Unhappy at work? What’s your 3+1?

Unhappy at work? Use the 3+1 factors to figure out what suits you best...

Unhappy at work? What’s your 3+1?

I’ve been around a lot of different projects, work sites and employer types… and I’ve spoken to even more people, at all levels of business, about what they like, and do not like, in their working lives. And it boils down to three basic factors and one amplifying factor.

Money. This factor is a pretty easy one to explain – how much you’re paid for what you do. There is a threshold to this factor though – the amount you need to survive, i.e. costs for food, clothing, shelter, health, education, etc. Below this threshold, increasing your income is your primary driving factor - not much else matters except survival. However, once you’re happily above the threshold amount, deciding whether to move job is more about the other two factors than just money.

Interest. What interests you? Are you a process person, enjoy running a business or system? Or are you a thinker – good at finding and solving problems? Love reading and research? Everyone’s interests are different and you need to know yours as they are important in how you successfully grow your career, as well as which interests enrich your non- or semi-work life.

So, the initial two factors above are pretty straight forward and unique to each person. Keep in mind that both will wane over time – what is interesting to you now will be boring if you’re doing it every day for the next year; and if you’re paid the same money for the next five years it will no longer feel of the same value to you. Both money and interest are positive factors… so what’s the negative that balances this out?

Bullshit. Each one of us has a measure of what we internally class as the ‘BS’ of the job; it’s the negative influence. It could be filling in those time-recording sheets on three different systems, all in triplicate; or it could be dodging the office politics. Everyone’s BS factor is different – and one person’s BS may be another’s interest!

How do these three factors fit together? Imagine that the money, interest and bullshit factors are represented by three pillars holding up a large plate, with a ball (representing your work-happiness) rolling around on top of the plate. If the three pillars are balanced and even, the ball can continue to roll around on the plate and all is well. If the factors are skewed, the ball will roll off the plate… and you’re unhappy at work and probably looking for another job.

There is one more factor (the “+1” in the title) that I need to mention - I call it the GASfactor. It’s your drive, your enthusiasm… it’s the 'gas' you have in your tank, your fuel to get things done. Your GAS is comprised of all the little things that influence you on a daily basis. E.g. how tired you are, how your kids are behaving, are you getting on well with your partner, are you eating well and feeling good about yourself… the list goes on.

Have you ever noticed that if you’ve ‘had enough’ of any one thing (maybe you’re feeling really unfit and getting up in the mornings for the commute is a chore?) the money you’re being paid doesn’t feel as ‘good’ as it did, or the really interesting thing you’re working on has suddenly lost its shine… this is how the GAS factor influences the other factors – it’s an amplifier of the positive or the negative depending on how you feel.

If you’re low on GAS, the money and interest factors seem less and the bullshit seems smellier. But if you’re rested, happy at home and all is good (your GAS is high)… then the BS feels like less, the money is good-enough and the interesting stuff is satisfying.

It’s not actually mathematical but you could visualise the 3+1 as follows:

(Money + Interest - Bullshit) * GAS

Isn’t this a bit of an over-simplification? Yes, I guess it is. But show me something that doesn’t fit into these factors and is a significant influence on you? I’d be happy to hear it (honestly!) as all the people I’ve discussed the 3+1 with over the years haven’t been able to come up with anything that doesn’t fit.

What makes up your 3+1 ?

Here’s a quick action plan for you. Whether you’re happy at work or not, start noting downwhat makes up your 3+1. Consciousness about what makes up your factors will help you when the time comes to make the next choice. With your cool-headed knowledge of what makes you tick, you can face the uncertainty of work changes with the certainty of knowing yourself and what will suit you best.

Employers: What are your employees' 3+1?

Finally, if you’re an employer the 3+1 is even more important to understand. What makes your employees' 3+1? If you’re advertising for a vacancy in your organisation, don’t just think about the skills needed but what it offers people. If a prospective employee evaluates a position you’re offering, what do you want them to be motivated about? What will make them apply? What will you offer once the initial interest has become routine? (Tip: if it’s just the money you think they’ll go for, they’ll leave once the money isn’t their motivator anymore or if someone offers them a bit more money.)

The 3+1 may be a bit of an over-simplification of the complexities of the mix of working and life but I hope my 3+1 helps clarify your thinking a little and assists with your next career decision.

Some footnotes:

  • ‘Bullshit’ - I’ve tried hard to find another word for this factor and have discussed it far and wide… but ‘bullshit’ still seems to describes it best! I’m open to better suggestions.
  • GAS: You could also think of this as your Give-A-S*** factor. Same end result.
  • Originally, I had just the 3 factors. These factors kept things nice and simple, and everything ‘work’ fit into the 3. This was until a few years ago, when I realised the importance and unconscious influence the rest of your life has on the working part of your life, which actually takes up most of your time. You can’t separate work and 'the rest', despite all the ‘work-life balance’ thoughts that seem to suggest there can be a clear separation. Your brain is a singular whole – you can’t ask it to simply switch on/off the work/home parts. Hence, the 3 factors became the 3+1.