How to Change Careers to Social Impact: Step 4 – Decide on Ideal Workplace Environment

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

So far in our #SocialImpactCareerGuide, we’ve shared how to audit your strengths, hone in on your purpose, and shortlist causes you want to impact. That brings us to step four: deciding what type of workplace environment would be best for your unique combination of those factors.

It can be tempting to jump right into researching specific companies, but before you do it’s important to have a mental picture of the workplace environment that would be the best fit for you. No matter how much you think you want a certain job, that dream can quickly become a nightmare if you find yourself in an environment that is mismatched to how you prefer to work.

So, what factors influence whether a workplace environment is right for you? In the book Drive, author Daniel Pink shares that regardless of their employment arrangement, employees consistently emphasize three drivers of satisfaction:

  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters

Your work environment is one of the biggest determinants of your ability to activate these satisfaction drivers, particularly when it comes to autonomy. We all have different preferred levels of autonomy, but generally having too much of it results in feeling overwhelmed, while not having enough of it results in feeling stifled. An important thing to point out here is that there is no judgement attached to different autonomy preferences; more autonomy isn’t ‘better’ than less autonomy. What matters is understanding how much autonomy you personally need to be most successful. 

To help you do that, we’ve created this Autonomy Audit exercise, inspired by the version Daniel Pink included in Drive. The goal of this exercise is to help you flesh out what your ideal work environment looks like by looking at how your needs are (or are not) being met in your current role along the following four “T” dimensions: 

  1. Tasks: How much autonomy do you have over your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  2. Time: How much autonomy do you have over when you arrive, when you leave, and how you allocate your hours each day?
  3. Team: To what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate?
  4. Technique: How much autonomy do you have over how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job?

Again, your preferred level of autonomy is based on your specific needs, and there is no ‘wrong’ answer. Some people like to have a list of tasks assigned to them with clear instructions, while others prefer to decide their own tasks based on the outcome they are trying to achieve. Some people prefer the predictability of fixed hours, while others may prefer flexible schedule remote work. For some people, choosing their collaborators is an important need, while others enjoy being assigned to work with different people. Some like having clear standard operating procedures for the task they perform, while others crave the ability to iterate and experiment on the fly. Some of these dimensions may be deal breakers for you, others, less important. 

To get started on your autonomy audit:

  1. Select from the drop-down menu how your current role measures up to your need for autonomy along each of the four “T” dimensions listed above.
  2. Reflect on whether or not your needs are being met, and if they are not, what changes to the workplace environment would get your needs met. 
  3. Finally, rate how important each factor is for you, and you’ve got an excellent starting point for fleshing out the kind of environment you’re looking for based on what is most important to you.

To make this more real, let’s look at an example of someone who is currently working for a large, hierarchical organization that is highly efficient but also allows less room for priorities to be set on the individual level.

Based on the answers above, autonomy over tasks is something that person needs to thrive, and that need is not being met currently because priorities are dictated by others. In looking for the ideal work environment, this person should screen potential opportunities to ensure that they will have flexibility in deciding how to achieve their goals, and the chance to collaborate on setting their goals in the first place – perhaps at a smaller, flatter organization.

As we shared previously, the reality is that social impact is now something that can happen in every sector and workplace environment. A social enterprise startup might be a good choice for someone who prefers high levels of autonomy and less structure, while a larger corporation might be better for someone who prefers to be assigned tasks and thrives in execution. Social impact careers are not one-size-fits-all, and like we teach our Global Fellows, the most successful career transitions are the ones that start from a place of self-knowledge. 

Looking for 1:1 support to define your ideal work environment? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship!