Human brains like stories, so I’ll start this job role odyssey with a story.
In June of 2014, I had just finished graduate school. In hindsight, that whole deal was probably a mistake — I’m thousands of dollars in debt and I don’t even work in a field related to what I studied. Oh well. You live and learn. So at the time I’m living in Minneapolis, and my wife and I are job searching. I fly down to Texas to have a final interview with this one B2B gig. I get down here, go out to lunch with my eventual boss and her boss, and we all do the dance and the spiel. This role is so essential. It’s going to be everything. So, so, so great. So big. The best. (Trump hadn’t come on the Presidential scene yet, but it felt like that.) Ultimately, I take this job and start in July.
Within about six days of having this gig, I realized it had absolutely no job role. The technical definition is “peripheral,” meaning what I did wasn’t core to the revenue-generation of the place. This is a common issue for a lot of people. I’ve seen studies that of every 5 employees, only 2 face revenue. If that’s all the top dogs care about, that means 60 percent of the company (3 in 5) is essentially irrelevant to those with influence. Is that really a way to spend the middle part of your life?
I ended up getting fired from that job. It had pockets of being cool but was never really a good fit for me or for them. Hard to argue where that starts, right? Job role.
Job role research
We’ve had research before on the importance of job role, and now we’ve got new research. This new research is from three professors, and it has fundamental flaws in execution (as all research, and life, does). Ultimately the big finding is this:
Surveying nearly 700 employees in many organizations, we found that criticality, nonsubstitutability, pervasiveness, and immediacy predicted more meaningful work, more emotional organization commitment, and less job insecurity and burnout. We found no downsides.
Their basic thesis is this: “If you want to be happy in a company, you need an essential job role there.” OK. Let’s unpack that.