In the theatre, we often hear that we work in this field because we "love it." But why is that exactly? What is it about our jobs make it so rewarding? There's an answer!
In a study, Richard Hackman, Greg Oldham, and their colleagues proposed that there are 5 identifiable features of intrinsically motivating jobs. In other words, there are some specific, elements to a job that make it something someone will actually enjoy doing.
So how do our jobs in theatre stack up to these 5 factors? How might we be able to adjust things to make our jobs even more rewarding for us and our team?
Job Satisfaction Comes From:
1. Using a Variety of Skills on a daily basis
Do I use multiple skills to do my job, or am I only using one part of my brain?
For this, we are in luck. Because production departments are often small and collaborative, we need to use multiple skills in order to get a job complete, such as writing, planning, technical skills, and creative problem solving.
However, when building job descriptions, think about the breadth of work and the breadth of skills that a person might use. This is especially important for lower-level positions.
2. Seeing a Project Through to Completion
Do I have the ability to see a project through to completion, or will I only see one piece of the pie?
Because shows have such short lifespan (relative to longer-term projects in other industries, like the construction of a building), we have ready-made opportunities to see a body of work through to completion.
Take advantage of this golden opportunity for your whole organization. Ensure everyone sees the show even if it's in dress rehearsals or previews. But this isn't just about the show! Think of the smaller projects that lead up to a larger one. Ensure everyone knows the goals you are trying to hit, and let them know if you hit them. This can be especially important for clerical or back office staff that aren't involved in day-to-day production.
3. Making an Impact
Will I see and understand the impact my job has on others?
Again, with audiences coming to the theater every day we have a great opportunity to see the impact our work has on those we're creating it for. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to experience this. Take special care to integrate departments that don't always have visibility into what each other is doing like production, marketing, education, accounting, and outreach. Make sure everyone knows what the organization does and has the chance to join in.
On a more specific level, production meetings are also a great place to understand the impact of our decisions on other departments. Consider opening up meetings like this to more of the team, even if only occasionally.
4. Making Decisions
What decisions do I have the freedom and agency to make? Can I craft my own creative solutions or am I required to follow a strict playbook?
In theater many of us, especially designers and department heads, have a lot of autonomy over our departments. When joining an organization or a production, it's often good to establish in your job description what decisions you are free to make and what decisions require approval.
When working with your PAs, assistants and crew members consider delegating larger, more comprehensive projects to them rather than running them around on seemingly unrelated tasks. This will also add some of the above traits to their job as well like skill variety and the ability to see a project through to completion.
5. Receiving Feedback
Do I understand if I performed well or poorly? Do I have avenues for improvement?
Giving and receiving individual feedback is difficult but can reap huge benefits in long-term job performance. And it gets easier the more you do it. Take time for this, even though the next show will be shouting for all of your attention.
This is probably the one we all struggle with the most, but can have a lasting impact on the longevity of your staff. Make post-mortems and feedback a standard part of every show process and involve everyone from directors to interns to office staff. Take the time to do this, even though the next show will be shouting for all of your attention.
While theatre innately provides many traits that lead to rewarding jobs, we shouldn't take it for granted. Even in theatre, some tasks will be repetitive and unfulfilling. Not every job will be perfect, but by thinking about these 5 traits when creating a position or delegating work, it's possible to drastically improve the quality of life for those around you.
What else we can do to make jobs in the arts more rewarding?