What is employee satisfaction?

Nicholas Burman

The origins of employee satisfaction date back to the Hawthorne Study. Between 1924 and 1932 a number of experiments were conducted in a General Electric factory to study the effect of lighting on employee productivity. It was found that not so much the lighting but attention for the employees led to higher productivity. 

What is employee satisfaction?

sa – tis – fac – tion (n.)
1 the act of satisfying or state of being satisfied
2 the fulfilment of a desire
sa – tis – fied (adv.)
1 contented, pleased; <-> dissatisfied

Prior to that, it was believed that only remuneration and strict management could increase productivity. When the study showed clearly that productivity could be greatly increased by the feelings and attitude of the workers, the interest in employee satisfaction was born. 

Since the Hawthorn Study, much research has been conducted into employee satisfaction. This has resulted in the formulation of multiple definitions for the concept ’employee satisfaction’. In essence they all mean the same thing, namely the feeling of well-being that a person experiences through his work . This wellbeing is a positive emotional state that the employee experiences as a result of his feelings about his work and/or the organisation. How an employee evaluates his well-being is dependent on the frame of reference he consciously  or unconsciously applies. In order to be satisfied about the work it is important the employee can work well.

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The importance of satisfaction

The influence of employee satisfaction on employee performance is clear. Satisfied employees feel good about themselves and because of this are better able to perform and communicate.

If someone feels as if he cannot work well, he can react in three ways.

  1. The first reaction is withdrawal. For example arriving late, being absent or resigning.
  2. An employee can also react to dissatisfaction with a passive and uninterested attitude.
  3. Finally, a possible response to dissatisfaction is assertiveness or aggression, which results in actual damage.

These reactions show that dissatisfaction has negative consequences for an organisation. Employee satisfaction is thus of vital importance for your organisation’s success. It is an essential means of achieving your organisational goals.

Satisfaction as a multi-dimensional concept

Even though satisfaction can be regarded as a whole, in studies attention is usually paid to the different dimensions of employee satisfaction, such as colleagues, managers, remuneration and working conditions. 

An employee can experience different levels of satisfaction in relation to the different dimensions. The dimensions of satisfaction can be represented as a tree structure. Judging a certain dimension negatively does not mean that everything will be negatively judged. In satisfaction studies the following organisational dimensions are standard. Of course, within these dimensions further elaboration is possible. 

An employee can be dissatisfied with his salary but satisfied with his working conditions and colleagues. If this employee, consciously or unconsciously, attaches more value to working conditions and colleagues than to salary, then in general he will be satisfied.

Source: Saari, L.M. and Judge T.A. (2004) Employee Attitude and Job Satisfaction. Human Resource Management, Vol. 43, 395-407

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