We still have much to learn about how people perceive their work, says Emily Bianchi, assistant professor of organization and management. Her current research shows that well-educated college graduates who earn their degrees during a recession are ultimately more satisfied with their jobs than those who first look for work during more prosperous economic times. In this Q&A with Emory Business, Bianchi offers insights on the psychology driving these results, as well as advice for both companies and recent graduates.
EB: Your findings on the relative satisfaction of graduates in a downturn versus a boom time are unexpected. What’s behind the disparity?
Bianchi: People are often surprised to hear that recession graduates are more satisfied with their jobs, especially because graduating in a recession negatively affects career outcomes and earnings. But how people feel about what they have does not always reflect the value of what they have. Rather, people can be happier with less, depending on how they think about their results. Those who begin their careers in prosperous times tend to wonder if they could have or should have done better. This fixation on how they might have done better often dampens their satisfaction with what they have. Those who begin their careers in recessions, on the other hand, tend to be more grateful for and consequently happier with their jobs.
EB: Given your extensive research on college graduates and job satisfaction, what advice do you have for students preparing to graduate in the midst of an economic slowdown?
Bianchi: We cannot control whether we graduate in a recession or a boom. Yet to some extent we can control how we think about our jobs. Those who spend time dwelling on missed opportunities tend to be less satisfied with whatever jobs they hold. Those who can hold onto the feeling of relief and gratitude they felt when they secured their first job will not only be happier at work, they will also be more enjoyable to work with.
– Myra A. Thomas