The reasons people can feel happy or content in their work can often be quite complicated. For some, it is the moral reward of doing good, others are happy to simply make a living, still others appreciate the good career opportunities their positions offer or their relationships at work. Defining job satisfaction has been a challenge for researchers, as work plays a significant role in people's lives and job satisfaction is central to their well-being. It is also important for employers, since satisfied employees can be more committed to the company, more efficient and creative.
Some scholars define job satisfaction as the emotional state of enjoyment that an employee gets from doing his or her job well and being suitably rewarded. Others take into account the emotional fulfillment an individual reaches when the job meets his or her expectations. For most researchers, however, job satisfaction has multiple dimensions and is determined by a number of factors such as the nature of the work itself, relations and interactions with superiors and peers, pay, benefits, promotion, the organization and its management and last but not least the working conditions.
One of the most influential contributions to understanding job satisfaction is the motivation-hygiene theory of the American psychologist Frederick Herzberg (1923 to 2000). The theory was based on interviews conducted in the late 1950s with accountants and engineers, who were asked when they felt good or bad about their jobs and to explain why. The interviews led Herzberg to identify two dimensions to job satisfaction: motivation and hygiene. The motivation factors included recognition, achievement, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth. The hygiene issues, such as company policies, supervision, salary, interpersonal relations and working environment, are considered as the conditions to be met in order to prevent dissatisfaction.
If an organization wants to enhance job satisfaction, it should consider the nature of the work itself, and whether it ensures status, taking responsibility and achieving self-fulfillment. On the other hand, If the management wants to reduce dissatisfaction, then it must improve supervision, ensure adequate pay and good working conditions. Although Herzberg's theory was criticized for separating satisfaction and dissatisfaction, it was a push towards redesigning work to make it more motivating by offering sufficient challenges and bestowing responsibilities in order to utilize sufficiently the abilities of employees. The theory is still widely used as a basis for making surveys on assessing job attitudes and providing insights into effective employee motivation.
Herzberg's theory was also criticized for not taking into account the individual needs and differences. That was the starting point for researchers Richard Hackman, from Harvard University, and Greg Oldham, from the University of Illinois, who in 1976 created the job characteristics model. According to this, job satisfaction depends on the extent to which the individual's needs match the job characteristics. The researchers defined five core job characteristics: the variety of skills a job requires; the task identity as a piece of work; the task significance for other people; the autonomy the individual has in doing the job; and finally the feedback the job provides about the effectiveness of work. In the model the characteristics are related to three psychological states, whose absence weakens motivation and job satisfaction. Skill variety, task identity and task significance help the individual's experience the meaningfulness of work, autonomy gives responsibility, while feedback provides information about the actual results of the work activities. According to the job characteristics theory, experiencing all the three states brings about internal motivation, growth satisfaction, job effectiveness and general satisfaction.
Ensuring job satisfaction is important for employers as it can reduce absenteeism and staff turnover and save costs on recruitment and retraining. The reason for losing interest in one's job can be the work's routine character, conflicts with other employees or the supervisors, or inadequate pay.
Managers are expected to develop a good mix of factors that make employees happy about their jobs. Knowing the needs of their employees they will be able to match tasks with personalities, preferences and skills. Many companies are aware that job enrichment is crucial for creating a good work environment. Job enrichment involves increased responsibilities, higher recognition and good conditions for growth and achievements. Studies have shown that pay is not the top priority for job satisfaction but salaries should be comparable to the compensations for similar positions in the industry. It is essential that pay rewards efforts adequately and pay rises are tied to performance.