Trevor Laffan: Job satisfaction can be found in the strangest of places.... even as whale snot collector?

Trevor Laffan reflects on job satisfaction and people who have some unusual careers, in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Job satisfaction can be found in the strangest of places.... even as whale snot collector?

Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but a survey showed two thirds of employees are not enjoying their work.

IF I was to sit the Leaving Cert exam tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do too well. Apart from not knowing any of the answers, I wouldn’t be able to write for very long without getting cramps in my fingers. They’ve lost the ability to hold a pen.

The only time I use a biro these days is when I need to sign something. Everything else is done on a keyboard, so when I need to write anything longer than a greeting on a birthday card, my fingers develop a mind of their own. They wrap themselves around each other and try to hurt me.

Concentration would be another issue. I struggled to stay awake as a teenager, so I have a healthy respect for all those who sat the exam this year after all they’ve been through. They did well to keep studying in the middle of a pandemic, but unfortunately, the points for some third-level courses went up this year so many of them were left disappointed. Not everyone got what they wanted.

It can be difficult to see a clear path forward in the aftermath of such disappointment, so there’s no point in us telling young people it’s not the end of the world, but they will be OK in time. Things have a way of working themselves out.

It isn’t easy though and choosing a career at 18 years of age that will provide them with all they want from life is a big ask. Job satisfaction is important, but if a survey in the States is anything to go by, not many find it.

According to a 2018 survey by Gallup, 66% of employees worldwide are either not engaged in or are actively disengaged from their job. But despite this disengagement, most employees don’t report that they hate their jobs. More often, they lack passion for their roles and don’t care enough to innovate, create, or put anything more into their jobs than the bare minimum.

It’s a long day at work if you’re just going through the motions, yet, according to the survey, two thirds of employees are doing just that. 

Even those who are perfectly happy in their workplace can see their circumstances change overnight, causing them to become disillusioned. A change of boss, or a change in conditions, can alter the dynamic, so while achieving job satisfaction is important, it’s also a bit of a lottery.

With that in mind, I wish my nephew the best of luck with his choice. Euan did very well for himself and got 589 points. He wants to study astrophysics and I have no doubt he will make a great fist of it, but where that leads him is a mystery to me.

So, to throw some light on it, I looked at the definition of astrophysics in the hope of finding some enlightenment.

Astrophysics is a science that employs the methods and principles of physics in the study of astronomical objects and phenomena. As one of the founders of the discipline said, Astrophysics “seeks to ascertain the nature of the heavenly bodies, rather than their positions or motions in space - what they are, rather than where they are.”

Among the subjects studied are the sun, other stars’ galaxies, extrasolar planets, the interstellar medium, and the cosmic microwave background. Emissions from these objects are examined across all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and the properties examined include luminosity, density, temperature, and chemical composition.

So, there you have it, couldn’t be clearer.

It’s all about stuff, but the fact that I haven’t a clue what it means doesn’t matter a whit as long as my nephew’s happy. I hope he will enjoy going to work every day and be content with his lot, but you don’t have to be a high achiever to be satisfied at work.

There is a very contented man working as a cleaner in Cyprus. He cleans an apartment complex and maintains the cleanliness of the poolside area and the pathways and tiled areas around the complex. He does it very well. He has a trolly with various bit and bobs and you can hear him trundling around the place from 7.30am every morning as the wheels of the cart bounce over the tiles.

Every day, without fail, he meticulously mops the tiles around the large pool area, which isn’t easy when temperatures are tipping 40 degrees. His routine never varies. He closes all the umbrellas and arranges all the sun beds, making sure they are parallel with each other, and the legs of each sun bed are lined up along the edge of the tiles at exactly the same distance from the boundary walls.

I think he has a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), so he likes things to be organised, even though he knows as soon as the pool opens, his entire arrangement will be destroyed. Umbrellas and sun loungers will be scattered all over the place, but he doesn’t mind. He takes great pride in his work, and it shows. Everyone appreciates the effort he makes to keep the place clean.

Job satisfaction can be found in the strangest of places. 

Justine Hudson is an Arctic marine mammal biologist who studies whales and walruses in Canada, and she describes herself as a snot collector.

She goes out in a boat looking for whales and when she finds them, she turns off the engine and the whales approach her out of curiosity.

She has a little petri dish attached to a long pole, and when the whales come up for air, they exhale through the blow hole, and she collects the sample on the petri dish.

That mucus provides her with a lot of data.

She loves her job, but I bet it wasn’t on her radar when she left school.

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