Which Jobs Truly Lead To Job Satisfaction?

what makes employees happy at workBy Denene Brox

Which jobs truly lead to job satisfaction? It's a question that online salary database Payscale.com set out to answer by asking workers across a broad spectrum of employment to rate their overall job satisfaction. The results may surprise those who think that money alone brings job happiness.

"If pay was the only factor that leads to job satisfaction, you wouldn't have jobs like firefighter or senior pastor at the top of the list, because they are not $100,000-plus jobs," says Al Lee, Payscale's director of quantitative analysis.

What those lower paying, high satisfaction jobs do have in common is the ability to help others and/or some degree of authority. The jobs that came in the top 30 on PayScale's list all have one or more of these three factors in common: good salary, authority, and the ability to help others.

Was Deborah Brown-Volkman, PCC, president of Surpass Your Dreams, Inc., a career coaching firm, surprised by what PayScale's survey revealed?

"Yes and no," she says. "When you have money in your pocket and you can buy the things you want, you feel good. On the other hand, money is not the only indicator of career happiness. With higher pay comes higher responsibility and higher stress levels. Doing what you love for a living will rate higher than if you're in a career for money alone."

On the satisfaction scale, any job that scored higher than 4.0 is impressively high, notes Lee. These jobs averaged $87,000 per year in salary. Meanwhile, jobs that fell in the 3.0 range had lower salaries and often lacked authority and the opportunity to help others.

Here's a closer look at PayScale's data on the three keys to job satisfaction.


"Neurosurgeon, president and CEO, and nurse anesthetist -- these are all jobs that, on average, make more than $100,000 per year (some earn well over that, like neurosurgeon) and report high levels of job satisfaction," says Lee. These jobs also typically incorporate at least one more factor that leads to satisfaction.

Such jobs as principal, headmaster and school superintendent ended up at the top of the list (above 4.0) as opposed to a regular teacher (below 4.0) -- so the extra pay probably counted. "You get all of the satisfaction of helping kids learn, the social good of education -- all of those good and positive things, and you also get to be in charge and you get better pay," says Lee. "So, clearly the pay is a factor, but not the only factor."

On the other hand, lower paying positions such as security guard, call center representative, and line cook, scored low in satisfaction and pay low salaries.

Job Title

Satisfaction Score

Median Salary

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)



Orthopedic Surgeon






Helping Others

"Non-profits, medical professionals, and religious figures -- these jobs are helping others and that clearly leads to overall satisfaction with the job," Lee says.

Almitra Buzan, a former public relations manager for the American Red Cross, says that she chose to work for a nonprofit specifically because she wanted to feel that she was making the world a better place.

"[Helping others during times of devastation] increased my job satisfaction because it was at those times that the need for the American Red Cross was truly apparent," she says.

Job Title

Satisfaction Score

Median Salary




Senior Pastor



Nursing Home Director




If you've often thought to yourself that you would be much happier at work if you were the boss, you're probably right.

Lee notes that the fact that there are a large number of chief executive officers, principals, headmasters, top medical professionals, and executive directors at the top of the list says a lot.

For example, Lee notes that while teachers are not dissatisfied, they're not as satisfied as the principal. "The principal still gets the satisfaction of working in education, but has more control and has lots of independence," Lee says. "Being in charge can lead to satisfaction because no one's telling you what to do. So for instance, store owners didn't have the highest salary, but no one is telling them what to do."

Job Title

Satisfaction Score

Median Salary

School Superintendent



Chief Technology Officer



Store Owner/Operator



Make A Plan To Get Happy

How satisfied are you with your job? If you're not happy with your pay, level of authority, or contribution to the world, Brown-Volkman says make a plan to get into a career that will bring you more satisfaction. "Most people don't plan. Or, they have a plan and they don't act," she says. "Fear also holds people back from being proactive and moving forward in their career."

Source: All salary data is provided by online salary database PayScale.com. Annual salaries listed are for full-time employees with 5 to 8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

Denene Brox has written career articles for Bankrate.com, HotJobs, PM Network, Minority Nurse and other publications. Her business writing has appeared in MyBusiness, QSR and Pizza Today. Denene is the webmaster of http://www.freelance-write-now.com, a free resource for new freelance writers.

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