Job Satisfaction: Definition and Survey - Find the Complete Guide


September 19, 2018

Before getting into the job satisfaction definition and knowing about the subject, let´s recall a brief anecdote about the deep implications of it.

Michael G. Pratt, professor of management and organization at Boston College, illustrates this with the tale of the three hard-working bricklayers.

Someone asked the bricklayers what they were doing. The first bricklayer answered, “I’m putting one brick on top of another.” The second replied, “I’m making six bucks an hour.” And the third said, “I’m building a cathedral, a house of God.” The three told the truth. They were all right about what they were doing, but only the last worker understood that what he was doing was meaningful.

For employees, job satisfaction is not only about what, but also why. From an organizational point of view, this has a direct impact on performance and profits.  

1. What is job satisfaction definition in organizational behavior?

One of the most accepted job satisfaction definitions in organizational psychology was written by Edwin Locke in 1969. According to Locke, job satisfaction can be defined as the pleasurable emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job as achieving or facilitating the achievement of one’s job values.

It’s interesting to note that even though this definition is almost fifty years old, it’s becoming more relevant than ever.


Let’s extract a few keywords from the job satisfaction definition: emotional state, appraisal, achievement, values.

It’s quite clear that we are talking about a highly subjective matter. The challenge for organizations is to translate this into more tangible indicators with the ultimate objective of keeping employees happy.

To make things easier we could simplify the definition by saying that job satisfaction is fundamentally an attitude towards work.

Like every attitude, it has three main components: cognition, affection, and behavior or conation.

The cognitive aspect of satisfaction at work comprises the thoughts, beliefs, and opinions of an employee about his/her job. The affective part is related to his feelings towards it, and the behavior is the actions that he/she takes.

The cognitive dimension is a logical, rational appraisal of the following aspects:

Employees compare the actual job with their own personal standards, and that determines how satisfied or dissatisfied they are.

The affective dimension concerns the following aspects that people associate with their jobs:

  • feelings
  • emotions
  • pleasure / displeasure
  • happiness/unhappiness

To sum up, job satisfaction it’s about what the employee knows, how he feels and what he does about his job.

2. The importance of job satisfaction

No one doubts that workers are an organization’s most vital resource. Keeping employees satisfied improves the company’s overall performance for many reasons:

  • Lower absenteeism and turnover. Happy employees are less likely to leave or to be absent from work, resulting  in time and money savings for the organization
  • Higher productivity,  satisfied employees -no matter their seniority- perform better. Thus the effectiveness of companies with a higher amount of good performance employees
  • Loyalty,  if employees feel that the company supports their interests, they tend to work harder. This is often referred as the concept of citizenship behaviors.

The importance of Job satisfaction is that it reduces not only psychological and social risks but its also profitable for organizations of every industry.

Job satisfaction is important in its own right as a part of social welfare, and this (simple) taxonomy [of a good job] allows a start to be made on such questions as ‘in what respects are older workers’ jobs better than those of younger workers?’ (and vice versa), ‘who has the good jobs?’ and ‘are good jobs being replaced by bad jobs?’  In addition, measures of job quality seem to be useful predictors of future labor market behavior. Workers’ decisions whether to work or not, what kind of job to accept or stay in, and how hard to work, are all likely to depend in part upon the worker’s subjective evaluation of their work, in other words on their job satisfaction.
(Kathleen Clark, Quality of Nursing Worklife Unit)

3. Theories about job satisfaction

It is not surprising that theories of job satisfaction usually overlap with more general theories of human motivation. This explains why the classic Maslow’s  Hierarchy of  Needs was one of the first approaches used to explain satisfaction in the workplace.

Basically, Maslow’s theory postulates that essential human needs -such as physiology and safety-  need to be first met before achieving more complex needs, like belonging and esteem.

job-satisfactionWhen applied to working environments things like compensation, healthcare, and job security would represent the basic needs. Once they are fulfilled, the employee can take care of the complex needs: relationships at work, feelings about the job, etc.

More recent approaches consider that the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not suitable to be applied in working environments since it doesn’t consider employee’s cognitive processes.

Instead, modern job satisfaction theories like the Dispositional Approach take into account the personality of the employee. Evidence suggests that people have a certain predisposition to different levels of satisfaction, that remains quite stable across time.

On the other hand, the Two-Factor Theory by Herzberg proposes that job satisfaction relies on a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Intrinsic satisfaction is related to the feeling of happiness about the job itself and its responsibilities.

Extrinsic factors (also called “hygiene factors”) are related to the objective work conditions like compensation, benefits, commuting and so on.

job-satisfactionIt’s critical to take into account these factors in order to evaluate job satisfaction. This leads us to our next issue: measurement.

4. How to measure employee satisfaction

There are typically three methods of measuring employee satisfaction at work: the single global rating, the global measurement or summation score and the facet measurement. In some cases, a fourth method can be applied: personal interview.

Let’s focus on the firsts:

Single Global Rating is a response to a single question. For example, “how satisfied are you with your job?”. The number of possible answers tends to be around five, from “highly satisfied” to “highly unsatisfied”.

Although this method is rather simple, its proponents assure that is as effective as larger job satisfaction surveys because employees already know how satisfied they are.  

The Global Measurement and Facet Measurement are supposed to be more sophisticated and accurate methodologies. Both consist of several questions about different aspects and attributes of work: general conditions, compensation and benefits, relationships with coworkers and supervisors, among others. Each point responds to a standardized scale that researchers combine to generate scores.

The global measurement aims to obtain a single overall score, while facet measurement implies a different score for each evaluated facet.


job-satisfaction-survey-exampleJob satisfaction survey example

High-performance companies perform at the very least an annual job satisfaction survey. Recent approaches consider that continuous evaluations are a more precise way to conduct improvement in worker’s life and consequently in the organization’s performance.

5. Improving Employee Satisfaction

In order to improve job satisfaction, we need to consider the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect it. The intrinsic factors are related to a more personal dimension, while extrinsic factors relate to the job and the organization.

Individual factors relate to employee’s personality: self-esteem, conscientiousness, internal locus of control, etc.  

Job-related factors are the characteristics of the job itself: skill variety, type of tasks, autonomy, and feedback.

Last but not least, organizational factors consider the working environment: leadership and supervision (technical and emotional support), coworker relationships, job security, compensation, development, person-organization fit.

The complex combination of these factors avoids creating a one-size-fits-all-recipe for job satisfaction. That being said, we have chosen five main contributors to satisfaction at work.

  • Provide opportunities for the use of skills and abilities. Feeling useful and recognized at work helps to attain self-realization. Helping your employees in their professional development will result in higher loyalty and better performance.
  • Promoting good relationships with immediate supervisors is key to employee’s retention. Nothing undermines morale as feeling unappreciated. Make sure that your employees know they are valued.
  • Open communication between employees and management: is an easy way to build a healthy and innovative working environment. When communication is poor, employees are more reluctant to share their concerns, and also their ideas.
  • Invest in compensation and benefits – it almost needs no explanation. Fair wages are crucial to attract and retain talent.   Remember that there are other non-monetary incentives that are also extremely important, like time management.
  • Provide as much job security as possible. Uncertainty about one’s future at work usually affects employee’s performance in negative ways, which can lead to undesired behaviors.

You can read more comments related to job satisfaction such as corporate values, employee recognition and retention in this article.

We verified that job satisfaction is a profoundly subjective issue. Nevertheless, is possible to take concrete actions over each one of the mentioned contributors.

Organizations must strive for continuous improvement in their job satisfaction scores if they want to succeed and stay on the top. Not only is possible but also necessary.


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