What does it mean to be satisfied with one’s job or occupation? In a general sense, job satisfaction is the positive feeling that results from an appraisal of one’s work. In general, job satisfaction tends to increase gradually with age (Bernal, Snyder, & McDaniel, 1998; Sterns, Marsh, & McDaniel, 1994). The increased satisfaction has been linked to sev­eral factors.

First, self-selection factors suggest that people who truly like their jobs may tend to stay in them, whereas people who do not may tend to leave. To the extent that this is the case, age differences in job satisfaction may simply reflect the fact that with sufficient time, many people eventually find a job in which they are reasonably happy. Furthermore, people who are willing to experience their emotions and negative feelings as well as work them through experience higher job satisfaction (Bond & Bunce, 2003; Thorsen et al., 2003). This also could be related to older adults’ propensity toward positivity as discussed in Chapter 8.

Second, the relationship between worker age and job satisfaction is complex. Satisfaction does not increase in all areas and job types with age. Older workers are more satisfied with the intrinsic personal aspects of their jobs than they are with the extrinsic aspects, such as pay (Morrow & McElroy, 1987). White-collar professionals show an increase in job satisfaction, whereas those in blue-collar positions do not (Sterns et al., 1994).

Third, increases in job satisfaction may not be due to age alone but, rather, to the degree to which there is a good fit between the worker and the job (Holland, 1985). Older workers have had more time to find a job that they like or may have resigned themselves to the fact that things are unlikely to improve, resulting in a better congruence between worker desires and job attributes (White & Spector, 1987). Older workers also may have revised their expectations over the years to better reflect the actual state of affairs.

Fourth, as workers get older, they make work less of a focus in their lives partly because they have achieved occupational success (Bray & Howard, 1983). Consequently, it takes less to keep them satisfied.

Fifth, the type of job and the degree of family responsibilities at different career stages may influ­ence the relationship between age and job satisfac­tion (Engle, Miguel, Steelman, & McDaniel, 1994). This suggests that the accumulation of experience, changing context, and the stage of one’s career development may contribute to the increase in job satisfaction.

Finally, job satisfaction may be cyclical. That is, it may show periodic fluctuations that are not related to age per se but, rather, to changes that people intentionally make in their occupations (Shirom & Mazeh, 1988). The idea is that job satisfaction increases over time because people change jobs or responsibilities on a regular basis, thereby keeping their occupation interesting and challenging. This provocative idea of periodicity in job satisfaction is explored further in the How Do We Know? feature.

Alienation and Burnout. No job is perfect. There is always something about it that is not as good as it could be; perhaps the hours are not optimal, the pay is lower than one would like, or the boss does not have a pleasant personality. For most workers, these negatives are merely annoyances. But for others, such as air traffic controllers, they create extremely stressful situations that result in deeply rooted unhappiness with work: alienation and burnout.

When workers feel that what they are doing is meaningless and that their efforts are devalued, or when they do not see the connection between what they do and the final product, a sense of alienation is likely to result. Studs Terkel (1974) interviewed

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