Positive thinking leads to…job dissatisfaction?

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As grouchy as I act, I admit that I am inside an incorrigible optimist. I tend to think things will work out, not because I believe in karma or whatnot but because the laws of probability dictate generally okay outcomes. I tend to believe I can make a crappy situation better. And I tend to think even the biggest jerk loves his mama. (Read my defense of office a-holes here.)

Which means I am likely to be unhappy in my job.

Whatwhatwhat? My colleague Barbara Kiviat forwarded me this study from Dr. Olivia O’Neill, assistant professor of management the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, to be presented at the Academy of Management conference in August (she collaborated with Terry College colleagues Laura J. Stanley and Kanu Priya and Stanford University’s Charles A. O’Reilly III). O’Neill finds that employees “higher in positive affect had higher salary expectations, and changed organizations more frequently, which leads to lower overall job, career, and life satisfaction.”

According to O’Neill, positive individuals hold higher initial salary expectations, and those who have lower initial salaries were more likely to change organizations in their first four years after graduation. And, participants who worked for five organizations showed lower levels of job satisfaction. “Ultimately, changing organizations did not increase satisfaction for highly positive employees. This suggest that highly positive people resilience in adjusting to new organizations cannot offset the disappointment they experience when their high expectations are not met,” she adds.

In their examination of 132 MBA graduates from 1987 to 1995, the team found that “positive employees who remain within their current organizations fare better than positive employees that change organizations in search of their ideal job.” Moreover, employees who aggressively pursue their ideal job are less likely to be happy than those who adjust their expectations to their current positions.

The lesson, boys and girls, especially you recent college grads: stay positive, and stay in your job.

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