Job satisfaction is a critical, consistently and deeply explored aspect of organizational behaviour. Aggregate research in the US has shown that dissatisfied employees cost the country a minimum of $550 billion a year. The authors of the 2023 study estimated happy and satisfied employees to be 13% more productive.
The degree of satisfaction has implications not only for the employee, but also for their colleagues, their superiors, and the organization as a whole.
Research has shown that employees are more satisfied and less likely to look for a new job when their personal values overlap with the company’s values. A positive perception of the work environment is important in this connection too.
Terminal vs. instrumental values
There are two types of personal values: terminal and instrumental. Terminal values represent things we want to accomplish or achieve. They are end goals, like happiness, achievement, pleasure, etc.
Instrumental values are means to accomplish these goals, like honesty, ambition, respect, autonomy, etc. Someone who doesn’t value honesty is more likely to cheat or lie to achieve a goal than someone who does.
Personal and workplace values: similarities and differences
Workplace values and personal values are alike in that they serve as markers of one’s identity, as guidelines for what is done and expressed. They differ in that people can discover their personal values and adopt them voluntarily, while workplace values are pre-set.
Values help companies define a variety of acceptable behaviours, which determine which actions are encouraged and which are discouraged. They impact executives and staff members alike.
Values tell employees what is healthy and what is unhealthy for their workplace. For instance, an organization can value “receptiveness to feedback” and implement it by rejecting clients or dismissing employees who have not been receptive.
In more extreme cases, this may occur even if those people have many positive traits.
Trust and profit
Staying true to your values requires sacrifices. A company might have a lucrative client who has engaged in unethical practices and decide to terminate their relationship, putting trust before profit. Removing an ethically questionable element from the organization helps build employees’ trust.
By acting in alignment with its values, the company is showing its clients, contractors, and employees that they can trust it to behave ethically.
Growth and meaning
Of the many internal conflicts involving values that may arise, the dichotomy of growth and stability vs. meaning is among the most prominent. It has been said that the lack of meaning is one of the most painful things a person can experience. Psychologist Viktor Frankl said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
Ultimately, knowing where you stand can save you a lot of time and protect you from deeply unsatisfying job experiences. Someone might put all of their efforts into getting promoted at work, only to realize they hate coming to work even more after the promotion.
Some people even end up resigning from prestigious, high-paying positions in dynamic industries. You can spend years rising in ranks and making progress and more money, but inside, you feel unfulfilled and exhausted.
Studies show that income and meaning are the two most important factors impacting job satisfaction levels. Unfortunately, one often comes at the expense of the other.
Everyone has values, and being aware of them can help you make the best employment decision.
It comes down to knowing what you value more – a meaningful job or financial stability. The answer isn’t necessarily black and white.
Despite their relatively low earnings, many people working in the humanities or public services express high satisfaction with their jobs, likely because they find meaning in their work.
The above-mentioned study showed that more than 90% of employees report high meaning in the following positions:
- Elementary Education Administrators
- English Language and Literature Teacher
- Radiation Therapists
- Rehabilitation Counsellors
- Kindergarten Teachers
As for income as a factor, more than 85% of chief executives and 88% of paediatricians report job satisfaction. About a third of respondents whose annual income was below $25,000 expressed a job satisfaction rate of less than 50%.
The following low-income positions came with job satisfaction of 50% or less:
- Hand Packers and Packagers
- Fast Food Cooks
- Short Order Cooks
- Dry-cleaning Workers
- Photographic Processing Machine Operators
- Parking Lot Attendants
- Cafeteria Attendants
Exploring the relationship between company size and job satisfaction
The type of company you work for can influence your satisfaction. Again, being aware of your values is crucial so you don’t choose the wrong company. Small and large enterprises differ in terms of communication, connections, resources, influence, and structure.
The table below lists the main differences.
|Small enterprises||Large enterprises|
|Simpler communication||More difficult communication|
|Less bureaucracy||More bureaucracy|
|Closer connections||Feels impersonal|
|More limited resources and influence||More resources and influence|
|Less structure||More structure|
|Can lack workflow order||Ordered and predictable workflow|
Job satisfaction by sector
Employees of private companies were the least satisfied of all the groups surveyed, the others being non-profit employees, government employees, and self-employed individuals. The job satisfaction levels of the latter three groups were similar: 65%, 67%, and 62% respectively. Employees of private companies fell behind by more than 20%. Just 42% of them reported satisfaction and having a sense of identity at the workplace.
Finally, remote work is estimated to be at least 7% more satisfying than non-remote work. People who worked from home were 7% more satisfied with their jobs on average. Overall, organizations that offer the opportunity to work remotely produce higher levels of job satisfaction on average.
The effect of remuneration
Interestingly, the study found that the average satisfaction rate for all jobs where people’s annual salaries were over $75,000 was 59%. In other words, income above that level has a negligible effect on job satisfaction, if any.
Income of $30,000 per year proved to be a deal-breaker. Just 39% of workers reported feeling satisfied with jobs paying less than that, even if they otherwise liked the work.
Predicting job satisfaction
The main predictors of job satisfaction are respect, meaning, income, independence, opportunity, and recognition. The respective share of employees who said these things were most important to them was 72%, 35%, 20%, 18%, 15% and 12%.
These results are hardly a surprise. Self-fulfilment is at the top of Maslow’s Human Needs Pyramid. Being able to grow and develop is important for many people, but not as much as being respected, which was the top predictor across the board.
The following should also be considered as possible predictors.
Workplace atmosphere and team communication
People see and talk to their coworkers often, so it only makes sense that they would be looking for positive relationships and a pleasant workplace environment.
A work-life balance keeps people productive and motivated. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, as in a set number of hours a day to work or rest. This is why fixed working hours are so demotivating. Work-life balance is highly individual, with some working to live or vice versa.
Some people are perfectly happy having almost no life outside of work, and others feel satisfied at the other extreme. For most, the ideal is somewhere in the middle.
At any rate, people who are able to set a boundary between their job and their personal life are less stressed than those who aren’t.
Dynamic nature of work
Dynamic, varied work creates a challenge. Routine tasks lead to boredom and waning motivation.
To decide whether a job is worth pursuing, ask yourself why you’re really considering it. Will it help you achieve a certain goal or fulfil a purpose? Will it give you flexibility if that’s what you’re looking for? Are there any potentially problematic aspects? If so, is there room for compromise?