Job Satisfaction and What Works Against It

One of the primary focuses of anyone that has ever been a manager of people, or in Human Resources is job satisfaction. Many organizations will survey their employees annually on job satisfaction. If done properly, they will also come up with an action plan post-survey to address the things causing dissatisfaction for employees. It has long been commonly believed that a happy employee is a productive employee. I remember some of my first jobs as a teenager (Dairy Queen and Fleet Farm) where if someone wasn’t happy with the job they were doing, the compensation they were receiving, or with a manager that they reported to they would leave and find another job. These jobs also employed staff that had been there ‘forever’ even though they could probably get a better paying job elsewhere. Did they stay because they were loyal, comfortable, or were they really satisfied with their job?

There are many dynamics to job satisfaction and different aspects to measure: pay, benefits, relationship with supervisor or manager, ability to grow within the company, work environment and conditions, and connection with coworkers. The impact that a job has on the organization is one of the more important aspects of job satisfaction. If the role is meaningful and impactful then and it is challenging and allows the employee to grow personally, they are more likely to be satisfied with their job. Social factors are also a contributing factor to satisfaction. Just like the power of attraction, if an employee is continuously exposed to negative opinions they are more likely to feel negatively, and if they are surrounded by positive comments they are more likely to be satisfied (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012).  Misery loves company, and positivity attracts positivity. As stated above however, a commonly believed thought was that happy employees are productive employees. Though easy to believe, this is actually not accurate. Studies were unable to conclusively show causation between satisfaction and productivity (Judge, Thoresen, Bono, Patton, 2001).

In Human Resources, we often hear and read that an employee doesn’t leave an organization, they leave their supervisor. Though I don’t believe this is always the case, it is a highly impactful relationship that is a deciding factor on whether someone chooses to stay at an organization or not. I’ve received several resignation notices in my time as an HR Manager – most say something along the lines of…I appreciate the opportunity I had to work for the organization but have accepted a job elsewhere. When we complete an exit survey the reason stated in the notice is rarely the real reason they are choosing to leave.

In the cases where the employee is choosing to leave the organization because of the manager or supervisor there are a few different possibilities. One, the manager or supervisor could just be a jerk. I always hope this is not the case. We put a lot of faith in our managers and expect them to be respectful, fair, appropriate and effective. As discussed in the lesson however, power has a tendency to alter a person into thinking that they are superior to others, and disparage their employees. Therefore, this is always a possibility.  Another possibility is conceptual filters and communication barriers. Conceptual filters are “attitudes, cognitions, and perceptions that may distort information exchange (Schneider, et al., 2012). In order to not be overwhelmed by all incoming information, our mind has learned to decide what is important to us and disregard the rest. This can cause problems in the interactions and communication between managers and supervisors and their employees. Assessment of performance is also not accurate due to the human nature of superiours putting too much weight on internal factors of their employees affecting work versus external factors. If an employee was not able to complete all of their tasks prior to the end of their shift – a common response is that the employee is not working fast or efficiently enough to be able to complete the task, even though it may have been a particularly busy shift and there just wasn’t enough time to do everything. Where the manager believes the employee is unable to do the job effectively, the employee also tends to place more weight on external factors when receiving criticism. Not only can this cause a wedge, but there is also the possibility that the employee does not understand the full expectations of the manager.

Trying to balance the expectations of the manager and the perceptions of employees is a full-time job. The best approach in both situations is to look at it with a positive attitude. Too often people look at a situation thinking that something was done on purpose or maliciously, when a majority of people are reasonable and just trying to do their best. Everyone makes mistakes. When managers and employees are able to have a common performance language and clear expectations and communication – There will not be perceptual biases in the workplace. This would contribute to a more satisfactory environment for all involved.


Judge, T.A., Thoresen, C.J., Bono, J.E., & Patton, G.K. (2001). The job satisfaction-job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127(3), 376-407.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2018). PSYCH 424 Lesson 7: Organizational Life and Teams. Retrieved from

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., Coutts, L. (2012). Applied Social Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.


  1. Temeka M Lytle

    Based on your positive outlook and practical solutions, I would love to have you lead the HR department at my current employer! However, my personal experience dealing with managers and supervisors has not been so bright. Dairy Queen was also my first job and I loved it. My satisfaction with the position was mainly based on the social relationship I had with my co-workers/ classmates. I’m glad you highlighted the influence of co-workers within your blog. Many times I would overlook the negatives simply because I knew I would enjoy the positive company of co-workers.

    Miscommunication is a major issue within my current company. Staff does not feel they are properly trained, notified, or supported by management. A simply search on Indeed Job Reviews supports this claim. I personally do not plan on staying with the company long. The company’s extremely high turnover rate among baseline employees & supervisors is astonishing. Across several job sites, it holds a 2 star rating for employee satisfaction. Yet, the company makes great profits each year.

  2. Alicia Frances Cuddihee

    Your point is highly poignant. I also believe that one of the key factors in high turnover rates is miscommunication and a manager’s inability to convey constructive criticism to employees particularly in the more unskilled fields such as food service. My own experience as a server was tumultuous to say the least. Being managed by men and women in their 40s and 50s who lacked the ability to effectively lead or even treat their employees with basic human decency and respect was common. Although upon my exit from food service I was happy to learn that many chain empires were taking strides to correct this by provide adequate training to regional, district and subsequently store level managers to more effectively lead a team.

  3. Curt William Leas

    I really enjoyed what you wrote as it hit home with a lot of key points that I’ve seen or experienced in life, aside from the fact that my first job was at Dairy Queen too, but others as well. Your statement about how employees never express their true reasons for leaving a work environment can indeed be problematic.

    In my current workplace there was another supervisor who was experiencing a constant turnover of employees. They would get hired and shortly after interview and laterally move under a new supervisor and when asked would say they preferred to work in another section. One day while “BS’ing”, the supervisors boss pointed this out, and knowing him personally, didn’t hesitate in my reply “Don’t you know? So-so is a complete jerk, no one wants to work for him”. He was astounded, this was the first he had heard one of his supervisors is having issues. Shortly afterwards the problem supervisor underwent some “re-training” and now the turnover has decreased and satisfaction has increased.

    Whether it is through fear, a desire to be nice, or just not thinking, most people don’t realize that if they are leaving a work environment for a certain reason it is likely others have too. The issue won’t get corrected unless someone manages to communicate it.

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