Another take on job satisfaction

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.




About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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