Mountain Stream Coaching in words with M stylized as mountains and S stylized as stream
Woman drawing on whiteboard
Photo Credit: Christina Morillo on Pexels

This is the third of three articles covering the assessment stage of a seven-stage life design process. Here we assess how our work does or doesn’t serve us and the world.

This article covers:

  • Why work assessment is important
  • Work terminology
  • Work interaction with life
  • Success criteria
  • Red flags
  • What’s next?

For working adults in the United States, work is the life area that consumes the most amount of time, with the possible exception of sleep once weekends are accounted for. Gallup identified five elements of well-being (Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community) and showed that career well-being has the strongest impact on overall well-being. Work provides a wealth of meaning in life. Gallup’s surveys in Germany and the U.S. showed that most employees would continue to work even if they had enough money that they never had to work again.

With so much impact on our lives, work deserves its own assessment beyond the more general “Who Am I?” and “How Am I Doing?” assessments in my two previous articles. This article addresses that need.

This work assessment explores various aspects of your work life to help you gain clarity about your work satisfaction and whether it’s time to make a significant change in your work life.


For ease, throughout this article, I use the words “work” and “company”. Alternative words for “work” include job, employment, career, vocation, and calling. Alternative words for “company” include employer, organization, institution, non-profit, government, and business (including “my business” for solopreneurs like myself.)

The distinction between Job, Career, and Calling matters. Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, as summarized by Forbes, describes these as the following:

Job: A job provides you with pay, benefits, and perhaps some social perks. It’s primarily about earning a paycheck. People in this category are typically more invested in their lives outside of the office. Work is merely the way they afford to do the things they love.
Career: A job you do for others, while a career is what you do for yourself. Career professionals are also working for the paycheck, but they are more driven to seek out opportunities for advancement in the workplace. These individuals tend to strive for the next promotion, look for more training, and generally aim to impress.
Calling: Those who experience their work as a calling are most likely to feel a deep alignment between their vocation and who they are as a person. They feel a personal and emotional connection to their work. They are enthusiastic, have a sense of purpose, and are willing to work harder and longer to make a contribution.

This leads to the first assessment question, “Do you view your work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling?

Work Interaction with Life

The previous article in this series outlined eleven life areas for appraisal. One way to assess work satisfaction is to look at the other ten life areas through the lens of work. How does work positively or negatively affect your other life areas?

  • Financial Health. Are your pay and benefits competitive for your level of responsibility, experience, and industry?
  • Service. Does your company and work positively impact society at large?
  • Environment. Is your physical work environment safe and conducive to doing your best work? How does your company and work affect the ecological environment?
  • Family. How does your work positively or negatively impact your family?
  • Social Ties. Do you have at least one close friend at work? What is the breadth and depth of your professional network from work?
  • Fun and Leisure: Do you have fun at work at least some of the time? Does your work allow for fun and leisure outside of work?—for example, with reasonable hours and sufficient vacation time.
  • Physical Health. If your work involves physical labor, does it respect your physical health? Regardless of physical labor or not, what impact is your work having on your physical health? Are you having any physical symptoms from work stress?
  • Mental (Emotional) Health. Does your work contribute to positive mental health? Do you experience positive emotions (passion, joy, happiness, pride, contentment, intrinsic motivation, etc.) more often than negative emotions (stress, anxiety, frustration, etc.) at and about your work?
  • Spiritual Health. Is your work part of your spiritual path? Is your work a spiritual calling?
  • Intellectual, Learning, and Growth. Are you continually learning and growing at work? Is knowledge freely shared? Do you have access to formal training? Do you have a mentor or coach at work?

Success Criteria

How do you define success related to work? What are your “must haves” for work satisfaction? The following are some potential success criteria for points not already covered by the life area list above.

If you are currently employed, rate your satisfaction level for each criterion that is important to you on a scale of 1-to-10. To help with this exercise, download this Microsoft Excel spreadsheet template that includes these criteria along with the life areas above the “red flags” and “false reasons to stay” further below.

  • Meaning. Does your work provide you with a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment?
    Meaningful work is a cornerstone of overall life happiness. In a 2018 survey, BetterUp Labs found that Nine of 10 workers will trade money for meaning. On average, they’d sacrifice 23 percent of future earnings—an average of US$21,000 a year—for work that is always meaningful.
  • Creativity and Innovation. Does your work allow you to express your creativity? Is your company innovative?
  • Values Alignment. Does your employer’s values as actually lived align with your own core values?
  • Strengths. Does your work allow you to routinely use your signature strengths as defined in Assessment Stage Part-1?
  • Emotional Intelligence. Do your work colleagues, immediate manager, and company leadership exhibit emotional intelligence?
  • Support. Do you receive the support you need from colleagues, immediate manager, and company leadership?
  • Resources. Do you have the tools and resources you need to be effective and efficient at your work?
  • Inspiration. Do your work colleagues, immediate manager, and company leadership inspire you to do your best work?
  • Challenge. Is your work sufficiently challenging and stimulating without being overly challenging?
  • Respect and Boundaries. Are you treated with respect at work? Are your boundaries honored at work?
  • Influence. Are you listened to at work? Does your point of view matter?
  • Recognition. Do you feel appreciated and valued at work?
  • Advancement. Are you advancing in your career towards greater responsibility and compensation?
  • Stepping Stone to the Future. Does your current work align with your long-term career goals and aspirations?
  • Work–Life Harmony. Do you have work–life balance/harmony/integration?
  • Autonomy. Does your work provide you with an appropriate level of independence to work in the way you see as best?
  • Flexibility. Where possible, do I have work hours and location flexibility; for example, the option to work from home?
  • Enjoyment. Do you enjoy your work?
  • Colleagues. Do you enjoy working with your colleagues? Are they good people that you enjoy being around?
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB)McKinsey’s 2019 analysis found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. The same study found that top-quartile companies for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability.
  • Collaboration. Does your work support collaboration with your colleagues? Is teamwork valued?
  • Company Size. What is your preferred company company size? Some people prefer the structure and resources of an established large company. Other people prefer the environment and opportunities of a startup. The is no one right answer and company size may change with aggressive growth, a company acquisition, or a spinoff.

Also see:

Red Flags

The following list provides some “red flag” warning signs of work issues. Some of these factors equate to low satisfaction on the success criteria above. Other factors are unique.

  • Thinking About Leaving. Do you frequently think about leaving your work?
  • Toxic Work Environment. Does your workplace tolerate bullying, discrimination, harassment, or unhealthy competition among workers (for example, with backstabbing or gaslighting)? Is there a culture of secrecy and withholding information? Is there high turnover? Are priorities and performance criteria constantly shifting? Is micromanagement the norm?
  • Ethical Issues. Are there moral or ethical issues at work?
  • Values Misalignment. Do your employer’s values as actually lived conflict with your own core values?
  • Conflict. Do you frequently experience with colleagues, immediate manager, or company leadership?
  • Missing Purpose. Is it unclear how your day-to-day work supports the company’s mission?
  • Undervalued or Not Supported. Do you rarely, if ever, receive recognition or thanks for your contributions? Do you feel underappreciated or unsupported?
  • Overwhelm. Do you frequently feel overwhelmed by high workload or interpersonal challenges at work? Is work–life balance/harmony/integration unobtainable?
  • Lacking Motivation. Do you often lack motivation and enthusiasm about your work? Are you frequently bored or disengaged at work?
  • Self-Sabotaging Behavior. Are you hindering your own success and well-being by undermining your potential? Are you your own worst enemy at work?
  • Stress. Do you experience frequent stress and high anxiety related to work?
  • Physical Symptoms. Do you have negative physical symptoms associated with work such as headaches or sleep problems? Do you consistently feel physically or mentally exhausted after work?
  • Burnout. Do you often feel burned out?—physical or mental collapse caused by overwork and stress.
  • Limited Learning, Growth, and Advancement Opportunities. Are you stagnant?

What’s Next?

Having reached the end of this work assessment, if you are currently working, you now have a holistic view of the pluses and minuses associated with your current work. If you are looking for work, the above can seed a list of things to look for or to look out for, in your future work.

If the assessment indicates that your current work falls short, the question then becomes “Should I stay or should I go?” Clearly, if you find yourself in a truly toxic work environment, you should leave as soon as possible. Often though the decision is more nuanced. My bias is towards before making any drastic decisions, considering whether you can enhance your work satisfaction within your current role. That said, you may have already done everything possible to improve your current work and yet still be reluctant to move on even though your work is no longer serving your best interests. If this is you, it might be helpful to reflect on the 10 reasons you won’t quit your job from a recent Reinvention Warrior podcast:

  1. Fear. The truth is that fear is a liar. Fear is going to try to keep us small.
  2. Finances. We can in fact find different ways to bring an income that sustains us.
  3. Family and friends don’t support you making a work change. Get into places where people are one or two steps ahead of you. That’s going to be the motivation and support you need to push forward.
  4. Your identity is tied to your role or title. You are not your career title. Who are we at our core?
  5. Lacking confidence. Again, surround yourself with people who have done what you are contemplating doing.
  6. Unsure about the next step. Hire a coach to help you discover your best next steps. [I’m available]
  7. Worry about other people’s opinions. Learn who you can and cannot speak to about your true desires.
  8. Health insurance and other benefits. There is insurance available beyond what your employer offers you.
  9. Invisible safety net. Even though you think staying in your current work is safe and secure, unfortunately, it’s not. Nothing is.
  10. Convincing yourself it is really not that bad. What are the things you’re minimizing?

Over To You

What new insight did you gain from working through the assessment above? Are there any other criteria you use to assess your work satisfaction? If you are currently working, what are the top three positives and top three negatives regarding your current work? What is one action you could take now to improve your current work?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *