By now you've likely heard about one study or another that claims most U.S. employees are unhappy at work. A 2015 Gallup poll found that just 32 percent of workers considered themselves engaged at work. Not great for productivity or morale.

For many, the solution is clear: Get another job. One that has fewer of the things that make you unhappy and more of the things that make you happy. But it turns out that we're not so great at identifying the things that will make our work fulfilling -- even when they're right in front of our faces.

In a recent piece for New York Times, Ayelet Fishbach describes a study she conducted about worker happiness. The professor of behavioral science and marketing at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago conducted the poll with her colleague Kaitlin Woolley. The duo found people wildly underestimate how important it is to land in a job where they actually like the work and people. People tend to think a higher salary will do the trick -- even when money is not the main source of unhappiness in their current position.

This was befuddling to the researchers, who wrote:

Why are people fully aware that present benefits are important in their current job, and yet expect not to care about those benefits in the future? Why, for example, does a student who cannot sit through a boring two-hour lecture think she would be satisfied by a boring but well-paying job?

The present is real, the future is murky

Fishbach and Woolley looked to behavioral science for answers. They presented several examples -- whether it's packing for vacation or choosing a gym class -- where we tend to make decisions based on our current state rather than the reality of the future. For example, if you're traveling from a cool climate to a warm one, you'll likely pack a sweater or two, even though you logically know you won't need them. The same happens with job seekers. We think something will change once we land at the new gig. Even though we're the exact same person who will be motivated -- and irked -- by the exact same benefits as in our current position.

"We fail to realize that the person we are in the present -- the one who values intrinsic benefits -- is awfully similar to the person we will be in the future," Fishbach writes.

Before switching jobs, ask yourself this question

The question is a simple one, but it's mission critical in finding the right fit: Will this job truly make me happy? Don't assume a salary bump will be the sole driver in delivering your future self eternal happiness.

To answer this question accurately, think about what's so dissatisfying about your current position. Is it your uninspiring coworkers? A boss who micro-manages? The super long commute? The work itself? That you can't leave work at work? It's likely a combination of several things. If a new job presents the same challenges as an old one, you'll be just as unhappy there.

Do your due diligence during the interview process to uncover as much as you can about how this new position stacks up to your happiness measuring stick. Be sure to ask about the work culture and company's values, both of which ranked high in a Glassdoor survey on employee satisfaction.

It's hard to pass on an offer that looks good on paper, but otherwise doesn't deliver on the benefits that matter most to your job satisfaction. But when you eventually land in the this-job-sucks doldrums, you'll once again be on the market for a new one. Spare yourself the emotional rollercoaster by making the right decision for your future self now.

Published on: Feb 20, 2017
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