The question of job satisfaction in our field has long been an interest of mine, both for obvious personal reasons and because the sources of much dissatisfaction lie in an area of research - stress - I heard lots about over family dinners. So I found this article in yesterday’s New York Times to be worth reading, although not because it offered a lot of solutions for our field:
Based on my study of a representative sample of more than 8,000 American workers collected by Gallup, people who love their jobs:
- Use their strengths every day, as do their co-workers.
- Feel that they are an important part of their organization’s future.
- Are surrounded by colleagues who care about their overall well-being.
- Are excited about the future because of a leader’s enthusiasm and vision.
I would guess that most orchestra musicians would consider themselves lucky to score 2 out of 4 of these. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t offer a lot of suggestions relevant to the orchestral workplace:
By studying people who love their work, I came to realize that almost none initially landed the jobs they loved; rather, they landed ordinary jobs and turned them into extraordinary ones.
Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, says people reinvent their jobs by exercising the little bit of control they have at work. Through what she calls job crafting, people can reshape and redefine their jobs. In a paper she co-wrote, she says you can use your knowledge of what you do best to choose “to do fewer, more, or different tasks than prescribed in the formal job.” Changing the quality and amount of interaction with your colleagues, she says, can bring a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.
Making small changes in our daily activities can make a job more rewarding and engaging, but people who love their jobs also have bosses who inspire them, get the most out of them and truly care about them. That’s no accident. People who want the most from their work go boss-shopping. They may change shifts or make lateral moves in a company or industry to work for bosses who can become influential leaders in their lives.
The question of “exercising the little bit of control they have at work” is particularly problematic for most orchestra musicians, and one reason why principal players may find their jobs somewhat more satisfying. The fact remains that orchestra musicians, in theory at least, have virtually no control at work - an issue identified in the article referenced above. And the desirability of having “bosses who inspire them, get the most out of them and truly care about them” is almost as problematic.
There are, of course, inspiring music directors who do get the most out of their orchestras; I’ve worked under a few. But, given that there are 80 or so musicians to each music director, it’s a lot to ask that the music directors really know all 80 well enough to “care about them.” The fact that principal players have more of a chance to develop a relationship with the music director is another reason for them to find their jobs more satisfying than their rank-and-file colleagues.
Fundamentally, orchestra musicians need to look within themselves to solve the problem of job satisfaction, if only because there’s really no other place to look.