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  • Summer 2013 Job Satisfaction
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Job satisfaction refers to the degree of pleasure or positive affect that an employee has toward his or her job (Locke, 1976). There are three components to job satisfaction: evaluative, cognitive and behavioral. The evaluative parts deal with liking or disliking the job, for example: “I love my job and what I do” or “I do not like my job and I am not happy in my position”. The cognitive aspect deals with the different beliefs about the job, for example: “My job is very stressful, but it is fulfilling” or “There is not much that challenges me in my job, but it’s comfortable”. Thirdly, the behavioral component looks at how each person is predisposed to act, for example: motivation, hardworking, punctuality, and organization. With these three components combined, it’s easy to see how your job can affect your overall attitude and behavior.

Some employees look forward to going into work and really take pride and pleasure in what they do, and there are those who cannot stand their job and are completely dissatisfied. There are three general categories that can lead an individual to be satisfied and dissatisfied with their job: job characteristics, social comparison and disposition. Job characteristics can include things like skill and task identity as well as working conditions such as stress, workload and even the relationships that you have with your co-workers. The most popular measure of job satisfaction assesses how employees feel about the job along five dimensions: type of work, pay, promotional opportunities, supervision and coworkers (Smith, Kendall & Hulin, 1969). Social comparison mainly deals with relations to co-workers. Attitudes are contagious and can affect everyone at the workplace. Employees will be more satisfied if their co-workers are satisfied, and unfortunately, it goes the same for the opposite as well (PSU WC, 2013). Disposition refers to the fact that some individuals are prone to be more satisfied or dissatisfied, despite the nature of the job or the social environment (PSU WC, 2013).

Case scenario

Sherry and John both work for an insurance sales company. They both sit at their desks for most of the day and spend many hours on the phone. Many people in the company are satisfied with their job and yet some are dissatisfied. Sherry has been with the company for many years and really enjoys what she does. She is a very social person and enjoys talking with customers on the phone. Her husband has a very good job, so she does not need a high paying job to make ends meet. John has not been working for this company very long. He enjoys the work he does, but he relies on a good paycheck each week to make ends meet. He feels he should be paid more for the work he completes each week. There are many things that cause a person to be satisfied or dissatisfied which include job characteristics, social comparisons, and disposition (PSU WC, L11).

Job Characteristics

Sherry overall enjoys most aspects of her job. The characteristics of her job increase her job satisfaction. Sherry gets along with her coworkers and has formed many friendships over the years. She is happy with the supervision that allows her to have quite a bit of autonomy. Sherry's desk is near a window and she enjoys having a view of the outside streets below. The working conditions for sherry are very desirable. Sherry is happy with her paychecks each week and is not concerned with promotional opportunities. The workload for Sherry is manageable because she has a lot of experience and can easily get through her daily work. John has some reservations about the characteristics of his job and is not fully satisfied. John is the newest employee and has not yet built strong bonds with any of his coworkers but he does get along with most of them quite well. John's desk in the back corner of the room and there are times he needs to use a lamp for extra lighting. He feels his workload can become overwhelming at times and has a hard time staying organized. Promotion is a desirable goal for John but could be hard to reach due to having others with more experience than him. He is not satisfied with the pay and is willing to work harder for a raise. John's autonomy level is quite low right now because he needs to ask a lot of questions and is watched closely to ensure his work is being completed correctly.

Social Comparison

Social comparison is an approach to job satisfaction that assumes that attitudes are partly developed by the attitudes of those around us (PSU WC, L11). Sherry has been with the company for several years and finds herself in a desk near a window surrounded by several other coworkers who have been with the company for an extended amount of time. On a daily basis, Sherry can overhear several of her coworkers discussing how satisfied they are with their work, pay, autonomy, and even opportunities for promotion. Sherry constantly hears statements such as “This is the best job I have ever had”. Sherry also takes part in a lot of these discussions and completely agrees with her other coworkers. Even on the not great days, Sherry can look around at the people who work near her and get a sense of joy because they all enjoy and are satisfied with their job. John on the other hand is extremely new to the company and has a desk in the back corner of the room. Other workers who are relatively new to the company and are not very high in the employee hierarchy surround John’s desk. This section of employees constantly uses times on breaks to meet at the water cooler and complain about the aspects of their jobs. Most of the time, the complaints are surrounded by the workload, the lack of pay, no chance of promotion, and overall the constant observing from supervisors. The workers in John’s area always have something complain about. This is giving John a negative outlook on his job and he realizes he is very dissatisfied.


Disposition is a relatively new approach to explaining job satisfaction and it is based around the idea that some employees are more likely to be satisfied or dissatisfied regardless of the work or social environment (PSU WC, L11). Sherry has always been a fun-loving relaxed person. She enjoys socializing with everyone she meets and she is the type of person who has never met a stranger. Sherry has always found joy in life and loves experiencing the wonders that this world has to offer. She has a great marriage with her husband, who has a great job that he loves, and they both usually see the positives in every situation. Sherry is a very optimistic happy person. According to the disposition explanation of job satisfaction, Sherry is more likely to be satisfied with her job because of personal characteristics than because of job characteristics. John on the other hand has always been a person that tends to be a little more negative. John gets enjoyment out of some things, but he has to work really hard to find that joy. John is not a cynical or angry person; he just consistently struggles to find happiness. This may be due to his anxiety issues, constant worrying, and usually expects negative outcomes in every situation. John’s disposition of worrying and struggling to find happiness leads him to have more job dissatisfaction, regardless of the characteristics of his job.


While job satisfaction is the most studied area for job attitudes in I/O Psychology (PSU WC, L11, 2013), it is difficult to determine precisely what motivates employee attitudes.  The complexity of assessing job satisfaction is drawn from an individual’s differences in global and facet satisfaction. Additionally, job satisfaction can be affected by factors outside the workplace such as personality, (Bright, 2008) needs and expectations. Bright (2008) reports that when employees are satisfied with the life overall (globally satisfied) they are more likely to be satisfied employees. Likewise, an individual’s disposition with a negative affect will communicate dissatisfaction regardless of job characteristics. These differences were shown in the scenario with Sherry and John. What we do not know about these two people and cannot always know of any employee is other lifestyle factors that may be contributing to both types of attitudes, such as social support outside of work, family arrangement, physical ailments, mental health issues, and prior experience. Furthermore, satisfied employees do not necessarily lead to productive or positive performance (Bright, 2008). While these employees may be very satisfied, they do not necessarily add value to the organization. For these reasons, it will continue to be a challenge for researchers to go beyond correlations to find cause and effect answers to job satisfaction.       

Assessing job satisfaction among employees is a good starting point and may require human resource personnel to become more attune to employees’ perceptions and needs. In an effort to address the many facets of job satisfaction, human resources personnel need to have multiple ways to identify what drives individuals’ attitudes and behaviors in their workplace. In the scenario’s provided in assessing job characteristics, social comparison and disposition in looking at whether an employee is satisfied or dissatisfied offer only an assessment. Solutions to gain and retain employee satisfaction and avoid dissatisfaction require more resources. This is why understanding and applying various theories and job concepts such as Needs theories (motivation), Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory (motivation and job satisfaction) and job design are important aspects of organizational structure.  Applying Need theories in the workplace will identify how managers can become more aware of employee needs tendencies (e.g., safety, affiliation, achievement) (PSU WC, L2, 2013). Additionally, applying Herzberg’s Two-factor theory will address both intrinsic (e.g., recognition) and extrinsic (e.g., work conditions) motivators to increase job satisfaction and job performance (PSU WC, L10, 2013). These two factors can address needs of employees in that intrinsic factors can help employees feel more valued, and extrinsic factors can help improve working conditions (PSU WC, 2013). In summary, a multi-faceted approach is needed to evaluate employee satisfaction and to further implement programs to meet the needs of employees and organizational goals and objectives.


Bright, J. (2008, February 9). Happy staff get a life; The ladder. Sydney Morning Herald, 7.

Locke, E. (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.

PSU World Campus (n.d.). Lesson 2: Needs Theories: What Do I Want When I Work? Retrieved July 12, 2013

PSU World Campus (n.d.). Lesson 10: Job Design: Do I Find My Work Interesting and Challenging? Retrieved July 12, 2013

PSU World Campus. (n.d).  Lesson 11: Job Satisfaction: Do I like my job? Retrieved on 7/9/2013 from

Smith, P., Kendall, L., & Hulin, C. (1969). Measurement of Satisfaction in Work and Retirement. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

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