While everyone wants a dream job--one that provides meaning, fulfillment, satisfaction, and even joy--many people scoff at the idea that such jobs actually exist. Work is work, after all. I've said it myself. Work requires effort and doggedness, and it's not all fun and games. Not by a long shot.
But does that mean business leaders can't try to create dream jobs for their employees? Absolutely not. In fact, for me personally, the best part about being a leader is trying to build an experience that my employees will always look back on with fondness. Why? Frankly, because life is short. If you have to spend a great deal of your time working, then you should be doing so in an environment that is interesting and productive, where you have the ability to advance your career and have fun. And it makes good business sense, too--because people who are happy with what they're doing are better at it and more productive.
So how do you create a dream job?
1) Make sure the work is hard and rewarding.
Stanford researchers found that one of the key factors in living a meaningful life is the ability to face difficult tasks, even ones that cause stress, in order to make "positive contributions" in the world. In the world of work, this means designing jobs that allow people to tackle and overcome challenges.
Think of a job like a video game. As you play, and as you both win and fail, you accumulate skills that allow you to take on more complex levels in the game. And people like that feeling when they advance to the next level. They don't want to work in a job that is easily mastered and repetitive. As Mihaly Csikszentmihali describes in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, people want to be in a position where they can get into a rhythm, lose their sense of time even--and ultimately become better at something. Create jobs that provide this kind of opportunity for your employees.
2) Find the right person for the job.
If you're looking to hire a stellar auto mechanic, you don't bring on someone who aspires to be a chef. That just doesn't make sense. Unless you match a person's skill set and passion to the job requirements, you can't expect them to perform well--let alone fall in love with the work.
Hire people who will enjoy the job they have to do. If you're bringing a salesperson on board, then look for someone whose eyes light up when he or she helps people find the right products to solve their problems. If you're hiring a marketing professional, then find someone who is fascinated by figuring out how to grow sales and market share. These are the people who will feel fulfilled and who will push themselves to do more.
3) Give people a path to learn new jobs.
Many executives and managers hesitate to work on carving out career paths and creating internal mobility because it can take time to think it all through. They also wonder if it's worth it to train someone to acquire new skills if they'll just leave in a year or two and use those skills elsewhere.
In my opinion, however, it is most definitely worth it to prepare your employees for the future economy, whether at your company or someone else's. Not only will they appreciate the added challenges, but they'll also feel like they're advancing a level--which enriches their experience with you while enhancing your brand as an employer. And remember, internal mobility doesn't always have to mean skyrocketing upward. You can advance employees horizontally and still increase their breadth of skills.
4) Put good managers in place.
Too often we promote people into management because they are good at whatever they do in their jobs, and we just assume that means they'll also be good at managing people. I've seen it over and over, and it's not always the case. You need to train managers of people to be good managers of people. Why? Because good bosses make for happier employees. They're part of the dream job equation.
Good leaders need to be more interested in helping others than in helping themselves. Some people are naturally this way; others, you have to train. Remember, management is a skill, like anything else. Be sure you hire and promote managers who are adept at leading others empathetically and effectively.
5) Create a culture that embraces diversity.
Work isn't high school. As adults, we're past the idea of having cliques, and we actually enjoy meeting different kinds of people. That's why diverse workplaces tend to be richer and more fulfilling environments. Mind you, I'm not just talking about diversity of gender, race and economic background--I'm also talking about diversity of personalities. If you want people to feel like they're working in a dream job, then create a company culture where introverts hang out with extroverts, and where scientists intermingle with poets. Give people interesting colleagues who stimulate their thinking and complement their strengths.
Dream jobs exist because we create them. There's no magic involved; it's just a matter of putting the right people in the right jobs, and giving them the right opportunities with the right bosses and the right teams. Make the effort, and you'll see happier, more productive employees--and in turn, you'll become a more attractive employer to skilled job seekers.