Job satisfaction is one of the most widely used concepts in management and organizational behaviour. Persons in leadership or managerial positions have been employing the construct to decide their human resource policies and judge their success. It is a valuable barometer to measure the organizational culture and to point out areas that need improvement. While motivation as a construct is more individual and may incorporate elements that are not in the control of the managers, job satisfaction is associated with the work and its environment, offering more leverage for decision making.
Job satisfaction has been defined as a single construct that measures how people feel about their jobs. Besides, it has also been defined as a multi-dimensional construct that includes the variations in feelings towards various aspects of a job.
The concept of job satisfaction consists of extrinsic and intrinsic factors
Herzberg differentiated between these aspects by segregating them into extrinsic factors which were associated with the job environment, and intrinsic factors which were part of the job itself. This distinction into a multi-variate entity is important for job satisfaction as defining it as a single construct limits its usability as a barometer.
Interpreting results of job satisfaction measurements is best done holistically
Consider for example, Marks and Spencer’s annual employee engagement survey which revealed that 81% of its employees feel proud to work with the company (Marks and Spencer, 2018, p. 17). This figure in itself is quite impressive, however, it leaves several questions unanswered like why is there a fall of 1% from the last year’s figure, what factors are causing the remaining 19% employees to not feel engaged, and what is the company doing right to make the rest of its employees committed?
How to best measure job satisfaction depends on context
This makes the measurement of job satisfaction as a multi-variable construct preferable. However, a single measure of job satisfaction also has merits because it is easier to use an overall score than a hierarchical three-factor model as proposed by Heritage, Pollock and Roberts (2015). Ultimately, the measure will depend on the planned use of the construct.
How does job satisfaction differ for demographics?
Job satisfaction studies have shown some critical trends. Here are two vital findings relevant for the VUCA world today.
Contingent workers exhibit less job satisfaction due to less room for growth on the job
Wilkin (2013) reported that contingent workers have lower job satisfaction than permanent workers. This difference shows that organizations that employ many contingent workers (i.e. freelancers, independent contractors, temporary workers) would benefit by paying more attention to extending good HR practices to this particular group, as the group differs from regular employees.
The more room for growth on the job, the higher the satisfaction rate
Loher et al. (1985) explored the relation between job satisfaction and job characteristics and found that the strength of growth needs acts as a moderator between them. This result implies that people who have high levels of growth need, so who have the urge to be able to grow on the job, have a higher degree of correlation between their job satisfaction and job characteristics. In other words, the more room for growth the job itself exhibits, the higher the employees' job satisfaction will be.
Generations Y and Z show different characteristics of what satisfies them on the job
One aspect of job satisfaction that has remained relatively unexplored is its effect on different generations of workers. Generation Y (i.e. people born in the1980s and 1990s) has been working in the industry for several years now. It is now the turn of Generation Z, people born from mid-90s to early 2000s, to enter the workforce.
This generation Z are digital natives, use the internet for their primary source of communication, are considered to be impatient, agile, and more comfortable with virtual teams than real human interaction (Adecco, 2015). A study about what motivates this generation reported that the work itself, relationships with colleagues, and achievement of self-goals were the most important aspects of motivation for this generation. On the other hand, factors of work-life balance, work load, and job security no longer seemed relevant.
Generation Y values equal treatment and benefits, Generation X values agility and digitalism
Generation Y or the millennials, as they are popularly called, are believed to be highly educated, ethical, like working in teams, but suffer from higher levels of anxiety and neuroticism (Twenge, Campbell and Freeman, 2012; Stewart et al., 2017). SHRM reported this generation to have lower levels of job satisfaction than the generation X and the baby boomers (SHRM, 2016). Their satisfaction, when present, was attributed most to equal treatment at work, compensation, benefits, and job security.
This evidence suggests that leaders may have to change their approach when dealing with employees of different generations.
How does job satisfaction affect organizational outcomes?
Job satisfaction is linked to several benefits. In the following section, we will introduce some of them.
Recent evidence points to stronger individual job performance links
Job satisfaction has largely been associated with lowering of absenteeism and employee turnover but its relationship with productivity was more complex. Productivity will increase if the employees are satisfied with their jobs and the work environment, but mere satisfaction with the work environment will not translate into a better performance. Iaffaldano and Muchinsky (1985) had reiterated that the relation between job satisfaction and performance remained low, as was earlier estimated by Vroom (1964).
However, Alessandri et al. (2017) who studied the relation between job satisfaction and performance of 1004 employees over five years found that not only does satisfaction lead to better job performance, job performance itself can contribute to satisfaction.
What else is known about this relationship between job performance and satisfaction? Ziegler et al. (2012) have reported that employees who have low ambivalence towards their jobs, that is, employees who are indifferent about the positive and negative aspects of their jobs are more likely to improve their performance if satisfied than others. This evidence suggests that employees who have high ambivalence in either direction, positive or negative, will not show as much of a change in performance when satisfied.
Job satisfaction is directly linked to improved organizational outcomes
Job satisfaction is linked with organizational outcomes of return over assets, operating margins, and revenue per employee (Melián-González, Bulchand-Gidumal and González López-Valcárcel, 2015). When employees were satisfied with their leadership, pay, and work life balance, organizational performance improves. Job satisfaction improves employee engagement which, in turn, improves the organizational performance (Al-dalahmeh, Khalaf and Obeidat, 2018).
Similar relationships are found with ethical leadership and job performance (Shafique, N. Kalyar and Ahmad, 2018) and with organizational commitment and employee performance. (Loan, 2020)Therefore, recent evidence shows stronger support for job satisfaction and its impact on organizational outcomes.
How can we shape job satisfaction?
Job satisfaction, depending on how it is measured, requires a complex set of interventions. There is no one solution that can cover all aspects of organizational dynamic linked to job satisfaction. Therefore, shaping job satisfaction is best viewed as a holistic endeavor starting with its measurement.
AI can help measure of job satisfaction
Artificial Intelligence or AI which is the hottest trend in management today has implications for job satisfaction. As HR practitioners apply more robotics, machine learning, and AI to routine tasks like reward management, recruitment, and even learning and development, SHRM estimates that the freeing up of time from these routine procedures will drive job satisfaction higher (Zielinski, 2018).
It is believed that HR professionals will now be in a position to focus on high-value aspects of their jobs which will make them feel more satisfied with their work itself, thus improving their satisfaction.
Microsoft has used AI to improve its employee job satisfaction.
In 2018, an employee survey showed Microsoft that its employees were widely dissatisfied (Romeo, 2019). The company employed AI to read through employee calendars, analysed the time spent in meetings, and also looked through transfer requests by employees. The latter were believed to show a lower level of engagement which was prompting employees to seek an internal change.
The results of this analysis revealed that employees were spending unnecessary long hours in meetings which could be utilised for more productive work. Microsoft initiated policies to encourage employees to shift away from long-drawn meetings, email exchanges, and made transfer requests easier to implement believing that if employees failed to get them , they may actively look for opportunities outside.
Time spent on mundane, routine tasks reduces job satisfaction
All these measures helped the company improve the employees job satisfaction. It should be heeded that as AI can be used for analysing employee emails, online conversations, and even their computer and physical movements (called employee exhaust) to assess their performance, risks for misuse of data is high (Belton, 2019).
Though most firms claim they use this data to ensure employees satisfaction, prevention from bullying and harassment, and improve their management policies, it is evident that misuse of technology can easily graduate to oppression.
Critical appraisal of job satisfaction: Solidity rating 4
Based on the empirical evidence for the importance of situational awareness, this Dossier is assigned a Level 4 rating (based on a 1- 5 measurement scale). A level 4 is the second highest rating score for a Dossier. Job satisfaction is easily one of the most researched topics with metanalytic studies using robust research designs in a wide variety of contexts. However, the nature of the construct does not lend itself well to experimental designs, which is why a solidity rating of 4 is appropriate for the topic.
Job satisfaction remains a critical construct for management practitioners to assess the organizational culture, policies, and to identify areas that need attention. Different demographics show varying propensity towards the construct with generational differences also arising in the factors that appeal to employees.
Recent evidence has shown that not only does job satisfaction directly affects employee performance, it is also an invaluable moderator for leadership and commitment. Artificial intelligence is making it possible to evaluate job satisfaction at a more consistent and regular fashion which will make it easier to apply it in an organization.
Key recommendations for professionals
Job satisfaction is a construct that can be used to drastically improve organizational policies.
Job satisfaction is linked to improved performance: the more satisfied employees, the better their performance, the better organizational output.
Depending on whether it is used as a single or multi-variable construct, it can measure different things and highlight different areas.
Job satisfaction is useful to determine demographic differences and to make changes accordingly.
Before any targeted interventions can be made, it is important to measure job satisfaction and to draw conclusions from data yielded.
Using Artificial Intelligence can help to easily determine areas that need improvement.
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Sumbul is a freelance academic writer with a PhD in Human Resource Management. She has several research publications in the areas of organizational behavior, management, statistics, business environment, and Sustainability. She has also authored a textbook on Human Resource Management. Her passions include travelling, sampling different cuisines, and being a life-long learner.