How to love your job

Tim Balcon discusses an industry where job satisfaction is on a high.  

What helps you get up and out the door every morning? I mean aside from the need to earn a crust and contribute – what motivates you to go to work? As a professional who has a commitment to learning and development at the heart of all you do, you may say it’s the drive to make a positive change to people and their careers. If that’s the case for you, you’re not alone.

Recent research shows that environment and sustainability professionals are among the happiest workers in the UK. 68% of green professionals say they are satisfied or extremely satisfied with their careers.

The one third of respondents who have moved into the profession from another sector are even happier, with their satisfaction rising up to 78%. Why? Because they say their work has an impact, and they’re supported and positioned to do their best along the way.

High stress levels, long hours, corporate uncertainty caused by Brexit and demanding bosses are all having a negative impact on how we feel about our work. 

This report of unusually high job satisfaction comes at a time when the UK workforce is believed to have the lowest average job satisfaction in the world. Stagnant wages, high stress levels, long hours, corporate uncertainty caused by Brexit and demanding bosses are all having a negative impact on how we feel about our work.

For employees it means low commitment to their organisation, and can even be detrimental to personal health and wellbeing. For employers it’s resulting in low productivity – a general ongoing concern for the UK economy – and high staff turnover (currently about 15% each year in the UK), causing the whole cycle to turn again and again. So what is it about environment and sustainability – where high satisfaction is a strong year-on-year trend – that makes its professionals so happy in their jobs? 

And what can other sectors learn from it? It appears to be due to a number of contributing factors; rising pay, stable employment and employability, interesting and varied work in a growth area, employer support for professional development, a good work/life balance and healthy career mobility. Let’s have a look at the specifics:

  • Pay – the profession enjoyed modest growth in take-home pay during 2017, with median salaries rising 2.6% from £39,000 to £40,000 in a year. This is comfortably above the typical pay for UK employees which was £28,758 last year. 67% say they scored a pay rise within the last year.
  • Employability – The profession has a high volume of skilled and qualified workers; 60% have gained a post-graduate qualification of some kind, and 5% have a doctorate making this a group of seriously knowledgeable, skilled and valuable employees.
  • Stimulating work – 74% of poll respondents describe their roles as ‘challenging’, and many individuals specifically commented on the interesting variety of topics and tasks involved in their work.
  • Employer support – 64% of those surveyed say their employer pays for their professional body membership to support their ongoing learning and CPD.
  • Work/life balance –  Just last month the Qualtrics Employee Pulse survey revealed that UK wide, 52% of employees are worried about their equilibrium between home and professional life. But only 11% of green practitioners say perfecting their work/life balance is a concern for them.
  • Good prospects – One in three professionals made an upward or horizontal job move in 2017.

Those are all strong statistics, but one of the main reasons for the high satisfaction reported by this profession is a little less tangible than pay and promotions, but is absolutely critical – it’s the feeling of making a difference.

Over one third said their original drive to become an environment and sustainability professional came from a long-standing interest in nature and conservation and wanted a job that productively channelled this.

Furthermore 22% say their sole motivation was to ‘make a difference’ and now they’re in their dream job, and over half say they feel their work is rewarding. 38% say their vocation is full of opportunity and 29% say their work has a positive global impact.

46% said their reason for not wanting a non-environmental career was that they were seeking to ‘add more value’ than other career paths offer. Four in ten told us that for them, having an ethical job is about much more than just earning a living. 


This is also an occupation which its workers strongly advocate to others – something which arguably says as much about job satisfaction than happiness polls.

When asked how they would describe the profession to someone thinking of moving into an environment and sustainability career, 43% said ‘you’ll have a job that makes a positive difference to the environment and society’, and over a fifth said ‘you can look forward to a career that offers a lot of variety’.

So what can business, and you as a L&D expert, learn from it? It seems that tapping into employees’ passions and values, and underpinning that with fair pay and opportunities to succeed, is key to an engaged workforce.

Easier said than done, but the strong links between employee happiness, productivity and employee attrition are too important to ignore. Taking the time to understand employees’ motivations and helping them to map them – and their performance – to the organisation’s values and goals could pay huge dividends of business everywhere.

The very human feeling of making a difference through our work, whatever our expertise or trade, is clearly key to much more than job satisfaction. Your vitality of your business, the nation’s productivity and the UK economy could depend on it.


About the author

Tim Balcon is CEO of IEMA.


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