her closet, on her bed, under her bed, on the window ledge, and on every conceivable place in her room. Of course the staff doctors and psychiatrists tried to counsel her in hopes of stopping her inappropriate behavior. All to no avail.

Then one psychiatrist had an idea. He ordered the nurses to bring towels to Mary’s room every hour on the hour. At first, Mary was a little surprised and said, “Oh, thank you very much.” The next time the nurses brought in towels, Mary said, “Thanks.” By the fifth time the nurses were carrying towels into her room, Mary told them she had enough towels. They could stop. But they kept bringing her more and more towels until she was begging them to stop bringing in more towels.

And that stopped her kleptomania. She was satisfied; she had enough towels. She was SO satisfied that she was satiated. And that’s the exact danger we need to avoid if we want to see peak performance in our workplaces. It’s a good thing to have a satisfied workforce, but it’s not a good thing to have people who are TOO satisfied.

Of course, you may be thinking, that’s the LAST problem we’ll ever have in our workplace. After all,

2. Many workplaces have too much dissatisfaction.

In a recent study it was discovered that 2.5 million American workers are quitting their jobs every month. The highest rate in 5 years! And as we all know, “People quit their managers, not their jobs”.

A Gallup Poll of over 1 million American workers discovered:
•The #1 reason employees leave is a bad boss or supervisor,
•Poorly managed work groups are 50% less productive,
•Poorly managed work groups are 44% less profitable,
•Nearly half of American workers would fire their boss if allowed, and
•30% would send their boss to a workplace psychologist.

So how do I reconcile the fact that I think TOO MUCH satisfaction is bad but so is TOO MUCH dissatisfaction?

Simple. In most cases, managers … and heck, even parents for that matter … have no idea what works or what appropriate satisfaction and dissatisfaction is.

Let me explain.

3. You need to focus on creative dissatisfaction.

You see … one of the popular myths these days says, “If you have a satisfied work force, they will perform well.” that’s not true. It’s not the manager’s job to make subordinates satisfied. In fact, you might argue that it’s the manager’s job to make his/her people dissatisfied. Creative dissatisfaction, that is.

When people think of dissatisfied workers, they’re almost always referring to dissatisfaction that comes from the boss’ use of fear, disrespect, or intimidation. And that doesn’t work for very long. It’s the wrong kind of dissatisfaction.

What does work is creative dissatisfaction. Think about it. I’ve never met … and I don’t think you have ever met … an excellent manager or an excellent employee or a person of excellence who sits back and does nothing. Who says “I’m so good and so satisfied with everything I do that I don’t need to improve or get any better.”

No way! A person of excellence is always thinking of ways to get better. He has the power of creative dissatisfaction moving him forward.

And that is one of the key jobs of any leader, manager, or parent. To instill that kind of creative dissatisfaction in others. She needs to help others see where they are and help them see where they’d like to be. They encourage and facilitate those kinds of discussions.

That’s what Rita Miller, a Comptroller for the U.S. military, did. She reported, “I work in a very stressful occupation, supervising a diverse group of individuals with so much potential. As a way to break up our mundane financial meetings and instill a bigger sense of vision and some creative dissatisfaction, I add a ‘Thinking Thursday’ portion to our meetings. I ask one or two questions from your BRAVE QUESTIONS book. They love it! And the great thing is I get to know each ‘person’ and not just the ’employee’ function they perform.”

Of course, in the process of their dialogues, the people capture a vision of something bigger and better for themselves, their team, and their organization. Perhaps it’s time you do the same.

(Click here for a copy of the book, “Brave Questions: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions.”)


How satisfied or dissatisfied are the people in your life? How could you instill more creative dissatisfaction?