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  • Fall 2014 Job Satisfaction Case Study
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Job satisfaction, one of the most widely researched areas of I/O psychology, refers to the degree of pleasure or positive affect that an employee has toward his or her job (Locke, 1976). It contains evaluative, cognitive, and behavioral components, which deal with liking the job, beliefs about the job, and how one acts towards the job (PSU WC, 2014, L11, p. 2). Although someone may be satisfied in general, referred to as "global job satisfaction", at the next level they may like or dislike components of their job, referred to as "job facet satisfaction". Knowing what specific factors of a job impact employees, and being able to respond in a targeted manner, may provide companies with the ability to influence job satisfaction.

This case study will illustrate the effect that working conditions have on employee's attitude and overall performance. We will present the story of Nevin, who was experiencing job dissatisfaction with his previous employer, but job satisfaction within his field.  How is it possible for Nevin to experience both dissatisfaction and satisfaction simultaneously?  "Job Satisfaction Theory has evaluative, cognitive, and behavioral components" which is part of the reason for one individual to have conflicting feelings assocated with overall job satisfaction.  Nevin experienced negative evaluative feelings towards his employer, but positive cognitive and behavorial feelings towards the work he performs.  Three primary factors, job characteristics, social comparisons, and disposition, help to determine job satisfaction or dissatisfaction, and are measured by three main variables: performance, absenteeism, and turnover.


Causes of Job Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction

Job Characteristics: There are many characteristics of a job that play a part in the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the employee. As we have studied previously in Psych 484 Work Attitudes and Motivation, specifically Job Design, there were five factors that have been linked to satisfaction of employees. Those five characteristics from Job Design were: Skill Variety, Task Identity, Task Significance, Autonomy, and Job Feedback. Keeping those characteristics in mind and in continuation, Job Satisfaction includes factors such as working conditions, stress, workload, and social relationships, but more importantly Job Satisfaction is measured by the type of work, pay, promotional opportunities, supervision and co-workers. 

Social Comparison: The environment plays a huge part in the satisfaction of employees. Social Comparison describes how satisfied or dissatisfied an employee will be, simply by observing others in their environment. If there is an employee that is surrounded by employees who are happy and satisfied, then the likelihood that the new employee will also exhibit job satisfaction is to be implied. However, when an employee is surrounded by negative employees who are dissatisfied, that employee will develop a negative attitude towards job satisfaction. In short, it goes back to the old saying, "monkey see monkey do!"   


Disposition: Each person is different and this is what makes our world interesting and dynamic. Disposition is one of the newly found factors of Job Satisfaction. Disposition represents the qualities that make up an individual and how they handle situations and view circumstances. There is a lot of debate regarding the effect of disposition on job satisfaction and it is still fairly new in the world of Industrial & Organizational Psychology. Evidence suggests however, that an individual's ability to be optimistic is described as positive disposition which allows for a more favorable view of their job. In comparison, negative disposition reflects individuals with pessimistic views which allows for a more negative view of their jobs.  As Weitz maintained, “The importance of job satisfaction to turnover depends on the general disposition of the individual.” (Judge, 1992, p. 12). 

Correlates of Job Satisfaction

Performance: "The more we feel our lives are 'ideal', or that we'd live the same life over again, the better our performance." (Michelle Jones, 2006). Jones was very set on this idea and how it affected work performance. Unfortunately, she was unable to conduct large studies to prove this to be a very valuable asset to job satisfaction. However, it still proved in smaller studies to be a big factor. Our performance is based on the way we view ourselves, others, treatment by others, pay, opportunities, and job interest. The main point of this quote is that if we aren't living the life that we want altogether, we aren't going to be satisfied with any job, essentially. If we are happy in our lives, then it is easier for us to go to work, make money, and then go home to resume the life away from work.  

Absenteeism: Surprisingly, absenteeism does not play a huge role in the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of employees. Most organizations have a policy for absenteeism and therefore do not experience a significant amount. 

Turnover:  Turnover seems to affect job satisfaction quite a bit. "High performing cultures have also been shown to produce excellent results, attract, motivate, and retain talented employees, and adapt readily to change. Job satisfaction is inversely related to turnover intention and low turnover has been shown to increase organizational productivity and performance." (Medina, 2012) This is especially true for younger employees. 

Details of Case

Nevin works as a Youth Development Specialist at a juvenile detention facility, working with habitual and sexual offending boys ranging in age from 10 to 18. Nevin has worked at juvenile facilities before, and even studied Psychology in school, which further developed his passion for working with youth. Nevin takes pride in the work he completes daily. He is there not only to manage the behavior of the youth to ensure that they are meeting program expectations, but also to educate the youth so they see that the lifestyle they live involving gangs and violence is not the proper way.

On a regular basis Nevin encounters a diversity of behavioral issues amongst the youth. Sometimes he is able to pull the youth aside and “process” them on their behavior, explaining how it endangers the community and the other youth, discussing what better ways the youth could handle themselves next time, and asking what they learned from the situation. Unfortunately, due to the nature of his job, some of the processes involve hands-on interaction with the youth in order to restrain them from hurting themselves, staff, and other youth. Due to Nevin's passion for children, he uses the hands-on application only as a last resort, and cannot help but feel some type of guilt every time he must use hands-on tactics. He understands, however, that this is part of his job.  As such, he follows the guidelines set forth by the company.

Nevin has four kids at home, so to ensure he is providing for them he works overtime every weekend. He likes working overtime on the weekend because not only does he receive extra cash, but it allows him to spend more time with the kids, due to the openness of the schedule. This time is not constricted due to the school schedule. Nevin learns a lot about the youth by listening to the tragic stories they tell and by reviewing their files.  He reads the files to learn more about the youth and to ensure he does not trigger any negative reactions in them. Slowly, Nevin begins to reflect on his own life, and starts to become more appreciative of the things he has and the people he loves. In turn, it makes him look at how being a father can impact his children because most of the boys he works with don’t have a father in their lives.

Eventually, as the months go on and the stress piles up from the job, Nevin has become easily agitated. He has witnessed staff getting fired for not conducting a restraint properly, or for accidentally giving the youth the wrong medication. He has also seen staff blatantly not show up for work, at times making him the only one in a unit with the most aggressive kids, in turn making him feel unsafe. Over time, Nevin has become completely frustrated with the lack of staff to help cover different units, and the lack of support he would get from other staff.

When Nevin approaches his supervisor to discuss his concerns, he is told that this is the nature of the job. Some staff don’t think they are getting paid enough to deal with these behaviors and cannot handle the kids. Some staff witness the issues the kids have, deem them hopeless, and walk away from the job. Others have a tough time handling the stress from this job and end up calling in sick to find another job, then quitting on the spot days later. In addition there is a lot of staff that does not take the job seriously.  They assume it just entails watching children. They then hear negative feedback about the job and realize that it entails much more than just watching children, and they quit.

Eventually, Nevin quit this juvenile facility to go to another one that is more geared to youth who have been placed by Family and Youth Services. Although some job benefits were great at his former workplace, such as good health benefits, these were ultimately not sufficient to make him want to stay with that employer due to the poor work environment, lack of job security, high stress level, and low pay.


Nevin experiences a high job satisfaction for the type of work he performs and the field that he is in, but is dissatisfied with the job characteristics.  The job characteristics for Nevin were less than ideal.  The Job design characteristics appear to be present, as Nevin was also experiencing high stress, poor working conditions, high workload, and a lack of social relationships.  The job characteristics for Nevin contributed to his dissatisfaction.   Time took its toll on Nevin as he became negatively impacted by his environment.  Since it was difficult to form social relationships with high turn-over, and those that stayed were overt about their dissatisfaction, it eventually affected Nevin's job satisfaction in a negative way.  Although Nevin is a positive, optimistic person by nature, the social comparison factor caused his mood to shift which continually decreased his job satisfaction.  Luckily, Nevin is able to influence his new work environment due to his generally positive disposition and flair for life as well as with the work he performs at the new workplace.  Nevin's performance was not impacted from a task orientation, but how he performed those tasks was changing.  As time went on, Nevin's mindset was altered and thus the passion and emotion he poured into his work was decreasing.  What you do can be measured in a quantitative way; how you actually perform those tasks cannot, but that is just as important to overall job satisfaction and job performance.  In Nevin's case, absenteeism was a predictor of job satisfaction.  As job satisfaction went down, absenteeism increased.  High levels of absenteeism have a long-term negative impact on the kids these individuals were hired to support because they need consistency and they need to build lasting positive relationships.  As Nevin stated, once high levels of absenteeism begin then more turnover is proven to follow.  This just increases the difficult nature of these positions because these kids already feel abandoned and the more turnover there is the harder it will be to build relationships with the kids that need it the most. 

Job Characteristics

1. Type of Work itself

The type of work in itself was great for Nevin, since he enjoyed working with and helping the youth in this facility. The analysis, learning, treatment, and help that this position required was what Nevin had always wanted to do. Even though the other aspects of the job were not satisfactory (pay, benefits, etc.), the type of work in general satisfied him.

2. Pay

Given the type of job that it is (challenging yet rewarding, with a side of danger), it warrants a better pay than it actually pays. Part of the reason why Nevin was dissatisfied with his job was the low salary that he was given for all of his hard work. A lot of time and effort was spent by Nevin, trying to turn these boys around so that they can change for the better. It was mentioned that a lot of the time other employees from the juvenile facility would call off so that he would be the only one working there. He would have to do all of the tasks by himself, sometimes under dangerous conditions. Sometimes the boys would be a threat to Nevin and no one would be there to assist him in case something happened. Despite having told his boss about this unsafe work environment, there was no salary increase to compensate for these working conditions. The pay and conditions were not good and ultimately caused Nevin to leave his job in search of a better one with better benefits and better pay for the type of work he was performing.

3. Promotional Opportunities

In addition to the undesirable pay, there were no promotional opportunities available. There was no room to move and no chance to move up in the facility. Nevin was stuck where he was.

4. Supervision

Nevin always came into work, mainly to help the youth he was working with, but also because he was a good employee and liked his job. However, when other employees began to "slack off" and call out of work, he began to feel unsafe in the work environment. When Nevin approached his supervisor about his concerns, he was basically brushed off. The supervisor didn't act at all concerned with safety issues of his loyal employees or the lack of commitment from other employees. Due to the supervisor's response and/or attitude about Nevin's concerns, Nevin lost motivation and became more dissatisfied with his job, even though he continued to work in order to help out these troubled kids. Nevin obviously cared for the well-being and future of the youth he worked with, but being a father himself, he eventually became so dissatisfied with the job and the lack of supervisor enforcement on employees, as well as an obvious lack of motivation to improve morale and the workplace environment, Nevin decided it was best for him to move on to a job where he could still help troubled youth but feel satisfied, motivated, and supported.

5. Co-Workers

Nevin, while working in the Juvenile Detention facility, has encountered many of these characteristics that contributed to his job satisfaction, but also had an impact on his dissatisfaction. Working conditions and co-workers are two big factors that go hand and hand when determining job satisfaction in this case. Nevin was satisfied with his job in the beginning. He loved working with the youth and understood that the job wasn't easy and that sometimes going hands-on was the only way to create a safe environment for an out-of-control youth. His passion for the kids at work could be seen by the overtime he pulled in to spend time with them, but also he continued to show up to work in order to help these youth. However, working conditions also had a negative impact on Nevin. Over time, his working conditions became very stressful due to the lack of staff, resulting in Nevin being on the unit alone - sometimes with "dangerous" kids.  This lack of staff presented an unsafe working condition for Nevin, and he at times felt unsafe at work.

Social Comparison

When looking specifically at low satisfaction in social work and juvenile detention centers, it is important to analyze job satisfaction relative to other employment opportunities. If juvenile detention centers revised some negative variables they might be able to improve job satisfaction by making the job more favorable compared to other jobs. “Results in a healthcare institution indicate that role conflict and role ambiguity are detrimental to commitment, while a participative climate, power, teamwork, reading professional journals, satisfaction with work and promotion opportunities, age, GS level, tenure, and length of professional employment are positively related to organizational commitment” (Welsch & LaVan, 2013). Nevin and other workers struggle with some unfavorable job characteristics and insecurity that, if resolved, could make Nevin and others more loyal to their jobs. The effect of social comparison on job satisfaction is immense. As stated above, Nevin began to become dissatisfied with having to encounter unsafe work conditions due to lack of staffing and absenteeism. This then relays a domino effect. Nevin then lacks satisfaction toward the work environment thus influencing others to also think about the negative conditions of the job.


In the case with Nevin, it is clear who the favorable and unfavorable individuals are who are working at the detention center. Nevin comes into the job favorably due to his passion about working with children and the pride he has with the work he is completing. However, the individuals who are not showing up for work, quitting, or the individuals who don't feel like helping other units out are impacting the way Nevin feels about his job and slightly shifts his satisfaction. Towards the end of Nevin's time at this juvenile detention center, it seems that his disposition may have slightly changed.  He became agitated and experienced more job stress.

Correlates of Job Satisfaction


In Nevin's case, he seemed to have an ideal life, and he probably would do it all over again. His main focus was to come in and help those youth in trouble get back onto their feet, help them understand right from wrong, and make sure they learned their lesson. In the beginning, the performance of others didn't affect him, but over time, it did affect him. He didn't become dissatisfied with his job, but he became dissatisfied with the job conditions. Even though people were quitting or calling out, he didn't like having to be rough with the youth, and he had no back-up from his supervisor.  He continued to press on through this job dissatisfaction and not let it affect his personal performance. Nevin maintained a great performance the entire time he worked at the detention facility, but eventually he felt it was time for him to move on to a better work environment where he could still help youth in need. A lot of people would have a hard time not letting all of the negative factors affect personal performance, but Nevin maintained his professionalism and stayed focused on his goal, which was to help the troubled youth.  He stayed with his employer for as long as he could, until a better opportunity arose for him so that he was able to stay in the same line of work, but in a setting that would hopefully provide more job satisfaction.


Nevin has not been absent himself but his fellow staff members have been. When they are absent they tend to cause a collective disturbance within the facility. Nevin had been affected by their absenteeism.  He  has been short on the unit to the point that he is alone with some of the most aggressive kids. He is also taking on more stress and agitation due to the facility being short-staffed.


 In the case, Nevin states that turnover is very high at the juvenile facility. The reality of juvenile detention center is that, yes, turnover rates are very high. Nevin states,  "The job pays very well but the draw back is that from one day to another you can lose the job." This negatively affects workers such as Nevin and others because they don't feel secure in holding their employment. This has significant implication on performance at the Juvenile detention center. While workers fear they may not be able to support their families because of the instability of the job security, turnover is a natural effect. In contrast to the Juvenile Detention Center, “high performing cultures have been shown to produce excellent results, attract, motivate, and retain talented employees, and adapt readily to change. Job satisfaction is inversely related to turnover intention and low turnover has been shown to increase organizational productivity and performance. This study finds that job satisfaction is inversely associated with turnover intention and that organizational culture moderates the magnitude of this relationship.” (Medina, 2012)


Job Satisfaction consists of a variety of factors and we highlighted the main components of this theory throughout the wiki.  Many Industrial and Organizational Psychologists have contributed to the evolution of Job Satisfaction Theory.  "One of the most important theories which explain the job satisfaction is Lawler’s theory. He explains job satisfaction in four basic conditions:  The Fulfillment theory which explains the reaching of the thing needed. The Discrepancy theory,  difference, contradiction and conflict theory. The Equity theory, about equality and the fourth one is The Two-factor theory."  (Celik, p.7).  Each theory we have studied has been a building block to Job Satisfaction Theory.  


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