By John Fico
Director, Big Data Practice

“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” – Author Unknown

I found something I love to do, and I recognized it very early in my life (I was 11).  I’ve been gaining knowledge and honing my craft ever since.  Other than retail jobs in high school I’ve always designed and developed software, and I’ve never really wanted to do anything else.  That said, I don’t think it’s the fact that I’m working in a field that I love that keeps me happy at work.  If that were the case it would have been all sunshine and rainbows for the last 35 years, and it surely has not.

When I look back at the times that I was happiest, the times when going into work didn’t feel like work, it had more to do with the environment I was working in than the job I was doing.  In the course of my career, I’ve read a lot of articles about how to keep employees happy at work, and the opinions are as varied as the number of articles.  I have not, however, read many articles written by the employee (especially a senior level employee) that tell the reader what makes them happy at work.

I was very lucky in landing my first job after college.  I was hired by a great manager who valued me and who utilized my skills, enthusiasm, and loyalty to better the company.  And because of that I was able to learn a few valuable lessons that may seem obvious, but in my experience are not always lived:

  1. What makes a good environment for me is not the same as my co-worker.
    • A good employer recognizes that fact and creates an environment where people are engaged individually
    • When I look back at the things that have earned my loyalty over the years what mattered the most is when the company took what they knew about me into account when giving rewards for above and beyond efforts.
  1. What makes a good environment for me today may not be a good environment for me tomorrow.
    • When I was just out of college, being monetarily rewarded for putting in 60-hour weeks was great. Once I had a family those same rewards could seem like a pittance compared to the loss of time with my family.
  1. Even a large organization can focus on the individual if direct managers are given the authority and autonomy to do so.
    • My first employer was a massive global company, but every level of manager was empowered to take care of their team.

At some point, early in my career, I realized that it was ok to ask for what I wanted.  In fact, what I postulated was that I should ask for every reasonable thing I wanted, so long as I was willing to take “no” for an answer there wasn’t any harm in asking.  My reasoning was that even if I only received 10% of what I was asking for that was probably more than I would have gotten had I not asked.  A side effect of this mindset was that it created an open dialog between me and my employer.  Even if the answer was no, it gave them an insight into my priorities.  Was I asking for more money or time off?  Was I asking for more responsibilities?  Was I asking to be able to reward a subordinate?

Obviously, there were times when my employer couldn’t provide what I was asking for.  When that turned out to be a need rather than a want, it also gave me a starting point to finding a new employer that could fulfill that need.  It also, for the most part, allowed me to leave on good terms.  My employer was given an opportunity be able to provide whatever it was I felt I needed, they couldn’t, and I found someone who would.

I like to think that I’m very careful about the jobs I take, when I have the luxury of doing so.  On multiple occasions I have worked for the same people at different companies.  As my life changed, what I was looking for from my employer changed, but the constant has been the dialog.  I have found that just being able to have open communication between myself, and generally 2 levels up my chain of command is one of the clearest signs of a healthy work environment.

In closing I think my opinion can be summed up by saying employers should remember that employees are all different, one size will not fit all. In addition, employees should remember that employers are not mind-readers, if you don’t state what you want you don’t have much chance of getting what you want.