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The 10 happiest jobs

80% of firefighters are "very satisfied" with their jobs, which involve helping people. (©Comstock/Thinkstock) 80% of firefighters are "very satisfied" with their jobs, which involve helping people. (©Comstock/Thinkstock)

By Steve Denning

In my article on the Ten Most Hated Jobs, there were some surprises. There are also some surprises in the ten happiest jobs, as reported a General Social Survey by the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago. (I am indebted to Lew Perelman in drawing my attention to the Christian Science Monitor article.)

1. Clergy: The least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all

2. Firefighters: Eighty percent of firefighters are "very satisfied" with their jobs, which involve helping people.

3. Physical therapists: Social interaction and helping people apparently make this job one of the happiest.

4. Authors: For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.

5. Special education teachers: If you don't care about money, a job as special education teacher might be a happy profession. The annual salary averages just under $50,000.

6. Teachers: Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although fifty percent of new teachers are gone within five years.

7. Artists: Sculptors and painters report high job satisfaction, despite the great difficulty in making a living from it.

8. Psychologists: Psychologists may or may not be able to solve other people's problems, but it seems that they have managed to solve their own.

9. Financial services sales agents: Sixty-five percent of financial services sales agents are reported to be happy with their jobs. That could be because some of them are clearing more than $90,000 dollars a year on average for a 40-hour work week in a comfortable office environment.

10. Operating engineers: Playing with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors can be fun. With more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, operating engineers report being happy.

It's interesting to compare these jobs with the list of the ten most hated jobs, which were generally much better paying and have higher social status. What's striking about the list is that these relatively high level people are imprisoned in hierarchical bureaucracies. They see little point in what they are doing. The organizations they work for don't know where they are going, and as a result, neither do these people.

1. Director of Information Technology

2. Director of Sales and Marketing

3. Product Manager

4. Senior Web Developer

5. Technical Specialist

6. Electronics Technician

7. Law Clerk

8. Technical Support Analyst

9. CNC Machinist

10. Marketing Manager

The meaningfulness of lives

Why were these jobs with better pay and higher social status less likely to produce happiness? Todd May writing in the New York Times argues that "A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile. The person living the life must be engaged by it. A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy -- like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill -- but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game."

This is what underlies the difference between the happiest jobs and the most hated jobs. One set of jobs feels worthwhile, while in the other jobs, people can't see the point. The problems in the most hated jobs can't be solved by job redesign or clearer career paths. Instead the organizations must undertake fundamental change to manage themselves in a radically different way with a focus on delighting the customer through continuous innovation and all the consequent changes that are needed to accomplish that. The result of doing this in firms like Amazon [AMZN], Apple [AAPL] and Salesforce.com [CRM) is happy customers, soaring profits and workers who can see meaning in their work.

Steve Denning's most recent book is: The Leader's Guide to Radical Management (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Follow Steve Denning on Twitter @stevedenning

And join the Jossey-Bass webinar series, "Why Management Still Matters": Sep 22-Oct 20, 2011. To register, go here and use discount code JBMSD.

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