Job satisfaction: evidence for impact on reducing psychosocial risks

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Juliet Hassard, Kevin Teoh, and Tom Cox , Birkbeck University of London, United Kingdom.

Introduction

This article examines the empirical evidence surrounding job satisfaction. While it is important to understand the theoretical makeup surrounding job satisfaction, this is beyond the scope of this article and is explored in Job satisfaction: theories and definitions. This article focuses on the factors that influence job satisfaction, including: organisational support, superiors, co-workers, and conditions to work. Outcome factors, at the organisational and individual level, are also explored.

Factors influencing job satisfaction

Job satisfaction is a dominant theme in the organisational psychology literature [1] with numerous studies aiming to understand the antecedents to it. Manisera and colleagues [2] surveyed 3256 workers across Italy and found that career promotion and career prospects had the strongest relationship with job satisfaction. However, this study also observed that superiors, colleagues, growth, independence, recognition, job variety, the physical environment, benefits, wage, hours, and job certainty also had strong relationships with job satisfaction. This highlights the numerous workplace factors that influence satisfaction at work. In general, researchers have simplified the organisation of predictors into one of five categories: individual worker factors, organisational support, superiors, co-workers and conditions at work [3] [4].

Individual worker factors

The dispositional approach to job satisfaction argues that workers’ moods and personality influence their outlook, and ultimately how satisfied they are with their job. Research has been consistent in demonstrating that those with a positive outlook tend to, on average, report better job satisfaction [5]. Research demonstrates that employees have stable levels of job satisfaction over time, even when jobs are changed [6]. The personality trait of core self-evaluation is strongly linked to perceptions of the job, with higher core-self association associated with higher job satisfaction [7]. Core self-evaluation refers to how individuals perceive and evaluate themselves, this typically includes: self-esteem, self-efficacy and/or locus of control. Similarly, there is evidence that two of the Big Five personality traits, conscientiousness and extraversion, are also positively related to job satisfaction [7]. Workers’ age is something that has been associated to job satisfaction, although there are two ‘schools of thought’ as to nature of this relationship [8] [9]. The first school of thought postulates a positive relationship, where job satisfaction increases gradually as age increases. The second postulates a ‘U’ shaped relationship, where higher levels of satisfaction are observed among younger workers; which than decreases during middle age/ middle career stage and, subsequently, increase in the later years/ stages of career. In terms of gender differences, although some early studies indicated that women were more likely to report high job satisfaction, more recent research suggests this may be an unexpected result of a disadvantageous position of women in a labour market (so called ‘gender-job satisfaction paradox’). In countries with more equal employment opportunities, gender differences in terms of reported job satisfaction do not seem to appear [10].

Organisational support

Perceived organisational support (POS) refers to the extent employees believe their organisation cares for them, and how much their contributions are valued by the organisation [11]. The research evidence indicates that POS is a key predictor of job satisfaction [11] [12]. A review by Riggle, Edmondson and Hansen [13] observed POS was an important contributor of job satisfaction. In general, organisations are viewed as supportive when they are: committed to meeting employees’ socio-emotional needs; providing support when needed; and increasing performance-reward expectancies [11]. This can manifest itself through better compensatory packages, investment through training and in facilities, clear and fair career development process, as well as providing opportunities to develop and progress.

There are two possible mechanisms, which explain the strength of the relationship between POS and job satisfaction. Firstly, when POS is high and the needs of employees are met and they are content in their work situation this may enhance their level of job satisfaction [11] [13] [14]. Secondly, from an organisational theory perspective, POS is built upon the social-exchange theory [15]. This proposes that when employees are promised or receive material, reward or support they feel the need to reciprocate. Reciprocation can then come in the form of: (1) a change in affect, such as job satisfaction or turnover intention; (2) a change in mentality through engagement; (3) or a change in behaviour in performance [11] [13] [14].

Considering the importance of organisational support, it can be observed than many organisations do not consider the importance of understanding how satisfied their employees are. In a survey of organisational and human resource practitioners, half of them stated that the term job satisfaction was ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ mentioned within their organisation [16]. Furthermore, most of them indicated that ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ did their organisations value research on the importance of job satisfaction. Hence, it is important that a desire to improve job satisfaction amongst employees may have to stem from a change in attitude from the organisation itself.

Superiors

Social support can be characterised by the type of support, which comes in the form of instrumental and emotional support [17]. Instrumental support is the tangible support an employee might receive to complete work duties, allowing them to gain a sense of mastery over the situation [18]. Meanwhile, emotional support refers to the care and concern employees might receive through verbal and non-verbal cues to give them a sense of worth and belonging. Supervisors are in a position to provide emotional support, along with better instrumental support than colleagues, leading to some arguing that the supervisor-employee relationship to have a stronger influence on organisational outcomes than relationships with co-workers [19].

Building on the importance of perceived organisational support, employees often view how managers treat them as an indication of how much their organisation values them [20]. Lee and Cummings’ [21] review found organisational support (which included supervisor support) to be one of the predicative categories of job satisfaction amongst nurses. Supervisors can increase the job satisfaction of their staff through providing constructive feedback, allowing employees to feel valued and encouraging development.. Furthermore, supportive supervisors can enhance work characteristics with the aim to enhance job satisfaction by increasing autonomy, team work and group cohesion, as well as reducing job ambiguity. This is evident in various other samples of workers, such as: manufacturing workers [22], IT workers [23] [27], and traffic wardens [24].

Co-workers

Whilst the section above indicates the importance of supervisory support on employee’s job satisfaction, research has also demonstrated that this effect is weakened amongst close-knit teams [22]. As was the case with supervisor support, co-workers are also in a position to provide emotional support and a large extent of instrumental support. Consequently, there is empirical evidence demonstrating that positive relations with colleagues are an important contributor to job satisfaction [25]. In fact, Morgeson and Humphrey [26] found that aspects of good social support, such as office friendships, emotional support and frequent interactions with others were important predictors of job satisfaction. Moreover, social factors were considered to be more important to job satisfaction than conditions of work. This means that when employers are not able to re-design the job to increase autonomy, variety or control, or do not have the funds to change compensation packages or meet training needs then social support is an alternative that may increase job satisfaction amongst staff.

Conditions of work

Income

Satisfaction with one’s pay or income has long been associated as a positive relationship with job satisfaction [27]. However, the research into this relationship is not straightforward as salaries are often strongly related to other workplace factors such as status, benefits and age which also influence job satisfaction [28]. As a result the empirical evidence has been mixed with some studies showing strong relationships, whilst others showing weak or non-existent relationships. In trying to better understand the relationship, Judge and colleagues [29] conducted a meta-analysis on 115 correlations in 92 samples and found a weak relationship between income and job satisfaction. However, the relationship between income and job satisfaction does not depend only on the employee’s wage. Card and colleagues [28] found that when employees were made aware of what their peers were earning, those who earned below the median salary of their occupational level revealed less job satisfaction. Median (or middle) salary refers to the salary earned by the worker who separates the top half of earners and the bottom half of earners.

Job status and security

Increase in job status is associated with an increase in satisfaction. For example, Manisera and colleagues [2] found job prospects and career advancement to be the strongest predictors of job satisfaction. This is not surprising as those with higher statuses are more likely to have better physical working conditions (i.e. personal office), recognition, variety and authority along with a better compensation package [30]. This is in line with Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene theory, which proposes that positive and negative work factors impact on employees’ satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work. In addition, studies have also found that despite earning less, those who received a regular income were more satisfied than those who received higher but more irregular incomes [31]. The same is observed from survey results in Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria, which show that employees on permanent contracts are more satisfied than those who are on temporary or fixed term contracts . This is likely as permanent employees likely have better rewards, and are confident their ‘motivator’ factors will continue to last [32].

Job autonomy

Employees who have autonomy in their jobs generally have more possibilities to control their work environments, work schedules and workloads [33]. This means those with more autonomy are more likely to be able to set their work environment up in a manner which they feel comfortable and happy with. This is observed in studies, which show that an increase in ability to make decisions is associated with greater job satisfaction [34] [35]. Similarly, a study by EUROFOUND using national surveys revealed that job autonomy has been shown to increase job satisfaction in data from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Demark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain [32].

Employee participation , which refers to the structures and processes that encourage and enable employees to influence decision making [36], also predicts job satisfaction in a similar manner as job autonomy does. When employees are able to contribute and shape their work environment, they would feel as though they are listened to and that the organisation cares. At the same time they have the possibility of being able to shape the work environment in a manner they want it to be [11] [32]. Moreover, when participation does occur it suggests an environment which is supportive and respectful, one which improves social support and is more conducive to employees feeling satisfied with. However, the latter has lead to some [37] [38] to conclude that participation itself is not as strong a predictor as it influences job satisfaction through extraneous variables.

Workload & work hours

Seo, Ko and Price [39] found workload to be the second strongest amongst twelve predictors of job satisfaction within a sample of Korean nurses. Also amongst nurses, Rafferty and colleagues’ [40] showed they were between 71% and 92% more likely to demonstrate negative job outcomes, such as burnout or job dissatisfaction, when their hospitals allocated them heavier workloads. Linking this with the previously mentioned autonomy, workers who have heavy workloads but are able to manage it appear to be more satisfied than those who do not have the autonomy to manipulate their workloads [41].

In terms of hours worked, longer hours and shift work are both associated with poorer employee wellbeing, including job satisfaction [42] [43]. This is as longer hours require more physical and mental effort and also have an impact on the work-life balance , ultimately influencing how satisfied employees feel about their workplace [43] [44].

Outcomes associated with job satisfaction

Job satisfaction has been shown to have numerous impacts for both the worker and for his or her organisation. These are presented below in terms of employee health and organisational-level outcomes.

Individual level outcomes

Employee health

In a large scale meta-analysis involving 485 studies and 267,995 participants, Faragher and colleagues [45] found a positive relationship between job satisfaction and positive employee health. More specifically, as job satisfaction increased so did employee health. When health was examined in greater depth, stronger relationships with measurements of mental health (including, anxiety, burnout, depression, self-esteem and general mental health) were observed. Although significant, the relationship with physical health was not as strong, with a moderate relationship found with subjective physical illness and weak relationships with musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular diseases. In another review, Hoogendoom and colleagues’ [46] found low job satisfaction to be a risk factor towards musculoskeletal disorders . Other studies have demonstrated that employees who are more satisfied at work make a quicker return to work after limb [47]; back [48] and other musculoskeletal injuries [49]. Considering the impact job satisfaction has on health, it’s not surprising it has also been associated with a reduction in other health related activities, such as: a reduction in visits to the GP and hospital stays [50]. In terms of sick leave, dissatisfied employees are off work more frequently [50] [51] and have longer absence periods [52].

Work-relates stress

Investigations focusing specifically on the relationship between job satisfaction and work-related stress have shown that increases in job satisfaction may also lead to an increase in occupational stress [53] [54]. Zangaro and Soeken’s [55] meta-analysis of 31 studies carried out among nurses, showed the job stress-job satisfaction relationship to be the strongest relationship, when compared to the relationship that job satisfaction had with either job autonomy or collaboration (i.e. working together).

Among the most common theories of stress is the Job-Demands-Control-Support Model [56]. Demands refer to both workload (time pressure and role conflict), and cognitive/emotional demands that an employee faces within the workplace. Furthermore, the amount of control an employee has in their workplace along with the amount of social support they receive are instrumental in their ability to cope with the situation they are faced with. Therefore, the more likely situation is that stress and job satisfaction are related to one another because they are preceded by similar factors. Low support at work, discrimination, staffing issues (i.e. insufficient staff, less qualified staff) and poor workload planning are all factors which contribute to job stress [57] and job dissatisfaction .

Life satisfaction

The academic literature suggests that the relationship between job and life satisfaction can manifest itself in three ways [58]. In the spillover relationship, the job or life experiences spill over into each other. For segmentation, life and job satisfaction are two separate aspects of an individual’s life and have little to do with one another. In compensation, unsatisfactory experiences in either life or work are compensated by the pursuit of happiness in the other aspect. When Judge and Watanabe [59] classified their sample into those three categories, 68% were in the spillover, 20% in the segmentation and 12% in the compensation group. Studies supporting a positive association between job and life satisfaction (spillover) have received further evidentiary support by meta-analytical reviews [60]. Although job satisfaction is often treated as an antecedent of life satisfaction, in reality the nature of the relationship makes it difficult to assess which precedes the other [61].

Organisational outcomes

Performance

In terms of job satisfaction outcomes, the relationship between job satisfaction and performance is amongst the most researched relationship in the field of occupational psychology [62]. The first review on this was published by Brayfield and Crockett in 1955 [63]. Some early studies suggested an absence of the relationship between job satisfaction and performance [64] [65]. Nevertheless, more recently, Judge, Thoresen, Bono and Patton’s [66] review found that there were seven models explaining the relationship between these two measurements, differing on directions and the role of mediators/moderators. They conclude that all of these proposed models are inconclusive, as many of them are not theoretically or empirically evaluated and developed. Their subsequent meta-analysis of 312 samples showed a moderate relationship between job satisfaction and performance. The lack of the relationship observed in the past studies has been attributed to lack of consistency in how job satisfaction and performance have been assessed [66].

Turnover

Another commonly explored organisational outcome of job satisfaction is turnover intention. When the situation at work becomes unsatisfactory, then one of the potential coping mechanisms for the employee may be to escape that situation [67], which may manifest through increased turnover intention. Unlike performance, the evidence is clear in suggesting that job dissatisfaction is the most important factors in employee’s leaving their work [68]. Meta-analytical review results [69] [70] illustrate that a decrease in job satisfaction is associated with an increase in turnover intention. Likewise, employees who intend to leave have lower job satisfaction than those who intend to stay [71]. Consequently turnover intention can be reduced by addressing the antecedent factors that are affecting employees’ job satisfaction [72].

Improving job satisfaction

Organisations intending to improve job satisfaction should focus on the factors predicting job satisfaction as outlined and discussed in Section 1. For example, Pryce and colleagues [73] found improved satisfaction in a sample of Danish nurses who were introduced to an open-rota system which gave them better choices and enhanced control in their workplace. Similarly, a team-building faculty retreat to improve communication and support in the workplace lead to improved job satisfaction and group cohesion in a sample of academics [74]. It is important to note that different organisations face different challenges and, therefore, interventions have to be customised to the organisation. One way of doing so is by creating employee participatory groups to identify and develop solutions. When this was done amongst Norwegian social workers it was found to lead to reduced stress and burnout and increased job satisfaction, when compared to the control group [75].

Conclusion

As job satisfaction has received such a lot of attention [1], numerous predictors and outcomes have been linked to it. Given its impact on health and performance measures, both at an individual and organisational level, it is important that organisations take note of this. The antecedents to job satisfaction can be broadly grouped as into four main categories (organisational support, support from superiors and co-workers, individual factors and conditions of work), and organisations wishing to improve the levels of satisfaction should try to address these antecedents as part of a comprehensive strategy to address worker’s health and overall satisfaction with work.

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Links for further reading

EUROFOUND- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Job satisfaction and labour market mobility, 2007. Retrieved 2 March 2013 from: [7]

Judge, T.A. & Church, A.H., Job satisfaction: research and practice. In C. L. Cooper and E. A. Locke (Eds.). Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Linking Theory with Practice, 2000. Oxford, Blackwell, 2000, pp. 166-174.