10 Psychological keys to job satisfaction

By Jeremy Dean

Job satisfaction is important not just because it boosts work performance but also because it increases quality of life.

Everyone’s job is different but here are 10 factors that psychologists regularly report as important in how satisfied people are with their jobs.

1. Little hassles

If you ask doctors what the worst part of their jobs are, what do you think they say? Carrying out difficult, painful procedures? Telling people they’ve only got months to live? No, it’s something that might seem much less stressful: administration.

We tend to downplay day-to-day irritations, thinking we’ve got bigger fish to fry. But actually people’s job satisfaction is surprisingly sensitive to daily hassles. It might not seem like much but when it happens almost every day and it’s beyond our control, it hits job satisfaction hard.

This is one of the easiest wins for boosting employee satisfaction. Managers should find out about those little daily hassles and address them—your employees will love you for it.

2. Perception of fair pay

Whatever your job, for you to be satisfied the pay should be fair. The bigger the difference between what you think you should earn and what you do earn, the less satisfied you’ll be.

If you perceive that other people doing a similar job get paid about the same as you then you’re more likely to be satisfied with your job than if you think they’re getting more than you.

3. Achievement

People feel more satisfied with their job if they’ve achieved something. In some jobs achievements are obvious, but in others they’re not. As smaller cogs in larger machines it may be difficult to tell what we’re contributing. That’s why the next factor can be so important…

4. Feedback

There’s nothing worse than not knowing whether or not you’re doing a good job. When it comes to job satisfaction, no news is bad news. Getting negative feedback can be painful but at least it tells you where improvements can be made. On the other hand, positive feedback can make all the difference to how satisfied people feel.

5. Complexity and variety

People find jobs satisfying if they are more complex and offer variety. People seem to like complex (but not impossible) jobs, perhaps because it pushes them more. Too easy and people get bored.

6. Control

You may have certain tasks you have to do, but how you do them should be up to you. The more control people perceive in how they carry out their job, the more satisfaction they experience.

If people aren’t given some control, they will attempt to take it. Psychologists have found that people who work in jobs where they have little latitude find their work stressful and unsatisfying.

7. Organisational support

Workers want to know their organisation cares about them; that they are getting something back for what they are putting in. This is communicated through things like how bosses treat us and the fringe benefits we get. If people perceive more organisational support, they experience higher job satisfaction.

8. Work–home overflow

Low job satisfaction isn’t only the boss’ or organisation’s fault, sometimes it’s down to home-life. Trouble at home breeds trouble at the office.

9. Honeymoons and hangovers

Job honeymoons and hangovers are often forgotten by psychologists but well-known to employees. People experience honeymoon periods after a month or two in a new job when their satisfaction shoots up. But then it normally begins to tail off after six months or so.

10. Easily pleased?

Some of us are more easily satisfied (or dissatisfied) than others, no matter how good (or bad) the job is. To misquote a famous cliché: You can’t satisfy all the people all the time.

With a little thought, most of the predictors of satisfaction can be provided.

If you’re a manager looking to improve satisfaction at your workplace then start with point number 1: find out about people’s little hassles and address them. It might not look like much but people will really appreciate it.

This article first appeared at PsyBlog