Job Satisfaction People Science Brief

What drives job satisfaction, and why does it matter for organizations? Here’s what the research says…

Job satisfaction is the positive emotional state that results from having a job that fulfills what matters to a person.

The level of job satisfaction a person experiences is determined by the match (or discrepancy) between what that person values and what the job provides. Many aspects of a job can contribute to satisfaction, but only to the extent that the individual values those aspects.

Because job satisfaction is so personalized, a lot of things can contribute…

Any given job has many facets (e.g., task type, supervisor, organizational policies), and each facet can increase or decrease job satisfaction. Here is a partial list of contributing factors a person may care about…

  1. Job Design: Does the work itself provide variety, meaning, and responsibility? More on job design’s contribution in the next section.
  2. Satisfaction with Supervision: What is the frequency and quality of communication with a supervisor?
  3. Role Clarity: How clearly defined is the role, its responsibilities, and its connection with mission and with other roles?
  4. Job Scope: Are responsibilities narrow or broad?
  5. Cycle Time: Does the job involve the same, short task over and over again? Or, at the other extreme, are projects long-term with little repetition?
  6. Job Resources (tools, information): How easy is it to obtain what is needed to complete tasks with pride?
  7. Help from Others: Are coworkers supportive, or hindering?
  8. Work-Family Conflict: Are work and home goals and responsibilities mutually compatible, or stressful in one or both directions?
  9. Workload: Is the amount of work manageable within the allotted time?
  10. Work Schedules: Long shifts and night shifts can reduce job satisfaction. Flexible work arrangements can improve job satisfaction.

The biggest contributor to job satisfaction is strong job design.

Even though job satisfaction is highly individualized, there are six job design qualities that maximize the likelihood for job satisfaction broadly. Start here if you’re looking to improve the odds:

  1. Autonomy: Does the job give the person a sense of personal responsibility for work products, and reasonable freedom in determining how to get the work done?
  2. Feedback: Does the job provide direct insight about performance effectiveness in the course of accomplishing the work? Or is there a strong feedback system for sharing thoughts about job performance?
  3. Role Clarity: Does the job’s structure provide a clear understanding of the role’s importance in the organization? Or, do documents and conversations with a supervisor regularly reinforce expectations?
  4. Skill Variety: Does the job involve many different activities that require the use of varied skills and talents? Or, are there opportunities to participate on committees and teams beyond the core job?
  5. Task Significance: Does the job positively impact the lives of other employees and/or customers in meaningful ways?
  6. Task Identity: Does the job give responsibility for a ‘whole’ section of work, from beginning to end?

Hear Barry Schwartz describe how our ideas about people at work have become broken leading to soulless work devoid of meaning:

Satisfaction with compensation doesn’t have straightforward links to job satisfaction.

Satisfaction with compensation has only a small relationship with overall job satisfaction. Also, as anyone who has given or gotten a raise knows, any satisfaction boost is short-lived.

Generally, you’re better off structuring compensation strategically in your labor market (do your favored candidates accept your employment offer?) rather than hoping for job satisfaction impacts. To increase satisfaction, focus on the intrinsic job characteristics, which have a much larger influence.

Job satisfaction isn’t just about the job. Satisfaction with a job is partially determined by a person’s personality — and genetics.

Personality: In terms of personality (which is determined by a mix of nature and nurture), conscientious, extroverted, and/or agreeable people tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. People high in neuroticism (long-term tendency to be in negative emotional states such as guilt, envy, anger, and worry), tend to be less satisfied with their jobs.

Genetics: Identical twins tend to show similar levels of satisfaction with jobs. There is still some debate on why this occurs, but there is general agreement that trait negative affectivity — the tendency to become easily distressed and frustrated — has roots in brain structure. Trait negative affectivity is associated with lower job satisfaction.

Low job satisfaction is more influential than high job satisfaction.

The strongest relationship in job satisfaction research is the relationship between low job satisfaction and intention to leave the organization. Low satisfaction is very strongly related to both intention to leave and emotional exhaustion (i.e., burnout). Note that having low satisfaction does not automatically mean the person will actually quit. It’s possible for a person to be dissatisfied with a job and still committed to it, which is why the relationship between job dissatisfaction and actual turnover is relatively small.

Job satisfaction leads to better job performance, under the right conditions.

Generally, higher satisfaction with the job is moderately linked with higher performance, but the relationship is inconsistent (read: sometimes job satisfaction boosts performance a lot, sometimes less so). Recent studies suggest that satisfaction improves performance moreso when a person has more control over performance (e.g., door-to-door sales, knowledge work) than when a person has less control over performance (e.g, “you must pull this lever 10 times a minute to meet quota”).

High job satisfaction is related to several positive outcomes beyond job performance.

People who are more satisfied with a job tend to be ‘good citizens’: they’re more committed to the organization, more willing to ‘go the extra mile’, and more willing to help out coworkers. They also demonstrate higher attendance and higher sense of personal accomplishment.

 

More Coetic Job Satisfaction Resources: