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  • Fall 2011 Job Satisfaction Case Study
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Introduction

The case study that we will be examining on this page is intended to show the importance of and the components of job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is defined as “the degree of pleasure or positive affect that an employee has toward his or her job” (L11, p. 3).  Job satisfaction is considered an important construct to study because there is a causal relationship between job satisfaction and other organizational behaviors such as performance, absenteeism, and turnover (L11, p.5).  As you read, you will see that our case focuses on the last of these three behaviors- turnover.  It only makes sense that if people are less than satisfied with their jobs they would at least be engaged in looking for another job. If, however, the employee is very dissatisfied with their job they might quit all together without having another job lined up. Since hiring and training a new employee can be quite expensive, it would behoove organizational leaders to attempt to increase job satisfaction however they can. 

To help us understand Jessica’s experience, we should first understand some of the aspects of job satisfaction. Bernstein and Nash (2008) proposed that a cognitive, a behavioral, and a emotional component together produce job satisfaction. The cognitive component of job satisfaction consists of how individuals perceive their jobs (i.e. is it challenging or worthwhile?). The behavioral component of job satisfaction consists of individuals' inherent predispositions toward their job.  Behavioral components could include a person’s affect and a general attitude toward others and work in general.  Finally, the emotional component of job satisfaction consists of how a person feels about their job.  Does ones’ job cause anxiety and stress?  If so, then such feelings could decrease ones’ job satisfaction

Case study

Jessica is a 31-year-old woman who worked at a mental hospital as a Mental Health Technician (MHT) for 2.5 years. In the beginning, Jessica felt that the job was interesting and informative, but as time went on, the job and its environment began to affect Jessica negatively. As an MHT, Jessica was not given the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge she had acquired over time from her Associate of Arts degree, from her Family Development Credential, and also from her 6.5 years of experience in Social Services. Initially, in the MHT position, Jessica was permitted to chart on patients, which allowed Jessica to engage in therapeutic conversations with the patients. These interactions with patients helped Jessica to feel like she was making a difference. After her first year however, a policy change prohibited MHTs from charting on patients and mandated that such duties be done by licensed staff only. This restriction cut into the therapeutic aspect of the job substantially. MHTs responsibility of doing patient groups was also cut down to one community group in the mornings, a group meeting whose purpose was to go over rules and regulations. The new MHT position as a result of the change consisted of nothing more than observing patients and documenting their location every 15 minutes. This affected Jessica greatly, as she felt the need to use her skills and experience and felt very overqualified and under utilized in her position. Jessica's compensation was also an issue. The hospital system that oversaw the mental hospital did not recognize educational milestones in Jessica's position. The AA that Jessica already held had no bearing on her pay rate. Jessica had also found out that when she would have obtained her BA in December, there would be no pay increase as a result. Yearly raises had also been minimal, with employees being told that they "should be thankful to have a job in this economy", but yet the hospital continued to make expensive aesthetic improvements to the hospital. Jessica's supervisor was also someone who was hard to deal with. Known for having minimal people skills, the supervisor maintained a distance with staff members. She was difficult to talk to, intimidating, and hard to approach with personal or work concerns. 

Jessica had begun to notice that most of the time her attitude towards work had become negative. She dreaded getting up in the mornings to go to work and almost never smiled while she was there. Her affect at work was often that of boredom and disdain. She resented organizational rules and policies and how they were conducted at the hospital. She found that her stress level and negative attitude had started to spill over into her personal life. Also, where Jessica was once a model employee on her performance review, with zero absences and zero tardiness, she now found herself not caring whether she was on time or not, or what her supervisor thought about her job performance.

About six months ago, a job offer for a Counselor-In-Training opened up at a nearby clinic. Although Jessica wasn't really looking for a change until graduation in December, she decided to interview and fortunately she ended up getting the job. Almost immediately, Jessica's stress levels stabilized and her normal, pleasant affect returned. She also regained her positive attitude and began to once again care about her work. She became once again motivated to perform at her best. 

In the new job, Jessica was able to have one-on-one sessions with patients and she also learned to work with a new computer system. She really felt that her intelligence and skills were being utilized. This was extremely important to Jessica The pay was a bit better, but Jessica found out that she would be getting a substantial raise once she obtains her BA in Psychology. The administrator, Jessica's supervisor,was also kind and easy to talk to. Jessica immediately felt comfortable there and felt that she could really begin to build her career at this organization.

Overview of Job Dissatisfaction

The causes of job satisfaction may be determined by the job’s characteristics, social comparison attitudes, and an individual’s disposition. Job characteristics can be defined by skill variety, task identity, autonomy, as well as working conditions, stress, social relationships, and workload .Job satisfaction can also influenced by job expectation, what one would look for or require in a job (Jones, 2011). Social comparison is defined by our attitudes being influenced by people around us.

In Jessica’s situation, her dissatisfaction with her job was influenced by the characteristics of the job, by social comparison, and also by her expectations.  She felt that her skills were not being utilized because her job duties primarily consisted of watching the patients and because she made no decisions. Also, because her working conditions weren’t the same after the new policies were implemented, her expectations of the job decreased. The supervisor’s cold interpersonal style influenced Jessica’s attitude about her job and made working with the supervisor hard for Jessica. Jessica’s performance began to suffer due to her dissatisfaction with her position. She was no longer concerned about doing her best at the job and this was shown in her performance. Because of her dissatisfaction, Jessica was often late to work and she no longer cared what her supervisor thought about her performance or her tardiness. Overtime, Jessica’s dissatisfaction grew and this affected her life outside of work. She was not happy at work nor was she happy at home. She felt that she needed a change, a change in her job and a change in her attitude about life overall.

Connections to the Theory

According to Job Satisfaction Theory (Locke, 1976), job satisfaction consists of three components: cognitive, evaluative and behavioral.

The cognitive component encompasses employees’ thoughts and beliefs about their jobs. In the case of Jessica, she believed that her utility was diminished with the enactment of new policies which prevented her from performing tasks that she had carried out and enjoyed thoroughly beforehand. Jessica found that her skills were being fully utilized once she had found a job that allowed her to use her education and training.

The evaluative component refers to how employees come to feel about their jobs and to the extent to which they like or dislike the position. A person can have an overall satisfaction with his or job, global satisfaction, yet not be satisfied with certain aspects of the job, job facet satisfaction. In Jessica’s case, she originally showed global satisfaction with her job before the new policies were in place. After the new policies were issued, Jessica became dissatisfied with many facets of her job. As an MHT, Jessica discovered that she disliked several facets of the job. For example, she was dissatisfied with her supervisor’s style of management, with the absence of promotional opportunities, and also with her pay.

The behavioral component covers an individual’s predisposition and personality. Another possible cause of job satisfaction is disposition. People differ in the extent to which they tend to experience positive or negative emotions. This positive or negative affectivity can play a role in their overall satisfaction with their job (Levine and Stokes, 1989). Jessica clearly is not high on negative affectivity; in fact, she was easily satisfied when she acquired the characteristics that she desired in her job.

Strong correlations exist between job satisfaction and performance; job satisfaction and turnover (Carsten & Spector, 1987); and absenteeism and tardiness (Johns, 1997). In the case of Jessica, it could be said that a relationship can be found between her job satisfaction and her performance because she began to no longer care about her performance as it dwindled once the new policies were enacted, causing her dissatisfaction with her job. Jessica’s job satisfaction could also be linked to her absenteeism and tardiness; when she was satisfied with her job before the policy change she was a model employee but once her satisfaction transformed into dislike for her job she began to miss more time. The link to turnover is obvious because her dissatisfaction with her job eventually led to her leaving the position for a job that she found to be a better fit to her wants and needs. Once she was satisfied with obtaining a new job that stressed her utility, she performed well and was once again happy to go to work.   

 Did Concepts of Job Satisfaction Theory Create the Issue?

The construct of job satisfaction is composed of evaluative and cognitive components that can potentially have effects on behavior in the workplace. Job satisfaction can be considered from a global perspective, or it can be broken down and studied in terms of specific job facets and the effects they have on positive or negative affect the individual has towards their job. For the sake of analyzing how concepts from theory created and resolved some of the issues in the case, we will approach the situation first in terms of various job facets.

Jessica began her work as an MHT with a positive affect toward the job. What changed that caused the loss of Jessica’s positive affect? As previously stated, there are a few commonly considered categories of factors that are seen to have a significant effect on job satisfaction: job characteristics, social comparisons, and disposition. In this particular case, the change of various job characteristics as well as the negative climate in which Jessica made her social comparisons likely had the largest contribution to her loss of positive affect towards her work. Through alterations in policy, many of Jessica’s responsibilities were altered and in turn many core characteristics of her job that she valued were undermined. First off, policy change prevented Jessica from engaging patients in therapeutic conversation since she could no longer chart on patients. This was previously a task that gave Jessica a great sense of skill variety (due to case variance and her role in patient analysis), as well a significant task identity and autonomy (due to working alone with the patient to initiate conversations so as to assist the patient and understand their case within the hospital). These alterations lowered her workload below what she felt she could and was qualified to handle.

Since job satisfaction is largely related to the individual’s comparison of what they are receiving and what is desired in terms of job characteristics such as those previously mentioned, these alterations created a discrepancy between what Jessica wanted and what was actually being received from the job. In her ideal state, she felt she was being properly utilized and had good autonomy on the job during the charting of patients, and she also had a sense of importance and skill variety. When the policy changes were implemented, a discrepancy was created in her mind. As a result, her job satisfaction decreased.

Another factor that must be taken into consideration as to why her positive affect decreased is her social comparisons. The most important interaction in her workplace was with her supervisor, and this was likely a significant portion of the social comparisons she made at work. Though her supervisor did not necessarily have a negative attitude towards her work, her lack of social skill and work relationships undoubtedly was viewed in a negative light by Jessica. Job satisfaction is partially determined by the attitudes of others in the work environment and the atmosphere created by Jessica’s supervisor likely contributed to her growing negative affect she had towards her job.

It is very likely that Jessica’s decrease in job satisfaction had partly to do with her decreased motivation to perform well. Moderate correlations suggest that job satisfaction is related to performance, absenteeism, and turnover, though causality cannot be implied due to the vast number of factors in consideration and the nature of job satisfaction research. The correlation connecting absenteeism to job satisfaction is only .25 (based on meta-analysis of 42 studies), and the correlation connecting turnover to job satisfaction is even weaker at .24 (Carsten & Spector, 1987). Was Jessica’s lack of job satisfaction the cause of her tardiness, under-performance, and eventual switching of jobs? This cannot be said, but I think the possibility that her negative affect towards her work had a significant role in this cannot be ignored.

One last factor that should be considered when analyzing Jessica’s decrease in job satisfaction and performance is her general life satisfaction. Research suggests that life satisfaction may in fact be a better predictor of performance at work than job satisfaction (Jones, 2006).  Jessica experienced both a decrease in job satisfaction and life satisfaction simultaneously. Her decreased life satisfaction may well have a relationship to her decreased job performance. Research in this area is based on correlation, so it cannot be said that one of these factors is causing the other. Some research suggests this relationship is reciprocal (Judge et al., 1993). In Jessica’s case, I believe that her decrease in job satisfaction likely influenced her life satisfaction negatively, and there is the possibility that a decrease in life satisfaction for reasons not seen influenced her disposition and in turn negatively affected her job satisfaction. Taken together, this would support Judge’s findings of a reciprocal relationship, and the influence of job and life satisfaction on each other combined together may have been part of the case of Jessica’s decreased job performance.

Outcome:

Jessica’s ultimate decision to interview for the new job and to consequently accept the job helped her solve the problems she was having. She now did not have to deal with the job dissatisfactions and was able to find a job where her skills would be valued. By not receiving positive feedback from her co-workers and especially her supervisor, Jessica was put in tough spot where she could not be who she wanted to be and potentially become better. With this new job, Jessica was able to be herself, strive to do her best and want to do better so one day she would be able to move higher up in the company.  Now she smiles all the time and makes sure to say “hi” to everyone she meets. She doesn’t mind getting out of bed anymore and cannot wait to get to work to help. Also, after obtaining her BA in Psychology, Jessica will then be able to earn more money and get promoted.

References:

Bernstein, D. A., & Nash, P. W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=4Do-bFrt9tUC.

Carsten, J.M., Spector, P.E. (1987). Unemployment, job satisfaction, and employee turnover: A meta-analytic test of the Muchinsky model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 374-381.

Johns, G. (1997). Contemporary research on absence from work: Correlates, causes, and consequences. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 12, pp. 115-173). Chichester: Wiley.

Jones, Lawrence. (2011). Job Satisfaction. The Career Key. Retrieved 11/07/2011 from http://www.careerkey.org/asp/career_options/job_satisfaction.html.

Jones, M.D. (2006). Which is a better predictor of job performance: Job satisfaction or life satisfaction. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 15(6), 77-97.

Judge, T.A., & Watanabe, S. (1993). Another look at the job satisfaction-life satisfaction relationship. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 939-948.

Levine, I., & Stokes, J. P. (1989). Dispositional approach to job satisfaction: Role of negative affectivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 752-758.

Locke, E. A. (1976). The nature and causes of job satisfaction. In M. D. Dunnette (Ed.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 1297-1349). Chicago: Rand McNally.

Smith, P. C., Kendall, L. M., & Hulin, C. L. (1969). Measurement of satisfaction in work and retirement. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Spector, P. E., & Jex, S. M. (1991). Relations of job characteristics from multiple data sources with employee affect, absence, turnover intentions, and health. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 46-53.

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