Job satisfaction is a fundamental topic of organizational psychology because it impacts job performance (Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patten, 2001).
Feeling dissatisfied with your job, however, is a common feeling. In 2016, it was estimated that only half of Americans felt satisfied by their jobs (Pew Research Center, 2016). Furthermore, 30% of Americans reported that their job was just a job, rather than a stepping stone to a fulfilling career.
Numerous variables can influence job satisfaction. In this post, we’ll explore each variable from the viewpoint of the employee and the employer, looking at how you can improve your own job satisfaction as well as that of your employees.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your employees create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.
This Article Contains:
3 Ways to Increase Job Satisfaction
Many variables affect how we rate our job satisfaction. Some of these are easier to control and change than others.
Your self-valued traits
Core self-evaluation traits are believed to play a key role in
- job satisfaction (Judge & Bono, 2001),
- your perception of the nature of your work (Judge, Locke, Durham, & Kluger, 1998), and
- life satisfaction (Judge et al., 1998).
Core self-evaluation traits are the fundamental qualities that you believe about yourself. The following four broad traits are considered part of the core traits:
- Your belief about your abilities to cope and fulfill demands (also known as generalized self-efficacy)
- Having an internal locus of control
- High emotional stability
All four have a positive relationship with job satisfaction (Judge & Bono, 2001). The strength of that relationship, however, differs.
Generalized self-efficacy had the strongest relationship with job satisfaction. In other words, people who believed that they could cope under pressure, meet deadlines and workload, and perform well tended to report higher job satisfaction.
Together with a therapist, you can work on ways to improve your self-esteem and assertiveness, develop reliable methods of coping with stress and anxiety, and set attainable goals and deadlines.
The nature of your work
Would you be surprised to know that most people rate the nature of their work as the most important aspect, even more important than pay (Judge & Church, 2000, as cited in Saari & Judge, 2004)? In some instances, employees desire a stimulating and interesting work environment over an increase in salary (Kovach, 1995).
A commonly held, but false, belief is that participating in decision making will improve job satisfaction (Saari & Judge, 2004; Rynes, Colbert, & Brown, 2002). Being involved in decision making is not enough; it must be coupled with clearly defined goals and well-thought-out plans of action (Saari & Judge, 2004) since goal making has a more stable and reliable effect on job satisfaction (Rynes et al., 2002).
To increase your job satisfaction, find meaning in what your job entails. To do this, discover who your job impacts. Reach out to your customers to find out how your work affects them and what you’ve done well, and stay in regular contact.
Ask yourself what parts of your job you find interesting and why. Go back to the beginning by looking at why you took the job in the first place and why you have remained in this position.
Finally, become more involved in more senior roles in your job so that you can feel more responsible and see the impact of your work. Set clearly defined goals at work so that you can meet your targets. Setting goals will also help you stick to deadlines and highlight gaps in your knowledge or skillset.
Life satisfaction can also impact job satisfaction. The link between job and life satisfaction is an important one (Judge et al., 1998; Saari & Judge, 2004). However, the direction of the relationship between these two variables is unclear. Does low life satisfaction lead to low job satisfaction, or is it the other way around?
Knowing that life satisfaction plays an important role, what measures can we put into place to increase our life satisfaction?
First, go back to basics, and make sure to satisfy your basic needs. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, take downtime to recharge, exercise regularly, spend time outdoors, and see your friends and family.
Next, develop mindfulness habits to help you cope with stress and anxiety. Mindfulness can help you feel more relaxed and is associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Use your vacation and leave time, which you have earned. Although it sometimes makes sense to spend vacation time to sort out administrative tasks, don’t use your time away from work for that only. Do something that you want to do. Take the time now to plan a long weekend away, and make the booking before work gets in the way.
Building a Fulfilling Career: 3 Tips
Jobs and careers are not the same. A career is the path that you have chosen and includes all your jobs, training, and employment experiences.
In contrast, your job is only one point on your career path. For example, if you are studying to become a lawyer while working as a server, then your career is to become a lawyer and your job is as a server.
Evaluating the successfulness of a career
Career success can be objective or subjective (Heslin, 2005). Objective success is judged outwardly as successful. For example, we can easily judge Jeff Bezos as successful based on the financial information about Amazon. Subjective success, however, is how you feel about your career. For example, you might earn a high-paying salary but feel dissatisfied with your career.
Viewpoints to evaluate work and career
In addition to objective and subjective evaluations, there are two more ways that careers might be evaluated (Heslin, 2005). These are self-referent and other-referent.
Self-referent evaluations are criteria that we set for ourselves and are independent from how other people are performing.
In contrast, other-referent evaluations are criteria about how we are performing in our career compared with other people.
Consider this example: You may decide that you need to earn X so that you can save enough money to buy a house. By earning this salary, you would feel satisfied with your career. This is an example of self-referent evaluations. However, if earning less than your peers would make you feel less successful, then you are using an other-referent evaluation.
These two concepts – objective/subjective and self-referent/other-referent – can be combined into four types of career evaluations (Heslin, 2005):
Your commitment to one of these types of career evaluations changes throughout your life. By identifying which evaluation you’re using, you can gain further insight into your career aspirations.
Working toward a fulfilling, successful career
Working toward a career implies a long-term approach (Heslin, 2005). Some questions that you might consider include:
- Where do you expect to see yourself in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years?
- What types of skills would you like to develop?
- What is important to you in your career?
These questions can be tough to answer. Maybe you’ve never even asked yourself these questions. However, they are important because they help you stay on track to meet your goals.
Here are a few steps to help you achieve a fulfilling career.
Identify what matters to you in your career
At some point, you need to ask yourself what is meaningful to you and why you want to pursue a particular career path. You could start by asking yourself:
Why are you on this career path?
If your answer to this question is about someone else, then you should reevaluate your decisions to determine if they are in line with your interests. For example, if you answer “because my parents thought it was a good idea,” or “because my supervisor encouraged it,” then you might be going down a path that is at odds with your career aspirations and interests.
Aligning your career goals with your current work is one step toward job satisfaction (Van de Ven, 2007). You should have these types of discussions with your employer so that they know what types of opportunities you would be interested in and what skills you want to learn. This kind of awareness can also help you decline opportunities that are not in line with your goals.
Think of a career as a building with multiple entry points
Do not consider your career as a single point-to-point route. There may be multiple ways for you to get to the same destination. An advantage of thinking of your career like this is that it helps you overcome hurdles.
Limited thinking, where you believe there is only one way to get to this particular path, will make you feel discouraged when you encounter an obstacle. However, if you adopt the mindset that there are multiple ways to get to your desired career, then you can take these hiccups in stride.
Identify what matters to you in your life
Career fulfillment is also affected by other factors that are not typically career related. For example, people who recently lost their jobs reported that they most regretted not having a work–life balance with a focus on family as well as better social networking skills at work (Sullivan, Forret, & Mainiero, 2007).
If you think of your career as a marathon rather than a sprint, then you want to make sure that you’ll be able to go the distance at a pace you can maintain. For these reasons, it is important to maintain a healthy work–life balance.
Motivating Employee Satisfaction: 4 Strategies
So far, we’ve looked at what you can do to improve your own job satisfaction. What can you do to improve your employees’ levels of job satisfaction?
1. Encourage teamwork
Working together toward a common goal can improve job satisfaction. When working in a team, employees report that they experience more autonomy, which in turn, is associated with increased job satisfaction (Griffin, Patterson, & West, 2001). However, when introducing teamwork, make sure that it encourages leadership from different employees, new usage of skills, and different types of work tasks.
Teamwork also has a protective factor (Valle & Witt, 2001). If a work environment is extremely stressful or negative, then being part of a team might negate its negative effects.
Valle and Witt (2001) measured how levels of job satisfaction differed between employees who worked in an environment where teamwork was valued or not. Job satisfaction was highest for employees whose organizations valued teamwork, even if the office politics were negative.
2. Plans of action
It is commonly believed that one way to increase employee job satisfaction is by including employees in any decision making. However, this action is meritless without very clear goal setting (Rynes et al., 2002).
Help your employees achieve their deliverables and due dates by outlining very clear goals, and ensure that your employees have a clear plan of action to achieve those goals. The goals do not need to be easy, but they must be possible. Senior employees will benefit and develop their skills more quickly with difficult but attainable goals (Rynes et al., 2002).
3. Encourage deep work
Cal Newport (2016) makes a compelling argument for employees to have long, uninterrupted opportunities for completing work (i.e., deep work).
Benefits of deep work include:
- Increased job satisfaction
- The development of new skills
- Goal achievement
- Learning to work for longer periods without interruption
Arrange office space to minimize noise, schedule meetings so that there is ample time to work, and ensure blocks of time for deep work.
4. Promote healthy behaviors
Put in place rules and boundaries that can positively influence your employees’ life satisfaction. For example, if your employees appear rundown, encourage them to take some time off. Remove the barrier to entry for exercise by introducing a weekly yoga class in the office, or encourage healthy eating by providing healthy lunches once per week.
At PositivePsychology.com, you can find a variety of tools that you can use alongside the tips in this post.
To improve goal setting, consider the Motivation and Goal Achievement Masterclass©. In this masterclass, you’ll learn more about goal setting, including:
- How to set goals
- Why we want to achieve our goals
- Behaviors that help us achieve our goals
A second useful tool is the Task Prioritization Exercise. In this exercise, you will learn how to prioritize various tasks so that you can tackle your to-do list more effectively. For example, there is little value in doing a mundane, useless task first (like cleaning the cupboard) when there are more urgent tasks that require immediate attention (like a deadline for tomorrow).
PositivePsychology.com has many mindfulness tools that you can choose from. As a starting point, the Three Minute Breathing Space and Sitting Meditation are recommended because both can be used at work.
In these two exercises, you will learn how to practice a specific mindfulness exercise and draw your attention inward toward your breathing.
Meaning and wellbeing
The Work Wellbeing Survey can be used to measure work engagement. High scores indicate a high level of work engagement, whereas low scores indicate a low level of work engagement, which can be indicative of imminent burnout.
To better understand what you want in life and, in turn, increase your life satisfaction, you can use the Perceived Personal Meaning Assessment. This tool consists of eight items, and each item is answered on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 9 (strongly agree).
Each item is a statement that describes how you might feel about your life. The assessment takes three minutes to administer. Low scores on this tool would suggest that you feel that you have low personal meaning.
The final exercise, Strengths and Pride, can be used with clients who have low self-esteem.
In this exercise, the client is encouraged to identify their unique strengths and how these strengths have resulted in positive outcomes in their life. By linking strengths to outcomes, clients learn how their successes are a result of their innate qualities.
17 Motivation & Goal-Achievement Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, this collection contains 17 validated motivation & goals-achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
Even though feeling dissatisfied with your job is a common feeling, there is hope. It is possible to cultivate job satisfaction by looking at the ways we think and feel about ourselves, the nature of our work, and life satisfaction.
Before considering a drastic change such as leaving your job, first explore each of the outlined tips described in this post. This includes:
- Improve your self-esteem and develop a positive self-concept.
- Find positive aspects of your work.
- Reflect on your life satisfaction.
With introspection, it could be that you can still have a fulfilling career without the impact of a resignation.
Each of the suggestions mentioned above is a rich, in-depth topic that requires much deeper exploration than allowed in this post. For further reading, we suggest these articles:
- What Is Job Crafting? (Incl. 5 Examples and Exercises)
- Job Satisfaction in Psychology: 5 Surprising Research Findings
- Self-Esteem Journals, Prompts, PDFs, and Ideas
- 15 Ways to Find Your Purpose of Life and Realize Your Meaning
- Life Satisfaction Theory and 4 Contributing Factors
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.
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- Heslin, P. A. (2005). Conceptualizing and evaluating career success. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 26(2), 113–136.
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- Sullivan, S. E., Forret, M. L., & Mainiero, L. A. (2007). No regrets? An investigation of the relationship between being laid off and experiencing career regrets. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(8), 787–804.
- Valle, M., & Witt, L. A. (2001). The moderating effect of teamwork perceptions on the organizational politics-job satisfaction relationship. The Journal of Social Psychology, 141(3), 379–388.
- Van de Ven, F. (2007). Fulfilling the promise of career development: Getting to the “heart” of the matter. Organization Development Journal, 25(3), 45–50.