Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, and the Right Job

Responding to questions on proposed tightening of Employment Insurance requirements, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said to reporters, “There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job.”

When invited to discuss the topic on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet program yesterday afternoon, I took the position that there are bad jobs. Or at least there a jobs that are bad for a given person at a given time.

Some jobs are bad. Bad jobs pose threats to life and limb. Some jobs make a net negative contribution to the overall community quality of life, the natural environment, or general peace and quiet. Despite vast progress on occupational health and safety, government regulations have not stamped out every vestige of risk, especially within the informal economy.

Even safe and legitimate jobs can be bad for someone. In the complex work world of today, successful careers rest upon a foundation of solid abilities honed by experience. A career has a sense of direction. Jobs that divert people from their career path can diffuse their focus. While resourceful people can learn from any life situation in which they find themselves, the time spent in a dead-end job may weigh heavily on their ultimate progress.

The central idea is one of person-job fit. In the Truth About Burnout Christina Maslach and I described mismatches of people with their jobs as the primary drivers of job burnout. Mismatches can occur on a variety of worklife areas, especially workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. Value conflicts occur when people believe that their personal or professional values conflict with their employer’s values. Any of these conflicts diverts people from putting their heart into their work. By taking the wrong job, people take on a risk. They may perform badly, weakening their career track record. They could experience the exhaustion, cynicism, and discouragement of job burnout.

Circumstances can force people into less than ideal jobs. Rather than accept the line that there are no bad jobs, it is better to recognize a bad job while finding a way to move to the next step in a constructive career. Doing so is a tall order that requires resiliency.

    1. Keep a reality focus. Recognize the limitations of the current job.

    2. Find a bright side. Look for opportunities to learn from the experience.

    3. Be future oriented. Use the pay wisely to not only cover expenses but help you find a job that furthers your career.

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