Most Americans Think Their Job Is "Ideal"?

According to a new Gallup poll, the vast majority of U.S. workers love what they do. Could that be?

Gallup published a fascinating poll yesterday indicating that a whopping seven in 10 Americans believe their job is ideal for them. That's not saying they tolerate their job, think it's worth the money or feel vaguely satisfied -- they think it's ideal. I find this a little hard to believe: do that many Americans really feel their job is essentially perfect for them?

First, I must admit that my cynicism about this poll doesn't line up with what my own current response would be to the question. In fact, I would be among that 70%, but it wasn't always that way. Indeed, working at the Atlantic is the first time I'd have ever been one of those seven in 10 Americans. I tolerated my past jobs and thought the money was pretty good, but never felt like I was challenged with or passionate about what I did. So I thought it was pretty fantastic luck to finally have a job I found ideal, but this poll suggests that I merely joined the vast majority, not a select few.

Here's the breakdown, according to Gallup:

ideal job gallup 2010-03.gif

My first observation is that there isn't any room for shades of grey: you either think your job is ideal or you don't. So it could be that some of the respondents just treated this as a measure of job satisfaction, which I would argue is a far weaker standard. It's one thing to be satisfied with your job, but it's a much stronger statement to consider it ideal for you.

What does it take for a job to be ideal? That would differ by respondent as well. For example, I think my job is ideal from a doing-what-I-love perspective, yet I wouldn't mind if my pay was, say, double. But since I'm not that money-driven, compensation doesn't factor much into my calculus of ideal. I suspect, however, most people that work on Wall Street, for example, would have very different criteria.

Speaking of pay, one amusing finding is that the more money you make, the more ideal you find your job:

ideal job gallup 2010-03 - 2.gif

There's definitely a correlation here. You could argue that better paying jobs often demand more responsibility, and hence, are more rewarding. But tell that to a teacher or social worker -- there are definitely jobs where people can make a big impact on the world but collect a small paycheck. So I think that pay probably does factor into most people's calculation of how ideal they find their job, but it certainly isn't the only factor. This above chart could also imply that those who gravitate towards higher paying jobs give compensation a greater emphasis in calculating how ideal they find their job.

I should also note that the poll was only asked of those who are currently employed. So the high idealism could be related to a mere thankfulness for still having a job when nearly one in five these days are underemployed. Compared to no income at all, even a job that you didn't used to love begins to look pretty great.

Just for fun, let's compare our readers' responses to what Gallup found. Do you believe your job is ideal? Answer below (but please, only respond if you are employed)!