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Research shows: It’s good to be the boss

Vu Lac, a manager at the Grand Junction restaurant in Moorhead, said while the responsibilities are many, he prefers being boss to being an employee. Dave Olson/The Forum. credit: Dave Olson

FARGO -- Managers Vu Lac and Nate Leal have nearly a dozen years of combined experience at the Grand Junction restaurant in Moorhead, where both started as employees.

With the dual perspective of having been a worker and a boss, which do they prefer?

“It’s less frustrating (being a manager) because you can play a bigger role in getting something done,” Leal said.

Lac echoed the point, stating, “Benefits do come your way.”

Lac added, however, that responsibilities that come with being boss – things like hiring, firing and training – aren’t always easy.

“Trust me, sometimes I do feel like I want to be an employee instead of a manager,” he said.

Still, his main assertion, that it’s good to be boss, is a view shared by many managers across the country, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

The study, which surveyed 2,002 adults in October, found that America’s bosses, more so than workers, enjoy greater job satisfaction, as well as greater satisfaction with their family life and overall financial situation.

Some findings of survey:

  •  Sixty-nine percent of bosses reported feeling very satisfied with their current position, compared with 48 percent of workers
  •  Eighty-three percent of bosses described themselves as very satisfied with their family situation, while about 74 percent of workers were similarly content.
  •  Seventy-eight percent of bosses viewed their job as a career, compared with 44 percent of workers.

Alex Wiger is one worker who doesn’t view his job as a career position.

The Grand Junction employee said he likes the work he’s doing, but he may go back to school to study business, or accounting.

“I don’t mind restaurant work, but I don’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life,” said Wiger, who is 22.

A satisfied mind

The link between how much control people have over the work they do and the satisfaction they derive from doing it is something that has been well established by research, according to area college professors.

“Power over one’s daily life and more control in the workplace, research finds this is definitely predictive of satisfaction,” said Mona Ibrahim, associate professor of psychology at Concordia College in Moorhead.

Ibrahim said the dynamic extends beyond the workplace.

“Control over any experience predicts satisfaction with that experience,” she said, adding that another factor that promotes satisfaction is receiving recognition for the contributions one makes, something that may be lacking in some positions.

“Lower-level employees may be doing a lot of important work for the organization, but it’s not recognized. They don’t get the credit for it,” she said.

According to Ibrahim, bosses who are deliberate about giving employees control over what they do and recognition for accomplishments will have more satisfied employees

“Even if it’s corrective feedback, it’s better than no acknowledgement whatsoever,” she said.

Ryan Christiansen, president and CEO of Knuckledown Press LLC, said his entrepreneurial endeavor, which publishes books in electronic formats for worldwide distribution, is a better fit for him than past jobs working for someone else.

“I was a technical writer and a technical support engineer on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, and while the work was satisfying monetarily, it wasn’t satisfying to simply respond to other people’s decisions,” Christiansen said.

“I wanted to participate in making decisions, or to make my own decisions and set my own course,” Christiansen added.

While the results of the Pew survey might suggest otherwise, job satisfaction among American workers has actually been on the rise, particularly since the 1970s, when employers began instituting changes designed to increase worker autonomy, said Verlin Hinsz, a professor of organizational psychology at North Dakota State University.

According to Hinsz, autonomy drives worker satisfaction to a greater extent than pay and other forms of reward.

Taking control

Family farmers, he said, are a good example; they can’t control things like the weather, or the price they will receive for their crops, but they do control what they do and when they do it.

“They like the work they do, and if you think about it, that’s why farmers don’t quit, that’s why farmers don’t miss a day of work,” Hinsz said.

No matter what the job, Ibrahim said satisfaction may improve if a person chooses to focus on things they do have control over, as opposed to things they don’t.

“It’s all in the perception,” she said, giving the example of a worker who is given an assignment by their boss.

The worker, she said, has a choice: fixate on the fact they have no choice but to fulfill the task, or reflect on the fact that their own personal decisions led them to the job they are doing.

“Focusing on what choices one has in life helps one enjoy a task much more and succeed in it,” Ibrahim said.