Updated: Feb 1
By now I am sure you are aware U.S. workers are leaving their jobs at rates that have not been seen in decades. Therefore, I will not take time to discuss the 2 million workers who quit their jobs in April 2021 alone. Instead, I would rather discuss what makes employees happy, how to measure if yours are satisfied, and steps you can take to increase employee job satisfaction so you can hopefully maneuver around a problem many companies are facing.
What Satisfies Employees?
Numerous theories discuss the foundation of job satisfaction, but for sake of time, I will only reference a few that sum up the pack pretty well. For one to be satisfied with their job, basic needs must be met first. Clayton Alderfer refines Maslow's classic hierarchy of needs with ERG theory. In summary, for a person’s needs to be met they must be physiologically satisfied, maintain a sense of belonging, and truly feel as their full and actual self. This is an oversimplification, but you get the point and can read the work of smarter people than I if interested in the topic. The takeaway as it relates to the workplace is self-esteem and self-actualization are the purest forms of satisfaction, and for that to occur a person must be able to provide for themselves and feel as if they belong.
Tending to basic needs is important because they make up half of what employees value and are referred to as extrinsic values- things like pay, job security, benefits, and status. On the other hand, employees also have intrinsic values. This side focuses more on the job itself. Employees want to be interested in what they do. They want to be challenged and have the ability to learn. Even more, workers do not want to be challenged for no reason, they want to be challenged because they are growing and doing impactful work.
There are two sides to what employees value and each is important for job satisfaction. Herzberg’s two-factor theory shows how they work together. Notably, this theory challenges the common fallacy that if you pay workers more, they will be satisfied. Pay and benefits (extrinsic values) are only half the battle. Lots of pay and great benefits will simply leave employees not dissatisfied. For employees to be satisfied, their intrinsic values must also be addressed. However, this does not mean you can negate compensation because intrinsic values are not considered if employees cannot provide for themselves.
Having employees who are satisfied with their jobs is important for more than just turnover rate. A company’s values are equal to the sum of their employees’ values, and nearly 70% of an employee’s satisfaction is determined by their work situation. Furthermore, satisfied employees have an increase in performance, take greater initiative, miss fewer days, and quit less often. With that, you can begin to understand that employees who are satisfied with their work will exude that satisfaction to customers, and employees who are not satisfied will do the same
Are your Employees Satisfied?
How can you determine if your employees are satisfied? One way is to use a weighted facet model where you ask a bunch of questions about each component of an employee’s job, put a weight on the questions most important to you, and measure where you stand. Sure, this is one way that may have some benefit in monstrous organizations, however, there are faults. Sending surveys like this alienates employees from management, creating a “them and us” dynamic. Second, there is an issue of not knowing whether or not employees have been honest in their responses, which leads to making the wrong adjustments. Overall, this method does not foster trust, and trust is king.
I prefer an alternate approach, one that does build trust- be present in your workplace. For CEOs, VPs, Supervisors, and so on, the goal is the same- getting to know your team. The more you do this, the greater the trust, the greater the trust, the greater the honesty, the greater the honesty, the greater the understanding of your employees’ true level of satisfaction. Beyond removing the “us and them” dynamic, beyond knowing how your team feels about the company and their role in it, with great trust comes great knowledge of your organization. Trust this strong helps identify problems earlier and innovations sooner.
Ways you can increase job satisfaction
To begin, pay your employees and provide competitive benefits to satisfy their physiological needs and increase extrinsic motivation. No need to discuss that any further. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is slightly more nuanced. Start with an assessment of how you have designed the positions within your company. The roles and responsibilities of positions that provide the greatest level of satisfaction allow employees to:
use a variety of skills,
be included in the creation of the product or service from start to finish,
contribute in a meaningful way,
have greater levels of autonomy and responsibility,
and receive feedback on their performance from the outcome of the work.
Having these five characteristics in place creates job enrichment through vertical job loading. Which is just a fancy way of saying you allow autonomy, challenge employees, and provide responsibility.
Once meaningful roles are established, attention should be focused on leaders, and more importantly, leadership styles. Refrain from transactional leadership and develop transformational leaders across your organization. Transformational leaders treat each of their employees as an individual by addressing their unique needs. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate employees to be their best through positive reinforcement rather than punishing their failures. This approach goes beyond training skills for the short-term and develops traits that are felt across an organization for years to come.
Be proactive in understanding what increases employee job satisfaction. Dedicate the time it takes to get to know your team and earn their trust. Build leaders who transform an organization rather than simply manage one. Your customers will benefit, your employees will become more involved, and your company will be better off for years to come.