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4 Things That Make a Job Truly Great

These are the keys to having a great job and career.

Key points

  • Having a sense of control over one’s job makes it more satisfying and less stressful.
  • Jobs with purpose and meaning are rewarding. Sometimes you have to look hard to find it.
  • Quality jobs typically have positive working relationships with peers, and particularly with supervisors.

In the past several weeks, some friends and family members have been troubled by their jobs. They find themselves unsatisfied, wishing for more, and wondering if they made the right career decision. That caused me to reflect on the elements of a truly great and satisfying job. Here are the four pillars (see how many of these are present in your current job):

  1. Autonomy. A cardinal sin for many leaders is micromanaging—controlling and monitoring every aspect of an employee’s job. Dedicated and committed workers want the freedom and autonomy to make decisions about how and when they perform the various tasks associated with their jobs. (This is one of the reasons why working from home is so valued!) Psychological research clearly shows that having a sense of autonomy and control over their jobs leads to greater satisfaction and lower levels of stress among workers (Riggio & Johnson, 2022, p. 291).
  2. Purpose. Regardless of the job one performs, having a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and meaning makes a job rewarding. That is why performance feedback is so important—it allows workers to see results and the progress they have made. Many jobs have a “built-in” purpose of helping others (e.g., nursing, counseling), protecting others (e.g., military, police, and fire service), and/or achieving lofty goals (e.g., providing social services, changing the world). However, even more-mundane jobs can have purpose—for example, providing great customer service, resolving someone’s problems, or making systems operate more effectively. The key is to find the purpose and value in your job and celebrate it.
  3. Synergistic Relationships. A great job is one in which people work together to get things done and do so in a way that leads to positive and supportive working relationships. Perhaps the most important work relationship is between a supervisor/manager and a direct report. As the saying goes, “People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.” Great jobs are those in which bosses develop relationships with their employees that are based on trust, open and honest communication, and appreciation/recognition. From the leaders’ perspective, followers who can be trusted to get things done and who offer suggestions for improvement, in turn, make the leader’s job great.
  4. Self-Development. A truly great job should provide a worker with the opportunity to grow and develop. Acquiring new skills, expanding your range of competence, and opportunities for career advancement are what makes a job rewarding. Dead-end jobs lack such opportunities for self-development.

All too often, people get stuck in jobs that are less than great, or downright awful, because they settle. Do an assessment of your current job using these four pillars of a great job. Sometimes you may not recognize how good your job really is, or you may realize that it’s time for a change.


Riggio, R. E. & Johnson, S.K. (2022). Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (8th ed.). Routledge.

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