updated 6/23/2005 6:33:44 PM ET 2005-06-23T22:33:44

Who, in your mind, has the more prestigious job — a teacher or a lawyer? Perhaps surprisingly, a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that 48 percent of those surveyed cited teaching as prestigious, while just 17 percent cited law.

At the top of the list are scientists, at 52 percent, and near the bottom you'll find real estate brokers or agents, at 5 percent. Poor old stockbrokers and accountants, at 10 percent, fare significantly worse than members of Congress (31 percent) and business executives (19 percent).

Others near the top include physicians (52 percent), firefighters (48 percent), military officers (47 percent), nurses (44 percent), police officers (40 percent), and clergy (32 percent).

Most of these professions have seen their prestige levels fall over the years, sometimes markedly so. That's likely been due to scandals surrounding various jobs — you can probably think of recent journalism blunders, accounting fiascos, and scandals surrounding religious leaders, for example. Lawyer jokes on TV might have helped push that profession's prestige down from 36 percent in 1977 to today's 17 percent. The numbers for clergy have fallen from 41 percent to 32 percent, athletes from 26 percent to 21 percent, and journalists from 17 percent to 14 percent. One profession with increased prestige is teaching.

This kind of survey has implications more important than you might suspect. Prestige plays a role not only in the eyes of the outside viewer, but also in the self-image of those in each given profession. Those who believe that their jobs hold low prestige will likely be unhappier at their work and perhaps less effective at it. For this reason, many companies work hard to boost the self-esteem of their employees. Here are a few examples from a recent USA Today article:

'Corporate campus'
Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Best Buy has treated thousands of store managers and other bigwigs to an inspirational rap song at a big meeting. At the Careers section of its Web site, the retailer describes its new "Corporate Campus," which features "a coffee shop, health club, bank, cafeteria, child care center, and convenience store. We also have a world-class learning center, where people from all over the company come to learn and share their expertise."

It adds: "Best Buy keeps facts and figures coming so you can keep learning. Whether at meetings (or) teachouts or on our intranet, you hear about everything from new technology to hit movies. You not only feel a part of our Company, (but you also) feel a part of our industry." These statements are all meant to boost the engagement and productivity of employees.

Convenience stores get joked about on late-night TV and on shows such as "The Simpsons", so 7-Eleven has watchdogs who fire off letters to those who besmirch its franchise. And it's fair to suggest that the company's decades-long sponsorship of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon aims to boost the image of the company in the eyes of not only customers but also employees.

RailAmericaboosts its company by publicizing that in the past few years, its employees have saved the lives of at least five people, rescuing them from fires or frigid waters.

Also according to the USA Today article, a Conference Board survey revealed that "17 percent of those making less than $15,000 a year say they are very satisfied with their jobs, vs. 14 percent of those who make more than $50,000 a year." So it's not all about money.

If you're not in a job you love, or at least feel good about, start thinking about other careers that might get you more fired up. A change might be worth it.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.


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