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High Employee Performance and Job Satisfaction

It is interesting to find out the answer to the query whether job satisfaction can directly result in generating high employee performance because of two reasons. The first one is that there is indeed a utilitarian value in that managers can use the insights gleaned from the study to effect changes in terms of increasing job satisfaction in the workplace. The second reason is that it is common sense to attribute job satisfaction as one of the main factors affecting employee performance and therefore it is interesting to find out how this assertion can be refuted. But based on the review of related literature it was discovered that indeed there is no direct link between increasing job satisfaction at work to increase in the quality of performance by the workers.

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Background

In the introduction to a scholarly work dealing with job satisfaction and job performance, the author used the following quotation, “When you feel good about yourself, you perform better. And when you perform well, you feel good about yourself. Neither can endure without the other” (Hosie et al., 2006, p.3). It was an apt statement that can immediately establish the premise of this discussion, that indeed it is common knowledge that keeping employees satisfied in their jobs will make them appreciative of the gesture and they will respond with a performance that will generate growth and productivity. Those who value the utilitarian perspective are also very much interested because in their view, “…that job satisfaction can lead to behaviour by employees that affect organizational functioning” (Spector, 1997, p. 2). There is a need to determine if making people satisfied in and with their jobs can then be translated to high employee performance.

For a very long time managers and business owners were intrigued by the correlation between job satisfaction and performance. At the core of this query is the need to find out the nature of human motivation, specifically what motivates an employee to give his or her best. According to one source the quest to understand what motivates worker is an ongoing process that started almost 100 years ago and it concerns, “…the conditions responsible for variations in intensity, persistence, quality, and direction of ongoing behavior” (Landy & Conte, 2007, p. 333). Unlocking the secret will undoubtedly result in a highly-successful organization.

Yet even before a scientific inquiry can be completed there is already a generally accepted theory that keeping employees happy is the best way to ensure above-average contribution in terms of working hard and therefore create an organization that is much more efficient and effective. There are those who call it the “happy-productive worker” thesis (Hosie et al., 2006, p. 3). This is not hard to understand, a happy person is able to focus more on whatever he or she is doing as compared to a depressed person bothered by so many things and making him or her unable to work minus the distractions.

But the generally accepted view is being challenged by sophisticated research methodologies. There is also a new paradigm that assumptions and widely accepted folk knowledge can never be accepted in the world of science and thus, “Research into the links between affective states and performance has evolved over decades as the definitions, measures and dimensions of interest and terminology have been refined” (Hosie et al., 2006, p. 3). In short there are those who wanted to carefully examine the phenomenon of employee performance to find out what motivates employees to work beyond what was expected of them.

Beginning in the 1970s the happy-productive worker thesis was challenged not by stating that the whole idea was entirely baseless and erroneous but by looking at it from another angle. In the search for truth researchers did not leave any stone unturned and thus they theorized that it may be possible that the causal relationships can be reversed, “…employees who performed better were expected to be more satisfied because they received greater rewards (Hosie et al., 2006, p. 4). This led to the creation of new research methodologies that examine other factors aside from making employees happy by meeting their needs.

Data Gathering

In order to find out if there is indeed an improvement in job performance and productivity a research team listed the following expected outcomes (Organ et al., 2006, p. 17):

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  1. Helps other employees with their work when they have been absent;
  2. Exhibits punctuality in arriving at work on time in the morning and after lunch breaks;
  3. Volunteers to do things not formally required by the job;
  4. Exhibits attendance at work beyond the norm;
  5. Helps others when their workload increases;
  6. Does not take extra breaks;
  7. Makes innovative suggestions to improve the overall quality of the department; and
  8. Does not spend a great deal of time in idle conversation.

The scientific approach to the study of job satisfaction and its impact on job performance and productivity is not an easy task considering the fact that researchers are dealing with human perceptions that vary depending on the difficulties encountered with language and culture. Social scientists and psychologists may use words in the questionnaires and their interviews that may mean one thing for the professionals and yet would come across as different for the layperson. Due to this difficulty researchers continue to design their methodologies so that effective communication is achieved and at the same time minimizing errors.

In this regard a study aimed at gathering job satisfaction data used the concept of facets to simplify the identification of areas that gave satisfaction or dissatisfaction to the interviewee. And these facets are listed as follows: 1) appreciation, 2) communication; 3) coworkers; 4) job conditions; 5) nature of the work itself; 6) organization itself; 7) organization’s policies and procedures; 8) pay; 9) personal growth; 10) promotion opportunities; 11) recognition; 12) security; and 13) supervision (Spector, 1997, p. 3). These facets can be grouped into four broad areas:

  • Rewards;
  • Other people;
  • Nature of Work; and
  • Organizational context (Spector, 1997, p. 4).

Data gathering was made possible using scales interwoven into questionnaires and interviews. According to one expert, the following job satisfaction scales, facet scales and global satisfaction scales are often used to gather pertinent data and examples of which are enumerated below, together with their corresponding developers (Spector, 1997, p. 7):

  1. Job Descriptive Index (JDI) by Smith, Kendall, & Hulin, 1969;
  2. Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ) by Weiss, Dawis, England, & Lofquist, 1967); and
  3. Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS) by Hackman & Oldlam, 1975.

Analysis

The result of the literature review is contrary to the dictates of commons sense. It was discovered that in the workplace there are different forces at work. It is not simply meeting the needs of the workers that can inspire them to do more than what was required; there are other factors that must be considered as well. There are those who contend that, “…evidence to support the proposition that happy employees perform better was still not compelling as subsequent studies had only found modest support for this predicted relationship” (Hosie et al., 2006, p. 4). This is very interesting because from the very beginning it is hard to imagine how the generally accepted theory of the happy-productive worker can be overturned.

Yet managers continue to believe in the idea that happy employees are productive employees, “Despite the lack of empirical evidence, the notion that happy workers are more productive is firmly entrenched in management ideology” (Hosie, et al, 2006, p. 4). At IBM, one of the most widely recognized brand globally, the human resource department conducts annual opinion surveys, “…to find among other things how employees feel about their jobs” and this is because, “Managers at IBM are very concerned about the job satisfaction of employees” (Spector, 1997, p. 1). This is not hard to understand as mentioned earlier the happy-employee thesis can be validated using the individual experiences of people.

For a layperson there is non need to conduct elaborate researches, his or her own feelings and perception is enough proof that job satisfaction is very important. The only problem is that in a scientific understanding of the link between job satisfaction and high performance there is a need to demonstrate how job satisfaction can indeed raise the bar when it comes to motivating workers to perform better. If there is no empirical evidence to support the generally accepted view then managers will waste time and resources dealing with workers’ needs and wants and yet fail to generate the expected results.

Due to the persistence of the idea that there is indeed a connection between job satisfaction and performance two researchers Iaffaldano and Muchinsky designed a study with a larger set of data but generated the same conclusion, “…that the relationship between satisfaction and performance is ‘illusory’, an erroneous impression in naturalistic observation…” (Organ et al., 2006, p. 68). The evidence points to another model wherein high employee performance is linked to the rewards derived from the job experience (Organ et al., 2006, p. 68). Thus, it is much better for managers to focus on this new model rather than to spend resources in developing the wrong solution to problems related to performance and productivity.

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Conclusion

The need to understand the link between job satisfaction, motivation, and high performance is tantamount to finding out the secret to building highly successful businesses and organizations. Every leader and business owner would love to find out the secret formula that would encourage workers to give their very best in terms of meeting the goals of the company or group. But even before a formal study can be made it was generally accepted that keeping the employee happy by meeting his needs can increase job satisfaction and this in turn will lead to a significant increase in job performance.

But a review of related literature revealed that this is not the case. Using sophisticated methods that enabled researchers to separate fact from fiction they discovered that although there is a strong belief in the happy-productive worker thesis there is no scientific data that can overwhelmingly prove this assertion. Fisher gave the reason why commonsense theory on the happy productive worker persists even in the 21st century:

Individuals may believe that satisfied employees are good performers because of their own highly accessible experiences of being more satisfied at moments that they are performing work tasks more efficiently, and less satisfied at moments that they are performing more tasks more efficiently, and less satisfied when they are performing less well (Hosie et al, 2006, p. 9).

This is the reason why many organizations continue to fashion policies and use strategies that will increase worker job satisfaction. It is hard to refute the idea that a happy person is a much better person compared to someone that is depressed and highly dissatisfied with what is going on in the workplace. But if current studies are to be believed then it can be argued that managers and business owners are wasting their time trying to please their workers. They are better off by focusing on providing rewards as this is the major factor that can motivate their employees to work harder.

Works Cited

  1. Hosie, Peter et al. Happy Performing Managers The Impact of Affective Wellbeing and Intrinsic Job Satisfaction in the Workplace. MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2006.
  2. Landy, Frank & Jeffrey Conte. Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial Psychology. 2nd ed. MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
  3. Organ, Dennis, et al. Organization Citizenship Behavior. CA: Sage Publications, 2006.
  4. Spector, Paul. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.
  5. Spector, Paul. Job Satisfaction: Application, Assessment, Causes, and Consequences. CA: Sage Publications, 1997.

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