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Job Satisfaction


The degree of pleasure or positive affect that an employee has towards his or her job is the definition given by Locke for job satisfaction (PSU WC, 2014, L11, p.2)

When you meet someone for the first time one of the first questions are: “Where do you work?” and “Do you like it?”

Employers even do surveys throughout the year to answer that same question:


Job Satisfaction goes deeper than that. There are three components that are taken into consideration:

1. Evaluate – Liking or disliking your job

2. Cognitive – beliefs about the job



 3. Behavioral – how you act




When we look at job satisfaction we are also looking at what causes our satisfactions or dissatisfactions. In this case study we will review the following concepts:

Job Characteristics--------Social Comparisons--------Disposition

Then we will finally take a look at the correlations between job satisfaction and the relation it has to:


All of these areas affect how we view our jobs and how satisfied we are with our jobs.


Case Study


The Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell is an Inland Buoy Tender that is home-ported in Portland, Oregon. In 2004, the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell was run by a laissez-faire Command that had a loose grasp on the crew. As a result, the crew had low morale, high absenteeism, low group unity, and poor performance in comparison to similar units. The crew was not challenged by the leadership, and therefore remained unproductive. Additionally, the crew resented the fact that they were forced to work a Monday-Friday schedule while the higher ranking members seemed to rarely be at work when the ship was in port.

In an operational sense, the numbers were not looking good. The Aid Availability Rating is the percentage of Aids to Navigation (Buoys and Beacons) that are operating correctly and on station at any one time. As a result of the lower percentage and the greater outages, the chance of a marine mishap is the greater. In 2004, the average was 80% which was the lowest percentage for any buoy tender on the West Coast.

Things continued like this until the summer of 2005 when a new Commanding Officer (CO) with a hard-nosed reputation took command of the cutter. Initially the crew seemed to be in shock, and some even seemed scared for the imminent change. The new CO seemed to never leave the ship. He walked around the ship looking sharp in a fresh uniform opening hatches, inspecting gear, and identifying discrepancies. He seemed to be all knowing, intimidating, and demanding.

After a few months the crew began to operate at a higher degree of performance. Absenteeism was basically non-existent and those who did occasionally show up late were handled administratively. Accountability was greatly increased as the CO opened communication with the other two members of the command, the mid-level supervisors, and the crew.

When the Aid Availability ratings of the unit were published, the statistics had drastically increased. Whereas in the past nobody cared, now great pride was taken by the entire crew to raise the statistics  by offering to come in on weekends to decrease the outage time, exercised due care to ensure fewer discrepancies due to human error, and improved their administrative work to increase planned servicing to prevent future discrepancies.

As the pride of the crew became more and more evident, unity and morale improved. Job satisfaction continued to grow as the crew seemed to be happy to show up to work. Additionally, members were cross training and becoming qualified in more watch stations that were required of the next higher pay grade.

The icing on the cake was the Summer of 2006. The Bluebell traveled to Seattle, Washington to take part in the West Coast Buoy Tender Round-Up. The Round Up is a week of training, idea sharing, and most importantly, a twelve event contest between the West Coast Buoy Tenders. The events range from work related events, shipboard firefighting, baseball, and even cooking.  In the months leading up, the CO trained the crew for all of the events. It was almost comical at times as the salty sailor yelled at the crew on the buoy deck and then got back to give the cook the finer tips of cooking a cheesecake.

In previous years, the Bluebell did not attend the contest, and due to its low performance, it had a poor reputation. Just getting to Seattle was remarkable enough as the Bluebell had never entered the Pacific Ocean in its 60 year history, nor was it designed to. Against all odds, the smallest crew banded together and excelled in all of the events. After a tough week of close competitions the Bluebell secured victory and was awarded the coveted Golden Swivel Trophy. The work environment was magical, the crew was tight, performance was high, and job satisfaction couldn’t have been higher.

Factors that Influence Job Satisfaction

            There are three main categories of factors that contribute to job satisfaction: job characteristics, social comparison, and disposition (PSU WC, 2014, L11, p.3).


1.      Job Characteristics

The job characteristics related to job satisfaction are the five core characteristics (skill variety, task identity, autonomy, task significance, and job feedback) as well as aspects such as working conditions, stress, workload, and social relationships (PSU WC, 2014, L.11).  Essentially, what this boils down to is the fact that an employee is likely to be more satisfied if their expectations of the job are being met in these areas.  In our case study example, the initial problem was a management style that was too laid back, resulting in low morale and unity, high absenteeism, and poor performance.  The issues all appeared to resolve themselves once a new leader took command, a leader with a more hard handed approach.  This improvement is related to a couple of different areas of how leadership styles affect job characteristics, most notably job feedback and autonomy.  First of all, the area of job feedback would be largely lacking in laid back work atmosphere.   In our case study, it was specifically noted that the new leader who improved performance was always present and was careful to always inspect all work and be vocal regarding what needed improvement. His style of supervision made the subordinates accountable for their work and aware if something was done incorrectly. This in turn resulted in the subordinates performing better on a day-to-day basis because any problems in their work were addressed on a consistent basis.   The former leader who had a laissez-faire approach might have seemingly promoted more autonomy among employees; however, it was to a degree that was counter-productive.  While this type of work should be performed by high skilled workers who can be trusted to get the job done, without any feedback they had no accountability or direction. As noted in the article, “Can too much Autonomy Reduce Motivation” by Hivon (2011), too much autonomy, as in the case study presented here, can lead to Paralysis (i.e. too many choices making the subordinates unsure of what to do and therefore doing nothing as a result) or Dissatisfaction (due to thinking the wrong choice was made because of all the options, lower satisfaction thinking about how a different choice might have been better, and expectations that are too high) (Hivon, 2011).   This was demonstrated with the poor productivity and performance; as well as the drastic improvement once they began to receive more feedback and direct supervision; they needed a balance of autonomy and feedback that wasn’t initially present.    Not only was the level of autonomy not ideal, but the lack of punishment in regard to the high absenteeism resulted in a negative impact in the stress and workload (as known fact that when one person doesn’t show up, another person has to pick up that slack) and also resulted in tension in social relationships between both the leader and subordinates, as well as between subordinates who routinely would call off against those who had to cover.

2.      Social Comparison  

The social-information processing approach to job satisfaction assumes that attitudes are determined, in part, by the attitudes of those around us (Jex & Spector, 1989, cited in PSU WC, 2014, L.11). People look to others to make sense of the environment. This implies that employees will be more satisfied if their co-workers are satisfied. In contrast, if everyone else in the department is constantly whining and complaining about their job, this will tend to affect negatively one's own level of satisfaction. Therefore, when new employees are being socialized into the organization, it may not be desirable for them to be "tainted" by cynical, dissatisfied employees. Many 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, cited in PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 4).

Applied to Case Study

In the case study, the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell Command’s laissez-fair style of leadership can be directly linked to the crew’s poor attitude and performance.  When leadership sets a poor example of behavior and discipline it sets a precedence for the rest of the unit.  As suggested by the commentary, new members are easily corrupted or tainted by cynical and dissatisfied employees.  Any new crew members, regardless of rank and experience, would have had a difficult time maintaining a high level of performance and motivation with a lack of leadership and support.  The crewmembers of the Bluebell were taking all their cues and social comparisons from their leadership and molded their behavior and performance to meet their low expectations.

In 2005, after the change of command and leadership style on the Bluebell, it became apparent that more would be expected of the leadership and crew.  It was obvious that the simple fact that the commander made more of an effort to be present and in uniform had an immediate impact on the mindset and attitude of the crew.  His leadership style and example showed the rest of his leadership and crew what would be expected of them.  As crewmembers adapted their behaviors and attitudes through social comparison to match their commander’s expectations, they were able to see their own potential as individuals and a cohesive unit.  Their ability to adapt through social comparison helped propel them to victory and the high sense of pride and unit cohesion when they won the Golden Swivel Trophy.

3.      Disposition

One of the major factors that contributes to job satisfaction is personal characteristics (disposition) (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p.4). There are three major perspectives of causation that regard disposition as an imperative aspect of job satisfaction. The first one is from the social cognitive viewpoint that states that an “individual’s general overall outlook” influences the perception of subjective well-being (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, Wiki page). This perceived happiness or unhappiness in its own turn affects job satisfaction. Happy people, according this aspect, tend to evaluate job information in a more positive light than unhappy individuals. The second perspective is that personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness) are related to job satisfaction (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, Wiki page). This approach argues that even though a specific situation is the “major determinant of momentary happiness,” personal traits have persistent effects on evaluating the situation in the long run and these traits are responsible for overall happiness (Costa & McCrae, 1980, p.676). In this point of view, objective conditions such as vigor, money, and power have a very limited impact on the state of happiness. In short, this idea suggests that personality traits predispose an individual to either be satisfied or dissatisfied across all of his/her career. Finally, some researchers believe that an individual is genetically prone to be satisfied or dissatisfied (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, P.5). 

Concerning our case, it is hard to come to the conclusion that disposition was a major factor in increasing job satisfaction since no reliable measure of job satisfaction was used. Management did not conduct a survey such as the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ), Job description Index (JDI), or other available instruments to compare the levels of satisfaction before and after an intervention. We can speculate that among fifteen employees on the boat, some individuals were predisposed to be more satisfied than others. Notwithstanding for a lack of data, we can assume that this factor was not preeminent since the job satisfaction of the whole crew grew from the low point to the highest state.

A new Commanding Officer might take this factor into consideration and develop a program that would boost positive affectivity among the crew; for instance, positive mood inducing events, building up self-efficacy and self-esteem, and other methods. The new Commanding Officer might exploit training and professional development practices that would improve self-efficacy of the individuals.   Seeing that the researchers cannot identify the exact direction of causation between satisfaction and performance, we can guess that increased performance also boosted individuals’ job satisfaction.

Three Variables that Correlate to Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction often means being a productive part of an organization and being happy while doing that part. This statement, however, is not completely correct. There are three variables that can be affected by the relationship of job satisfaction performance, absenteeism, and turnover


It is a very popular view that job satisfaction is associated with high job performance, but according to Christen, Lyer, & Soberman (2005), “the relationship of job performance to job satisfaction is weak.” There have been many studies done on job satisfaction and performance for over 40 years and for the most part the relationship has been found to be weak (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 5). According to our commentary, the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance is only 0.17 (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 5). One of the main reasons that this number is low is attitude and how attitude can lead a certain type of behavior (Judge, Thoresen, Bono & Patton, 2001). Attitudes, according to Judge et al (2001), “toward the job should be related to behaviors on the job, the most of which is performance on the job” (p. 378). If an employee’s attitude is low on the job, then performance might be low; however, if a good attitude toward the job is high, then performance might be high. Attitude helps with performance if the attitude can carry good behavior behind it; but if an attitude is bad, it can carry poor behavior. Attitudes on the job might make a difference, but what about pay for performance? Does pay for performance increase job satisfaction? For some employees, pay as a reward can increase performance, but when we look at pay rewards as a group, according to Judge et al. (2001), “research indicates a weak correlation between pay and job satisfaction” (p. 379). This leads to another idea of intrinsic and or extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic is based on the work itself and not the pay for the job. Whereas, extrinsic would be more about the pay and other monetary items such as benefits. Intrinsic rewards would seem to be a higher motivator, according to Judge et al. (2001), “employees report that they value intrinsic rewards such as the nature of the work itself more than pay” (p. 379). Additionally, through Judge et al. (2001) research, it was found that there was a stronger relationship between general satisfaction and job performance, “in which rewards were linked to performance (mean r = .27) than in studies where there was no performance-pay contingency (mean r = .17)” (p. 380).


It is a thought that an unhappy employee will stay out of work as much as possible, however this is not the case. Studies have shown that the correlation between job satisfaction and absenteeism is weak (0.25) (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 6). There are two types of absenteeism, voluntary and involuntary. According to McClenney (1992), voluntary absenteeism is when a person makes a conscious decision not to attend work and involuntary absenteeism is when a person has issues outside their control such as transportation issues or an illness. There is evidence, however, that supports the idea that absenteeism is based on what McClenney (1992) describes as situational and that these situational absenteeism’s come from “family situation and individual motivation” and not the lack of job satisfaction (p. 5). Additionally, according to our commentary, employees may want to stay out of work to have fun, but they tend to actually go to work, so they do not lose time and pay (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 7).


For many individuals, if they are unhappy about their jobs, they would typically quit and go find a new one. It sounds easy, but it is difficult to understand why the relationship between the two is so hard to find. According to our commentary, “the correlation between job satisfaction and turnover is 0.24” (PSU WC, 2014, L.11, p. 7). One of the reasons why research is so difficult to find on turnover is because that the research data is often times not collected properly or consistently, which makes it difficult to access (Medina, 2012). There are times, however, when turnover can be easily observed and that is when at some point a family member of an employee needs to be relocated. At this point, turnover is neither a job satisfaction factor nor a dissatisfaction factor.

Applied to Case Study

When looking at the job satisfaction variables performance, absenteeism, and turnover, there is not a strong correlation to each other. However, when we apply these aspects to the case study, we can see that performance was low during the Bluebell’s early years. We can also see why absenteeism and turnover would have been high if nobody cared about the condition of the Cutter. We also notice a difference in the crew when it received its new Commanding Officer (CO). The new CO brought communication and consistency to the Bluebell, which in turn increased morale. The crew seemed to accept its new CO and started to enjoy their work on the ship. We saw a complete change of events; job satisfaction and performance were met by multiple factors. One, we saw that the training was increased, which helped increase the reward system such as pay. Two, we saw leadership which gave the crew a sense of ownership and this leadership held the men accountable in areas such as absenteeism. The third factor we saw change job satisfaction and job performance was self-pride. The new CO led his crew to Seattle and to take part in a contest which they won. This helped with self-pride, and self-pride helped reduce turnover. 

Job Satisfaction Recent Research

A survey was conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2011.  The SHRM took a look at thirty five different things that lead to job satisfaction.  The interesting thing that they found by doing this survey is that job satisfaction had been dropping since 2009 (Heatherfield, 2011). 

            For the fourth consecutive year, the top contributor to job satisfaction was job security, with 63% of those surveyed stating this was the number one concern (Heatherfield, 2011).  Below is a chart showing the top ten areas that participants stated brought them job satisfaction.


(Chart information based on Heather, 2011)

Applied to Case Study

Our case study is about servicemen in the Coast Guard.  According to the information from the SHRM survey, job security is a large part of job satisfaction.  According to an article in the USNI News, despite cuts in budgets and the demand for a decrease in spending from the Federal Government, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp stated that “so whether it’s active duty or our civilian workforce, we will make every effort to keep our workforce intact” (Lagrone, 2013).  This is a prime example of the reason why job security is such a large part of job satisfaction in today’s society.

            As part of job satisfaction, our case study also seems to point towards having a great leader can increase job satisfaction.   A study was conducted on the effects of transformational leadership with multilevel analysis.  Transformational leadership can be used to increase employee and team motivation, performance, and morale by using different techniques that will work at both the individual and team levels.

            In 2003, Bass and colleagues made note to the fact that transformational leadership improved the unit performance of U.S. Army light infantry during combat situations (Braun et al., 2013).  This is something that can also be seen in the case study in the changes that took place on the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell in 2005.

            Transformational leadership also leads to trust in the leader and then trust in the team; this all leads to improved job performance and by doing so, leads to job satisfaction (Braun et al., 2013).  Our case study is a great example of this also.  When there was not a great leader, the team did not perform well and job satisfaction was low, but when a new great leader was introduced, individuals began to trust him and then trust built in the team.  This pushed the team as a whole to perform at their top level and gave great satisfaction to all servicemen; winning the Gold Swivel Trophy was a tremendous victory for the men of the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell.


            Job satisfaction draws a lot of attention in scientific and business circles. While researchers investigate the possible variables that affect this concept and how job satisfaction influences job environment and productivity, management actively exploits this theory in a work setting. Our case proves that many factors influence job satisfaction. In addition, we can observe the association between job satisfaction and increased performance among crew members. Even though we cannot prove causation in this case, the results of Commanding Officer interventions demonstrated that he made work for the crew more meaningful and increased the value of their job. It looks that crew members accepted the values of the organization and were in positive affect state when they performed their duties.  This example inspires optimism that management might increase job satisfaction among employees.   


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