Job satisfaction has traditionally been thought of by most business managers to be key in determining job performance. The prevailing thought is if you are satisfied and happy in your work, you will perform better than someone who isn’t happy at work.
Not so, according to a research project by Nathan Bowling, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Wright State. His findings, which will be published soon in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, show that although satisfaction and performance are related to each other, satisfaction does not cause performance.
“My study shows that a cause and effect relationship does not exist between job satisfaction and performance. Instead, the two are related because both satisfaction and performance are the result of employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness,” he explained.
Bowling, who specializes in industrial and organizational psychology, said his findings are based on reviewing data from several thousand employees compiled over several decades. His subjects, mostly in the United States, involved several hundred different organizations.
Bowling said the public, and even researchers, can get confused over the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance. “Just because two things are related doesn’t mean that one causes the other. For example, there is a relationship between the amount of ice cream sold on a given day and the crime rate for that day. On days when ice cream sales are high, the number of crimes committed will also tend to be high. But this doesn’t mean that ice cream sales cause crime. Rather, ice cream sales and crime are related because each is the result of the outdoor temperature. Similarly, satisfaction and performance are related because each is the result of employee personality.”
Bowling said he was surprised that researchers have devoted little effort to the illusion of job satisfaction and performance, and he hopes his work will lead to further research in this field.
“This work has important practical implications. Simply put, workplace interventions designed to improve performance by exclusively targeting employee satisfaction are unlikely to be effective,” he said. His next project is to look at how factors in the work environment influence job satisfaction and performance.
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