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Job Satisfaction Theory

How happy are you with your job? A recent study stated that "55% of American Employees are dissatisfied with their work and this includes even those people who are happy to have a job" (, 2011). Employee satisfaction can have benefits for not only the employees, but for the company as well. Job satisfaction is considered to be one of the most researched areas of I/O psychology and is often defined as an individual’s degree of pleasure or positive affect that he or she has towards his or her job (Locke, 1976). Furthermore, job satisfaction is thought to be comprised of behavioral, cognitive and evaluative components that can directly affect an individual's job experience. For instance, the behavioral component places emphasis on a person’s disposition. The cognitive component deals more so with a person’s beliefs about their job. And the evaluative component, in essence, highlights the actual liking or disliking of the job. By examining four high school custodians, three variables will emerge that contribute to job satisfaction and or job dissatisfaction and they include job characteristics, social comparison, and disposition.  Notwithstanding, each of these categories can impact overall performance, as we see with the influence that absenteeism and turnover have on an organization.  It should be noted that it is difficult predict or determine the causation to these circumstances.



The Job: Custodial Worker


A typical school custodian is responsible for cleaning classrooms, bathrooms, and hallways, generally at night after the normal school day has ended. Cleaning tasks are accomplished with various pieces of equipment and chemicals. During the summer, a deep clean takes place where the floors are stripped and re-waxed. All furniture, walls, light fixtures, and so on, are also cleaned. It is tedious and often repetitive work. It can be very physical at times, with a lot of walking, and more sedentary at others when cleaning is concentrated in one area. The job requires basic skills such as basic math and reading, and is generally classified as unskilled labor.

The benefits of the job can be very enticing: the job requires little skill, there is a high level of autonomy, management tends not to micromanage— some days an employee may not see his or her boss(es) at all—and there is a lot of task identity. Additionally, a custodian typically works through one task from start to finish before beginning another, and he gets to do this without other people working on separate parts of the the same job. Task significance is high as well. Cleaning gives individuals the opportunity to make before and after observations, the summertime deep cleaning being a great example. A dirty floor is very noticeable because it gets darker and can begin to turn black. A floor that has become soiled is visually very different from the cleaned and waxed floor after the work is complete. Unfortunately, job feedback is also minimal, similar to many jobs today: staff members are told what was done wrong and sometimes how to fix it, but it is rare to hear what has been done right.

An additional benefit is that the pay is very nice with a high hourly wage for unskilled work. A custodian is guaranteed 40 hours of work per week, with anything over that being overtime. An individual can also take up to 4 weeks of vacation time a year depending on how many years they have been in the position. Personal and sick days are also provided, and holidays are always paid, non-working days. Additionally, due to the fact that retirement is automatically deducted from a person's pay, a nice nest egg grows over a long period of time without them having to worry about. Other benefits of custodial work include outstanding medical benefits with medical, dental, and vision care covered, and union representation, which provides an employee with greater job security.


(These descriptions are fictional and images are just for generalization purposes)

  Roberta is a 32 year old female custodian. She has been working for the school district for about 10 years, with a break in the middle when she worked somewhere else. She returned because of the good pay and benefits that her custodial job offered. Roberta also has a second job doing security for various places. She possesses a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from a well-respected university and is very intelligent. Roberta resents her job because it is considered unskilled labor and she feels capable of performing more complex and challenging duties than "flopping a mop." Being a custodian, however, has become a very desirable job in an area still reeling from the closing of the steel mills in the 1980's. Despite her displeasure and resentment, she is very thorough in her work and always does an excellent job.


Sam is a 60 year old male custodian. He has been working for the school district for about 20 years, as well as a few other jobs during his earlier years. Out of all the jobs he has performed, he desires to remain a custodian. Sam is a high school graduate who suffers from slight mental illness, and although he performs his job well below what his employer considers acceptable, he believes that he does a good job. Sam’s disciplinary record is as thick as a copy of War and Peace, but his mother’s local government contacts and his membership in the Union saves him from termination. Unfortunately, Sam’s performance reached such a terrible point that the school district—unable to fire him—created an arbitrary position called a “Utility Man.” In this position, Sam has no official duties other than to assist others. Sam perceives any discipline against him as part of a larger conspiracy of individuals who want his job and will do anything to have him removed. This conspiracy fits right in with others he holds, including ghosts, aliens, and whichever conspiracy theory is currently popular.


 Christina is a 51 year old female custodian. She has been working part-time at the school for several years and recently became full-time due to her filed lawsuit claiming that she was discriminated against. She has now been full-time for 5 years, but was passed over for full-time advancement several times due to her poor work performance and high absenteeism. Christina has been absent on several occasions—having not worked a full week in 5 years—due to ailments that include bronchitis, bursitis, and back pain. It was well known that these illnesses kept Christina part-time; she missed too much work and when she did come in, she did very little or left early because of a crisis at home. 

Christina has been able to secure the custodial position even though she now has degenerative bone disease in her back. She stated that she did not want the job, but took it to "prove a point" to her employer regarding not hiring her before. Within the company, the vast majority of employees, including Christina, have bought into an income insurance policy that pays if an individual is absent from work for an extended period of time. The premium has risen three times since Christina has been full-time because she draws from it constantly. She is very dissatisfied with her job, but stays to get revenge on the administration for passing her up before.


Jerry is a 75 year old male custodian. He worked in security for the school district for about 25 years until it was contracted out. He later applied and accepted a custodial job, a position in which he has now been working for almost 8 years. His work ethic is high—likely contributable in part to his earlier years of turmoil and hard work—often cleaning better than any other employee regardless of age. Jerry is a Polish immigrant whose family was arrested during Soviet occupation of eastern Poland during World War 2. They were eventually deported to the Middle East where he worked as a RAF mechanic for the British. Once in America, Jerry worked odd jobs until finding the school district. He is very happy as a custodian, claiming it to be the best job he has ever had because he never before received such high pay and great benefits. Despite beginning to miss work more often due to age and general body ailments, Jerry is otherwise present and always hard-working.


Analysis: What makes this people dissatisfied/satisfied?


Roberta is dissatisfied because of the job characteristics on a job that is understood to be unskilled, mindless work.  She knows she can do better with her intelligence and degree, but is trapped in this job due to its benefits and pay.  Social comparison is also at play too.  Other people look down on custodians as unintelligent and otherwise unemployable people.  However since recent times, it has become a safe and secure job to have.  It may not have the best social acceptance, but it pays well and gives benefits that others, including college graduates, wish they had.  Thus, these two factors affect her disposition in that she sees the job in a negative light and resents being trapped there while her degree sits on a shelf unused.  The feeling of being paid the same wage as Sam where her skills and competency is much higher really upsets her and fuels her dissatisfaction.

Sam is dissatisfied mainly due to his disposition.  His mental issues and paranoia fuel the distrust of those around him.  He feels that they are working against him and plotting his unemployment regardless of all the unsuccessful attempt to terminate him by the school district.  The job characteristics do not bother him as most of his jobs before have been unskilled work as well.  This is nothing new to him.  Social comparisons are not involved as well because he distrusts others and believes any comparison they do give will be to undermine him and confuse him.  His mental state/disposition are to blame for his dissatisfaction.

Christina is dissatisfied also due to disposition.  She has had many unskilled jobs in the past as well and this is nothing new to her either.  Her social comparisons would actually be more positive for her job in that most people she knows have lesser paying jobs with no benefits.  Her job is held in high regard to her peers.  Her main factor is disposition.  She is slightly paranoid as well and thinks the administration is out to get her even though the fact that they didn't hire her before was to low work performance and rampant absenteeism.  She is dissatisfied with her job but keeps it to be a thorn in the side of management.

Jerry is satisfied with his job due to probably job characteristics and disposition.  He likes the menial labor of the job and is used to it for most of his life.  He also appreciates the high pay and benefits the likes of which he has never had before.  He is happy to live in the land of opportunity and is very satisfied with his job.  Social comparison doesn't play a role in that he still speaks with broken English and has problems communicating with others and understanding the majority culture.  All he knows of social comparison is that he has a good job with high pay and great benefits.  Also social comparison doesn't play much of a role in that most people don't know or could never imagine what he went through in his order of imprisonment and deportation as well as the deaths of most of his family.  Most people he could compare his job with have had a cozy life of luxury here in America compared to what he went through in his lifetime in the 1940's.


Insight into

Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction


When looking into job satisfaction, looking into various studies and the ‘how’s’ and ‘whys’ of people and their satisfaction levels, we come to look at the disposition theory. This theory explains that some people actually may be born with the genetics to have a positive or negative outlook on life, effecting their job satisfaction. When we look at people who are always happy, always upbeat, they seem to always be in a good mood and looking at their life in the sense that their glasses are half full, they are more prone to being satisfied with their jobs, whereas people with negative views on life will tend to be dissatisfied with their jobs. So regardless of the persons job, the “happy” person will almost always have job satisfaction and the “unhappy” person will not.

In the lesson a study was mentioned about twins who were separated at birth. The study was done to see if there was a genetic connection and if the twins both had similar satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs. The lesson then goes on to say, “The study found that the proportion of variance in satisfaction attributed to genetic factors was 30 percent. Therefore, supporting the dispositional approach, there appears to be a small, but significant genetic contribution to job satisfaction. (PSU.L11.S4)” So whether the disposition is from genetics or just an overall outlook on life, each person is different and when you look at the glass half empty you will look at life as a whole in a negative way and vice versa. Nature VS Nurture can come into play here as well, comparing life experiences and how you were taught to handle and deal with situations, or in a biological way where you look at chemicals in the brain that can change a persons way of thinking. Disposition is a theory that is just beginning to evolve and be explored, so there is not much evidence or study completed to show one way is right or wrong.


Social Comparisons

Social comparisons occur when you go into a job excited, ready to go, and optimistic, then the next thing you know, 4 people out of 5 you talk to tell you to run for the hills and get out while you can because the job is awful. When you have negative people around you who are saying that they hate their job, your outlook may become skewed and before the first week of your new job is over you are already looking for a new position somewhere else. Social comparisons happen all too often and it connects with disposition because if an employee is able to see that a person is simply unhappy in general, they may be able to see past their negative feelings about the job and try to find good aspects and carry on making it a positive experience. The lesson states that “Many of the laboratory studies have found that social information had at least as powerful an impact on job satisfaction as job characteristics, but research conducted in organizations have not been as supportive (Jex & Spector, 1989). (PSU.L11.S4)” When you begin a new job you are given a blank slate. With that blank slate it is important to fill it with your own opinions and experiences and try to ignore social comparisons and recognize them when they are given to you. It is important to connect with positive people and form your own opinions about situations and to try to end social comparisons.


Consequences of Dissatisfaction:


Poor work performance: 

It is assumed that people who work hard are happy with their job, and those who are unhappy with work underperform.  This is true in the case of Jerry but false with some of the others.  For instance, Jerry is very happy with his job and this is reflected in the work that he does.   Meanwhile, Sam is dissatisfied with his job and does the minimum amount of work he can to get by and stay out of the view from management.   The same is true for Christina.  She does what she needs to do in order to get by and views her minimum effort as a way of getting back at the company.  Lastly, Roberta works very hard even though she has reason to be dissatisfied with her job.  To work less than her best would be a discredit to herself, as Roberta takes pride in the work she does regardless of the circumstances and she feels validated through her hard work even though she is not happy with her job.



How often does the person miss work?

Roberta and Jerry, and Sam rarely miss work ever.  Roberta feels that being absent a lot is bad on her character.  Jerry missed work very little because of his perception that any missed work will bring a reprimand.  He only misses work when he is sick or injured.  Sam doesn't miss work because he lives alone and work brings him interaction with others and gives him something to do.  Christine misses work a lot and always has.  She has been genuinely ill and also doesn't care much for her job.  She sees it as getting back at management as well.



How many people quit and go find other jobs?

There has been no turnover by Roberta, Jerry, Sam, or Christine, even though some are discouraged with their position.  The primary concern by each, given today’s economy, is the ability to secure similar positions offered outside of the company that provide a compensation package equal or better to the ones they have now.  Chris Isidore illustrates this situation with his statement that “the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy,” (Isidore 2008).  Employees need to carefully consider the risks associated with changing jobs during such a turbulent time.   The scenario above includes the consideration for economic impact, resulting in zero turnover for each of the employees in this case study.



The examples above are indicative of the challenges that researches face when studying job satisfaction, in that there is no clear correlation to a performance outcome.  Circumstances that influence one employee to perform well may result in an adverse reaction from another employee, causing underperformance and leaving a negative impact on the job.  Consider the position towards absenteeism from two of the individual’s that we previously discussed.  Roberta correlates being absent as having bad character while Sam maintains good attendance as a means to have interaction with others.  The result is that both are reliable employees, at least from an attendance perspective, yet the driving force behind each individual’s motivation is different – hence, “correlation is not causation” as stated by (Penn State, 2013).  Employee turnover is equally as difficult to predict.  The belief is that employees who dislike their jobs are more likely to leave, however substantive evidence is lacking in support of this theory as individual considerations such as job stability and the state of the economy come into play.  This again supports the notion that individual differences prevail and that causation cannot be firmly determined.  As a result, it is reasonable to state that work performance, absenteeism, and turnover are not linked directly to job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. 


Isidore, Chris (2008 December 1) It's official: Recession since Dec. '07. CNN Money. Retrieved from on March 28th, 2013. (2011) Job Satisfaction statistics. Retrieved on March 23rd 2013 from

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

 Pennsylvania State University. (2013). PSYCH 484 Lesson 11 Job Satisfaction.




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