Good Job, BAD JOB

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

On my drive home from class last night I happened to catch the final snippet of CBC’s The Current. The topic was Canada’s Employment Insurance program and the panel was discussing the proposed changes to Employment Insurance benefits, specifically Canada’s Finance Minister’s comment about there being ‘no bad jobs’ and his suggestion that those receiving Employment Insurance should take any work that is available. We have likely all been in situations where we have had jobs that weren’t a lot of fun, didn’t pay as much as we would have liked, weren’t exactly what we had in mind, required us to work hours we didn’t want to work, etc. Were these jobs ‘bad jobs’ or simply ‘not the right jobs for us’?

The concept of good and bad in the world of work is quite subjective, as it is with many things. I do not subscribe to the ‘good job’ / ‘bad job’ philosophy. I do believe that every job is an important job and I also believe that person – job fit and person – organization fit are critical to satisfaction, productivity, and safety at work. Ideas about good jobs and bad jobs start at an early age. Parents, culture, friends, educators, and the media influence our perceptions about the world of work and our place in it. I remember my daughter’s excitement when she was offered her first job delivering papers. It was going to be the perfect job for her and she couldn’t wait to get started. I never had to ask her to bag her papers or bribe her to get her deliveries done. She demonstrated tremendous initiative and took complete ownership of her new position. The excitement and the dedication lasted for a few months until her route changed. Some of the boys she went to school with lived along the new route and they teased her mercilessly while she did her job, and at school too. Suddenly her job wasn’t such a great job, in fact, it sucked. It wasn’t that the job was a bad job it just wasn’t a good job for her anymore. When it stopped being a good job for her she stopped working as hard as she had initially, she didn’t want to go to work, she made excuses, and she made mistakes. It impacted her perception about the world of work and her place in it. The girls that took over her paper route think it is a ‘great job’ and now my daughter has a job that she thinks is a ‘great job’ too. Will she think her current job is a ‘great job’ forever? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Having worked in the career development field for the past twelve years I have had the opportunity to meet folks who are happily employed, unhappily employed, happily unemployed, and unhappily unemployed. These are of course generalizations and I know that the reasons people find themselves in any of these categories are complex and multi-faceted. Each group tends to have different ideas about, and attitudes towards, work. Relationships with work often impact other areas of life as well and the following definition of ‘career’ will demonstrate why. In the career development field we define career as a lifestyle concept and understand that career is unique to each individual and dynamic throughout one’s life. Career involves work, learning, and leisure activities and the balance between paid and unpaid work and life roles. This definition of career takes into account the connection between all the roles individuals take on throughout their life. The good news is that you don’t need to go searching for a career because you already have a career!

Jobs serve different purposes at different times in our lives. The work that I did 15 years ago would not likely give me the same level of satisfaction today as it did then. It may no longer meet my earnings requirements and may no longer be a fit for my interests or abilities. When people tell me they are looking for a career what they are really telling me, when we dig deep enough, is that that they are looking for an occupation or a specific job that fits with their interests and abilities, pays them enough money and maybe a little more, allows them to grow personally and professionally, and provides them with the opportunity to live the life they desire. Work is about more than a pay cheque, although the money sure helps. Work is about relationships, community, contribution, satisfaction, enjoyment, growth, and sharing knowledge. My idea of a good job might be your idea of a bad job and vice versa. Forcing people to take jobs that don’t fit with their values, interests, and abilities may earn them a pay cheque but may also leave them depleted and defeated in other ways.

When I am supporting individuals who are looking for work I make it a habit to ask about their current situation and their sense of urgency with respect to finding work or changing jobs. Generally speaking, if someone is happily employed their sense of urgency is lower than someone who is unhappily employed. Someone who is unhappily unemployed might have a heightened sense of urgency and be more willing to take ‘any’ job than someone who is happily unemployed. The sense of urgency is unique to each individual and to each situation. If I were hungry and without stable accommodations I might be more willing to take a job that wouldn’t be my first choice but if all my needs were being met and I was happy at work I might be less inclined to look for work at all or my motivation for looking for work might have to do with something completely different.

Would you agree with me that there are jobs out there that you are not the least bit interested in, that are available in communities or regions that you have no interest in working or living in, that require hours of work that are beyond your availability, and that require knowledge, skills, and abilities you do not immediately possess? In what situations and under what circumstances would you be willing to make sacrifices, or set your preferences aside to find employment? If you couldn’t do what you are doing now or what you are doing now was no longer available what would you be doing? What made your good jobs good? What made your bad jobs bad?

For a FREE 30 minute job search consultation please feel free to contact Paula directly at or 780.589.2245.