Skip to main content

Job Satisfaction Cannot Predictably Increase Job Performance

The link between job satisfaction and job performance has been a favorite research topic for 100 years or more. It has yet to be identified. This relationship is more complex than science is currently able to penetrate. A business must measure the return on investment for its initiatives. Investing in job satisfiers alone is a poorer bet than investing in direct performance improvements.  Managers looking to increase performance via the system thinker’s lever of job satisfaction will have better luck playing a slot machine. With such a complex dynamic relationship, business would be wiser ignoring job satisfaction as a method of increasing performance.

See Also:

The Professional Happiness AssociationHappy Melly is a collection of people hands-on resources to help you learn how to be happy at workand to empower you to help others achieve job satisfaction.  The Happy Melly blog is where our Funders, Supporters and an occasional guest sound off on this topic. It’s filled with work-life balance tips, small business resources, how to motivate employees and find out what makes people happy, and how social entrepreneurship is allowing people finally to say “I Love My Job!”

(PDF of Paper)

Historical Relationship

Researchers have long been in search of industrial-organizational psychology’s holy grail{Judge 2001 @376}. The connection between job satisfaction and job performance is elusive and waxes and wanes over the years. Perhaps first studied by the scientific method in the famous Hawthorne studies at Western Electric in the 1920s which concluded “happy workers are productive workers” {Jamrog 2004 @54}. The next several decades of research revolved around the industrial line workers feelings and morale as correlated to production of assembly line work, or task work {Jamrog 2004}.  This theory became know “as the ‘Pet Milk Theory.’ Based on a commercial for the Pet Milk Company indicating that their contented cows produced better milk” {Jamrog 2004 @54}.  The analogy of cows in a milking barn with line workers being measured on a piece work rate is very appropriate. This reflects the attitudes of the period of industrialization of production. During the depression years the unrest of workers resulted in the passing of the Wagner Act (1935) {Jamrog 2004 @54}. This law gave much more power to the unions, the workers legal representative in collective bargaining.  Job satisfiers, would be high on the list of union bargaining representatives during contract negotiations.

Satisfaction Dichotomy

Frederick Herzberg proposed his Two-Factor theory in 1959, stating a dichotomy in the assumed continuum of satisfaction.  His theory suggest that factors that lead to extreme job satisfaction (motivators) are distinct and different factors than those that lead to extreme dissatisfaction (hygiene).  Herzberg built his theory upon Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory{Robbins 2009}. Herzberg’s motivators were seen to meet Maslow’s higher-order needs (esteem and self actualization) whereas the hygiene factors were associated with Maslow’s lower-order needs (physiological and safety). This dual continuum of satisfaction, becomes much more pronounced in the transition from the industrial workforce of the early Twentieth Century into the knowledge workforce of the Twenty-first Century.  Motivation factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement and the intrinsic value of work itself are now seen to be as important as the merely satisfying factors of working conditions, salary, peer relationships, status, and policy and administration {Robbins 2009}. 


Vroom, in 1964 reviewed 20 studies and found a very low correlation between satisfaction and performance {Iaffaldano 1985}. Twenty years later with over 200 studies to analyze a similar result was reported. Iaffaldano and Muchinsky {Iaffaldano 1985} described the perceived job satisfaction - job performance relationship as “an illusory correlation, a perceived relation between two variables that we logically or intuitively think should interrelate, but in fact do not“ (p. 270). This however did not appear to dampen the belief in this behavior relationship. In the 1970s and 1980s the up and coming theory was systems thinking. A conceptual holistic approach to organizations that emphasized the interrelated nature of events, systems, and groups of people, and their behaviors.  System thinking suggests that because job satisfaction is a factor in the organizational system along with job performance the two must be related in some dynamic fashion.  Judge, Thoresen, Bono and Patton {Judge 2001} did a larger and more comprehensive meta-analysis in 2001 with the opposite conclusion from Vroom and Iaffaldano and Muchinsky.  Judge et al. {Judge 2001} concluded that there was a correlation (.30) between overall job satisfaction and job performance (p. 376).

Figure 1. Scatter plots of select correlation coefficients.

A plot of various correlation coefficients are show in Figure 1 for relative comparison {Wikipedia 2009}. Iaffaldano and Muchinsky also pointed out various reasons to doubt the previous studies, and encourage future research.  Their integrated model of the relationship is proposed as a unifying framework for future studies (Figure 2) {Judge 2001 @390}.

Judge et al. suggest that measuring at higher aggregate levels are necessary.  They also note that matching granularity is important. An appropriate measure of satisfaction of a group must be matched with a performance measure at that level. Taking this argument to the national level the trend in U.S. Job satisfaction is down, 8 percentage points in 20 years {Blanchflower 1999}. However job performance measures have a rising trend in the U.S. {InternationalLabourOrganization 2003}.  That would imply a negative correlation.


With the best data to date the correlation between job satisfaction and job performance is small at best.  When the correlation is zero it does not mean that there is no relationship, just that the relationship if there is one, is not linear.  That leaves managers to wonder; intuitively there appears to be a relationship, if it is not linear then it must be a much more complex relationship.  When plotted on a graph, most managers would see the 0.30 correlation as a shotgun blast, not a slightly linear relationship. So in reality, if one can induce a positive movement of satisfaction the result in performance may be rather random, and even degrade performance. The elusive link between job satisfaction and job performance may be found with further research, better methods, and broader aggregation of the indicators.  However business looking to spur higher incremental productivity from their workforce by addressing job satisfaction measures alone will receive little return on investment. Investments in increasing satisfiers would better be put to increasing direct production or stimulating performance indicators directly. This is not a call to ignore those aspects of satisfaction completely. Many theories relate to the woes of an unhappy, dissatisfied workforce. Managers not expect to dangle a few lunches, office parties, and bonuses, as a carrot, to bump productivity into overdrive.


Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (1999). Well-Being, insecurity and the decline of American job satisfaction. NBER Working Paper.
Correlation. (2009, September 6). Correlation. [Web page]. Retrieved September 6, 2009, from
Iaffaldano, M. T., & Muchinsky, P. M. (1985). Job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 97(2), 251-273.
Jamrog, J. J., & Overholt, M. H. (2004). Building a strategic HR function: Continuing the evolution. Human Resource Planning, 27(1), 51-63.
Judge, T. A., Thoresen, C. J., Bono, J. E., & Patton, G. K. (2001). The job satisfaction-job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127(3), 376-407.
New ILO Study Highlights Labour Trends Worldwide: US Productivity Up, Europe Improves Ability to Create Jobs. (In press). International Labour Organization.
Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior. Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson Prentice Hall.
Post a Comment

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    To Do
    Work In P…

Webinar: Collaboration at Scale: Defining Done, Ready, and NO.

I was invited to participate in a Scrum Alliance Webinar.  Maybe you would like to listen to us in a discussion of techniques to collaborate at scale (remotely and with many people).  The topic is one that I've got some experience in discussions - yet I never seem to get to done...
Collaboration at Scale: Defining Done and Ready and NO for Distributed Teams
With Joel Bancroft-Connors, Agile Organizational Coach; David A. Koontz, Agile Transition Guide; and Luke Hohmann, CEO and Founder of Conteneo, Inc.

14 February 2018 11 a.m. ET (USA).

The Scrum Guide is pretty clear on the criticality of the definition of Done: "When a Product Backlog item or an Increment is described as "Done," everyone must understand what "Done" means. However, the Scrum Guide ALSO says that the definition of Done can "vary significantly per Scrum Team." This leads us to examine when and how the definition of Done should vary, how distributed teams should cr…

A T-Shaped 21st Century Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers in the 21st Century must have many areas of deep knowledge, while also be capable of collaboration across multiple other domains with dissimilar T-shaped individuals.  This description of a person is a metaphor.  Compare it to the shape of the "I" in the classic saying there is no "I" in Team.

I first read about Scott Ambler's term "Generalizing Specialist" - but it's so hard to remember the proper order of the words... get it backwards and it has an inverted meaning... T-Shaped is easier to remember. 
A generalizing specialist is someone who:
Has one or more technical specialties (e.g. Java programming, Project Management, Database Administration, ...). Has at least a general knowledge of software development. Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.  General…

A FAILURE to Communicate

I was working with a failing team some time ago.  I use "failing" to describe the outcome of the team - not the people on the team.  Are you OK with that description?

An issue arrose in the stand up - a team member that was to verify the quality of a procedure did so and reported that there were a few records that didn't match expectation in the data set.  Upon inquire the number of records not matching was over 2000.  Most people acknowledged immediately the exaggeration - I could tell by the laughter.  After about 10 minutes of discussing the details of the problem - it appeared the team had a handle on the specific situation.

I stopped the discussion and inquired if they could name the impediment.  One team member did a great job of describing the impediment as a _communication gap_.  Wonderful - I could work with that - the problem had a name and it didn't include anyones Proper Name.

"If the problem has a first name; we are going to have a problem."