Ways to maximise your job satisfactionWork is a way we can meet our needs and wants by earning an income. Work also accounts for a large amount of waking hours per day for most people. In fact, we spend more time at work than at any other single activity. Yet, there are so many people who are unhappy in their jobs... According to a 2011 survey of U.S. households, job dissatisfaction is widespread among workers of all ages across all income brackets. The results of the study showed that only 47% of those surveyed indicated that they are satisfied with their jobs. The effects of low job satisfaction can be far-reaching and is of concern for organisations and individuals. Low job satisfaction leads to outcomes such as job stress, poor morale, lack of productivity, absenteeism, and lack of engagement, and high employee turnover rates. Job satisfaction describes how content an individual is with his or her job. The happier people are within their jobs, the more satisfied they are. Job satisfaction is multi-dimensional and is influenced by a group of characteristics within the job itself - which are external to the employee, as well as by internal characteristics such as personality traits and values. We can also divide these into affective job satisfaction and cognitive job satisfaction. Affective job satisfaction is the extent of pleasurable emotional feelings individuals have about their jobs overall (internal), and is different to cognitive job satisfaction, which is the extent of individuals’ satisfaction with particular facets of their jobs, such as pay, pension arrangements, working hours, and numerous other aspects of their jobs (external).

Causes of job satisfaction

Looking at external job characteristics that impact job satisfaction, there seem to be regular culprits that make life difficult for employees: Our job satisfaction is surprisingly sensitive to daily hassles. Each job has its own frustrations. They often seem to be minor, but when we experience these things daily, and when it feels as if they are beyond our control, it can create high levels of dissatisfaction. Another culprit is fairness in terms of pay. The bigger the difference between what we think we should earn and what we actually do earn, the less satisfied we will be. Job satisfaction is also higher when we feel we have achieved something. If we are in proper positions to utilise our talents, we have a better chance for achieving success. Achievement may lead to higher levels of self-belief, which further enhance satisfaction. More complex jobs that offer more variety also seem to push us to higher levels of job satisfaction. When jobs are too easy, we lose interest. In times of economic uncertainty, job security is another factor in determining job satisfaction. If we have the assurance that our jobs are secure, our job satisfaction will most likely increase. Experiencing more control in terms of how we carry out our jobs also enhances our job satisfaction. And the last culprit that I would like to mention is the whole idea of work-life spillover. Positive or negative effects of our personal/family life often influence our experiences at work. Low job satisfaction is therefore not always the boss' or the organisation’s fault. Stress at home breeds stress at work. Although the above mentioned factors contribute to most employees’ job satisfaction, the levels of job satisfaction experienced by individuals may vary. One person may have a greater need for job security, control or variety than another and may thus experience lower levels of job security when this need is not fulfilled. Individual perceptions and personality factors also influence our levels of satisfaction with our jobs. Research has shown that job satisfaction depends on an individual’s perceptions and evaluations of his or her job, and this perception is influenced by the person’s unique circumstances such as values and expectations. Individuals have a tendency to evaluate their jobs on the basis of factors which they regard as being important to them - the greater the perceived congruence between rewards and values, the greater the job satisfaction. Research has also indicated that job motivation contributes towards having a perception of higher job satisfaction. This motivation seems to be based on open communication, inspirational goal setting, and giving encouragement and feedback to increase commitment and involvement. Although the external-job internal-employee divide is somewhat artificial it is true that job stress (which greatly influences job satisfaction) is often a result of the interaction of external and internal factors. For example, the coping mechanisms that an employee uses (internal) may determine the effect of the stressful environment (external).

Maximising your job satisfaction

Knowing the theory behind job satisfaction is one thing – playing it out in your job is quite another. Dr Rene Dawis, an authority on job satisfaction and work adjustment has the following recommendations:

  1. Know yourself: What is important to you and what is not? What kinds of work tasks or activities are attractive to you? What exactly do you expect from or require of a job? Your answers may include internal aspects, such as values (e.g. authority or autonomy) and external factors, such as salary.
  2. Get information about jobs that are most likely to meet your expectations: A thorough professional career assessment will help you to identify occupations that fit your personality, interests and values. More information about different occupations can be obtained for various career websites, as well as from job shadowing.
  3. Do not ignore your job dissatisfaction: Job satisfactions and dissatisfactions are barometers of your adjustment to work – and often life! They may lead to something worse, including accidents, job loss, depression, anxiety, and interpersonal problems. Try to work out a solution as soon as possible if your job is making you unhappy.
  4. Have realistic expectations for work: Overall job satisfaction is a trade-off. Like many things in life, you cannot expect 100% satisfaction or 0% dissatisfaction. Even the best jobs in the world have their dissatisfactions. Don’t expect your company to make you happy - take responsibility for your own happiness!
  5. Distinguish between the kind of work you are doing and the conditions of work: If you are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the kind of work you are doing, you should consider a career change. If you are dissatisfied with the conditions of work (for example pay, supervisor, working conditions), express your dissatisfaction and try to negotiate for conditions that may lift your satisfaction.
  6. Look down the road at your possible career progress: Sometimes it is worth your while hanging in there if you can see how your current situation may contribute to your career progress. Try to find alternative ways to get rid of your frustrations. This may include learning a new skill, or becoming involved in a community project.

Message for the organisation

Job satisfaction does not only influence the employee, but also the organisation. In order to support their employees, organisations need to have policies that are clear, fair and applied equally to all employees; ensure that salaries and benefits are comparable to those of other organisations; keep up to date facilities and equipment; make sure employees have adequate personal workspace; take the time to acknowledge a job well done; and allow employees, who show high performance and loyalty, room to advance. Only then will organisations and employees be able to work happily ever after... Dr. Karina de Bruin is the Managing Director of JvR Academy

Further reading

Butcher, D. (2010). The impact of job satisfaction. http://news.thomasnet.com/IMT/2010/03/16/engaging-workers-boosting-morale-to-boost-productivity/ Dawis, R.V. (1992). Job satisfaction. In L. K. Jones (Ed.), Encyclopedia of career change and work issues (pp. 142-143). Phoenix: The Oryx Press. McFarlin, K. The effects of low job satisfaction. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/effects-low-job-satisfaction-10721.html O’Driscoll, N. & Lemmens, N. (2012). Job satisfaction. A practical guide to improve happiness at work. Amazon: Kindle edition. Syptak, J.M., Marsland, D.W., & Ulmer, D. (1999). Job satisfaction: Putting theory into practice. Family Practice Management. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/fpm/991000fm/26.html. 10 Psychological keys to job satisfaction. http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/07/10-psychological-keys-to-job-satisfaction.php Photo Credit: Brett Arthur Donar via Compfight cc