Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction impacts more than just how happy employees are while at work. Job satisfaction impacts employees overall psychological well-being including your sense of identity, health, overall happiness. Increased job satisfaction creates harder working employees who take fewer sick days than their less satisfied counterparts. Improving job satisfaction in the workplace is a win-win for employees and employers.

What creates job satisfaction is the subject of an increasing number of studies. There are many factors and job satisfaction is person specific – what makes one employee happy, may frustrate another. However, researchers have been able to draw some general conclusions regarding what factors impact job satisfaction for most workers. Chief among these factors is meaningful work with stress and money playing a role, but less of a role than many traditionally thought.  Other important factors include mindset, work that promotes flow, respectful and supportive relationships with colleagues and superiors, and work that is consistent with values and hobbies.

The Importance of Meaningful Work

Psychologists studying job satisfaction have found that finding meaning in work is particularly important to job satisfaction and performance. Meaningful work creates deeper meaning and purpose for both the worker and employer.

In one review, Brent D. Rosso, PhD, and his colleagues discovered that meaning in the workplace increases motivation, engagement, career development, individual performance, and fulfillment, all while decreasing absenteeism, stress, and turn-over. Engaged workers are most likely to build new products and services, attract new customers, and drive innovation. There are different ways for workers to find meaning and engagement in their work.

Unfortunately, work dissatisfaction in the workforce is on the rise. According to a new report by Gallup Inc., 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. In its study, Gallup considered workers unengaged when they displayed checked-out behavior like completing the bare minimum work with no display of enthusiasm. These unsatisfied workers are more likely to act up on their unhappiness, which can lead to wasted time and energy of the company. According to Gallup, actively disengaged workers are more likely to steal from their workplaces, miss work days, and drive customers away, costing the U.S. companies an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

A Higher Calling Equals Higher Job Satisfaction

Workers who feel a higher calling amongst their jobs tend to be more content, according to researchers. People who feel called to their careers are likely to find their work deeply meaningful, connecting, fulfilling. Often, the experience of a calling comes with social benefits as well. For instance, healthcare workers who said medicine was their calling felt more attached to the facility they worked in. Calling may be more prevalent in some fields than others, like publics administrators and government employees.

However, having a calling can be a “double-edged sword.” If a worker feels they were born to do something, it’s difficult for them to leave that specific job. But beyond that, it can be beneficial to the company. The ability to use passion and strengths in the workplace benefits everyone.

Finding Higher Satisfaction in an Existing Job

There are many different ways employees can find meaning in their work, often without having to change jobs. The following are some ways employees can increase their job satisfaction at their current job according to the advice of PhDs and other professionals with a deep understanding of job satisfaction:

Redefine the Job. Employees can greatly increase their job satisfaction by changing the way they view their position and duties, called cognitive restructuring.  For example, an administrative assistant at a college might focus on how her position helps students pursue their educational advancement. Focusing on the benefits and positives of a job feeds workers psychologically.

Alter Tasks Performed. All jobs will have components that are tiring, boring, and difficult to get through but most employees have some ability to modify their duties.  Even slight modification can increase satisfaction.  For example, a college professor that enjoys her work conducting research the most may limit her other voluntary commitments, like managing student groups or serving as a committee chairperson, to make more time for her research.  Even when it increases workload, adding fulfilling tasks usually benefits the worker.

Ask for New Opportunities. Employees can ask their supervisors and others in the workplace for new opportunities – the opportunity could be large, like a new role, or small, like working on a particular project.  For example, a customer service employee requested and was allowed to join a work committee that was not in her formal job description because she was passionate about the committee’s work. 

Change and Improve Workplace Relationships. Employees can change relationships and modify who they interact with the most in the workplace to make their job more satisfying since work is a very social construct.  Talking to a toxic co-worker for only a few minutes can drain meaning from the most gratifying jobs while a time spent collaborating with a valued colleague can be energizing.

Money and Low Stress Don’t Make a Dream Job

People usually try to decide on their dream job by imagining different possibilities and thinking about how satisfying each seems and considering past experiences. Unsatisfied workers often dream of more money and less stress, thinking those changes will solve their problems.  

It turns out, this usual approach is all wrong. As people, we are not good at predicting what will make us most happy and are usually unaware of this flaw. People also struggle to remember accurately how satisfying different experiences were compared to one another. Often, we judge experiences only by how they ended, forgetting the middle which could be very different.  These biases can cause workers to make bad choices on the search for meaningful work and are likely why people think money and low stress are the keys to job satisfaction when, in fact, two decades of research have proven them wrong. An easy, high paying job does not lead to job and life satisfaction.

Many people say they are looking for a job with little stress. Historically, doctors and psychologists believed that stress was always a negative for the person experiencing it.  However, the modern medical and psychiatric view of stress is more complicated. For example, high ranking government and military officials with demanding jobs that left little time for sleep actually had lower levels of anxiety than less pressured workers. Many believe that this is because a greater sense of control over how and when to do their job helps insulate these high-level workers from the potential negative impact of their positions.

There is a sweet spot between a very easy job where workers get bored and an overly demanding job where workers get burnt out and experience harmful stress. The middle ground is where workers find a comfortable challenge that increases their job satisfaction. Employees should look for these comfortable challenges rather than avoiding stress altogether.

As for money, the cliché that “money can’t buy happiness” is ignored by many workers who say that money is one of their top priorities in their work. The objective evidence is that income is not important after a very low threshold is met.  Most college graduates in the United States will have salaries that take them above this threshold and into the area where income has virtually no impact on happiness.

Satisfying Jobs Tend to Have These Attributes

So, if money and low stress don’t equate to job satisfaction, what does?  While there is no one-size-fits-all “dream job,” people tend to be more satisfied with jobs that have these attributes:

Work that is Consistent with Life Values.  Employees are more satisfied when their work aligns with their life values and hobbies. Workers like jobs that work with their hobbies and with goals that align with their values. A triathlete might value a flexible schedule so that he can get in morning training rides during the workweek. That same triathlete, because of their health values, is unlikely to be satisfied working for a tobacco company no matter what the role is.

Engaging Work.  What impacts employee’s satisfaction is what they are doing on an hourly, weekly, and monthly basis. They are happier with their jobs when their work is engaging.  Engaging work is the type that employees get a sense of flow from where they are so enthralled by what they are doing that they are not watching the clock.

Research has shown that there are four key factors that contribute to engaging work:

  1. Freedom to decide the means of performing the work
  2. Tasks that are clear and have a well-defined start and end
  3. Variety in work
  4. Ongoing feedback that keeps the employee apprised of how they are performing

Supportive Colleagues.  Who employees work with is almost as important as the role itself.  Workers that are surrounded by toxic employees and suffer under a terrible boss are not satisfied. Employees in boring roles with fun people often are. Good relationships in the workplace are important to fulfilling work which is important to a fulfilling life. “Social support” in the workplace came out as one of the top predictors of job satisfaction in a major analysis.

Employees don’t need to be friends with all their colleagues. The most important thing is that they feel like they can turn to their coworkers for help and support when encountering problems during work.  And there is some benefit to interacting with difficult coworkers; these types of people, as long as they are well-intentioned, often “tell it like it is,” providing honest, useful feedback.

Fair Compensation. Although money cannot buy job satisfaction, fair compensation in the form of salary and benefits is important to job satisfaction.  Workers continue to rank pay and benefits as important factors in their job searches.  Employees understandably want to be compensated for the value they bring to a company and work they do. 

Work that You Are Good At.  Feeling competent when completing work makes employees feel accomplished increasing their happiness while at work.  Being good at a job also opens up other opportunities, like special projects, for employees which in turn makes then even happier.  In contrast, those who undertake roles they are not good at find themselves unfulfilled.

Work That Helps Others.  Helping others has been shown to be a key ingredient for life satisfaction. Those who volunteer show less signs of depression and more signs of physical health. Random acts of kindness make the giver happier. One study even showed that those who support charities, are happier than those who make twice as much money.

It is not surprising that helping others is also important to job satisfaction.  It is widely accepted by researchers as one of the most powerful factors impacting job satisfaction. 

Respect and Appreciation from Superiors. All workers want to feel respected in the workplace and appreciated for the work they do.  This type of respect and appreciation increases job satisfaction.  Working a job where you feel disrespected, undervalued, and underappreciated will likely cause you to feel dissatisfied with your work. 

A thank you from a superior can go a long way.  Employees are so impacted by appreciation that when asked, many said they would prefer a companywide e-mail praising them over $500 cash bonus for the same accomplishment.

Unfortunately, managers tend to be more vocal when they are unhappy with an employee's work than when they are happy with it.  When managers make an effort to be as vocal about positives, employee satisfaction increases. Constructive feedback and open communication encourage respect amongst employers and employees.

A 2016 study by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, revealed that about half of employees consider their supervisor’s respect for their ideas a very important party of job satisfaction.

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