Employee satisfaction — properly understanding employees

Employee satisfaction is a hot topic at the moment — both among management and among employees. However, discussing how to increase employees’ satisfaction hasn’t begun recently.

As of the early 1930s, companies began conducting employee satisfaction surveys to identify and correct existing problems before unions could intervene. And yet, in recent years, the importance of this subject has grown significantly.

In the following article, we answer the most critical questions about employee satisfaction. Here, you’ll learn which influencing factors play a role in employee satisfaction, how you can increase employee satisfaction and why your employee survey is more than just measuring satisfaction.

Why is employee satisfaction so important right now?

The constant power tug-a-war between employees and employers is the reason behind this. The book “War for Talents” (Busold, 2019) exposes how recruiting and retaining talent is more and more competitive. Companies fight for high-value employees, all while dealing with a shortage of skilled workers. As a result, there are too few graduates in growing sectors such as IT and technology. And on top of that, the increasingly globalized job market offers a greater choice of jobs (Busold, 2019).

The younger workforce and the newer generations of qualified professionals seek more flexibility in their jobs and a good work-life balance (ibid.). If adapting to these demands doesn’t happen fast enough, employees will pursue careers that promise greater employee satisfaction. Therefore, companies must actively increase their recruiting efforts and actively and continuously thrive on raising and maintaining high levels of employee satisfaction. This is the only way to retain talented employees in the long term.

What is employee satisfaction?

High employee satisfaction often goes hand in hand with an excellent working climate. However, we may describe the working climate as “an expression of the general atmosphere in a company — the way people deal with each other — but also the tone of interaction among themselves” (Duden Wirtschaft von A bis Z, 2016).

In sum, a good working environment is both a cause of employee satisfaction and its result. In other words, if most employees are satisfied with their jobs, an improved working environment automatically develops and leads to greater employee satisfaction.

So, how can we concretely define employee satisfaction? One of the first definitions comes from Hoppock (1935). According to the labour scientist, employee satisfaction is “a combination of psychological, physiological, and situational conditions that cause the person to make an honest statement: I am satisfied with my work.”

However, employee satisfaction shouldn’t be confused with passing moments of joy or short-term spirits, but with a generally positive attitude. As sociologist Dr. Christine Carter points out, employee satisfaction is about “our ability to draw on a wide range of positive emotions. These include, for example, hope, optimism, and confidence” (Mladina, 2017).

At Pulse, we describe employee satisfaction as simply as the basic attitude of employees towards their job (Personalwerk), which should be understood as a combination of different attitudes towards various work areas (Beidernikl, 2015).

Models of employee satisfaction and their influencing factors

With the help of employee surveys, you define practical measures, and their successful implementation may lead to significantly more satisfied employees.

To create satisfaction in the company with targeted employee surveys and to be able to increase this employee satisfaction sustainably, it is therefore advisable to deal with basic concepts of the subject. Consequently, we’ve summarised some models and theories from the field of work psychology for you.

Maslow's pyramid in the working environment

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one of the best-known models for employee satisfaction (Personalwerk). It describes human needs on five levels, which can be applied to the concept of employee satisfaction (Franz, 2011):

  • 1. Basic needs: Apart from wages and minimum paid time-off, the company doesn’t offer anything.
  • 2. Safety needs: My job is secure, and I get an acceptable wage.
  • 3. Sense of belonging:I identify with the company’s values and get along with the team, even if the work itself could be better.
  • 4. Self-esteem: My job is meaningful, and I have a certain degree of autonomy. My success is rewarded with compliments.
  • 5. Self-actualization: My job offers plenty of variety, as well as opportunities for continuing education and (personal) development.

The hierarchy of needs follows the principle of gradual increase. The needs higher up on the pyramid are only targeted or activated after the lower needs have been met. According to Maslow, if your employees lack security, you won’t increase their satisfaction even if they benefit from a high degree of autonomy.

Although the model provides insight into the factors influencing employee satisfaction, it does have weaknesses you may recognise. For example, young professionals and the future working generations see more weight in benefits such as flexibility, autonomy, and variety than in the need for security or higher pay (Fassnacht, 2016).

Herzberg’s two-factor theory

The American industrial psychologist Herzberg has a different approach when it comes to employee satisfaction. He bases his two-factor theory on two different paradigms: employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Accordingly, the two-factor theory distinguishes the following two types of influencing factors from other areas of working life (Menig, 2013):

Hygiene factors/contextual factors:

  • Working conditions
  • Employee management
  • Personal relationships
  • Safety
  • Company policy
  • Compensation

Employees regularly take these factors for granted. Hence, they don’t lead to higher employee satisfaction. However, their absence leads to employee dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, influencing factors of the second group actively contribute to increasing employee satisfaction:

Motivational factors/content factors:

  • Recognition
  • Work tasks
  • Promotion opportunities
  • Performance success
  • Self-determination
  • Acceptance of responsibility

Important: Make sure that the hygiene factors are fulfilled in your company. If this is the case, you can define measures to additionally increase employee satisfaction via the motivational factors.

Increase employee satisfaction – with these five tips!

The models described above are essential theoretical pillars that aid in understanding employee satisfaction, including its influencing factors and dependencies.

That’s all well and good — but how can this knowledge be translated into concrete actions that increase employee satisfaction in your company?

We’ve summarized the most successful measures and created five practical tips for you – focusing on motivating factors that actively increase employee satisfaction.

1. Praise costs nothing!
Of course, recognition is best expressed with appropriate pay, thus satisfying the need for security. However, honest praise is easy to implement and, according to studies conducted by the Gallup Institute, it’s a crucial and underestimated factor in employee satisfaction (Gloger, 2005; Nink, 2018).

2. Provide positive interaction
This tip primarily relates to employees’ social needs. We’ve learned: a sense of community, mutual respect, and appreciation do wonders for employee satisfaction. A good working atmosphere should be encouraged at every level of the business. In our experience, it’s essential for employees to be taken seriously and for a climate of mutual trust to be established through transparent communication and exemplary fairness.

3. Meaningful work makes more sense
Enable the success experience and a sense of accomplishment! Informing team members about the entire process and outcome of a project, no matter how short their involvement was, is an example that may come in handy. After all, in addition to external motivation such as praise and recognition, the newer generations of professionals need to have meaningful jobs.

For employees to feel that they are working together towards a shared corporate vision is just as important. Therefore, we recommend clearly communicate the company's values, visions, and goals with which the employees can identify (Mitarbeiterzufridenheit, Raven51).

Incidentally, meaningful activities create an entirely different sense of work-life balance. This has become increasingly important for employees, and rightfully so. If employees simply look forward to the end of a meaningful workday, it brings little quality to their lives, and they need an equal amount of time to recharge their batteries.

4. Enable the “Challenge accepted”
Employees regularly crave more responsibilities, creative freedom, and the chance to develop themselves. This may be through training and career opportunities and demanding challenges, yet not overwhelming ones (Mladina, 2017).

By acting this way, we find a win-win situation. By giving qualified employees more freedom and responsibilities, not only does their satisfaction increase — management disposes of more time for other tasks.

5. Find suitable employees for your corporate culture
Every beginning is difficult — this is especially true when you need to hire new talents while battling other firms for competent specialists. Nevertheless, you should always ask yourself if the applicants are professionally suitable and question if they fit in with the company’s values and existing teams. When employees identify with the corporate culture, they’ll settle in quickly and motivate the entire team with new energy. In contrast, inadequate additions to the company can drastically reduce the morale of existing employees (Mladina, 2017).

Consequences of satisfied employees for companies

This will come as little surprise to you as it’s already been mentioned: increasing employee satisfaction should be incorporated as an objective when thinking of business perspectives.

In the best case, companies benefit in many ways from these measures: satisfied employees regularly over-perform, productivity increases, absenteeism decreases, and fewer employees leave the company (vom Holtz, 1997). In turn, this has a positive effect on the working community and the corporate culture. In addition, the correlations between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction have also been researched several times (Schwetje, 1999; vom Holtz, 1997).

Measuring employee satisfaction — but how and what?

The factors and measures presented above are not a blanket solution, nor do they guarantee more employee satisfaction, because individual employees' different needs and attitudes also play a significant role in the implementation and effectiveness of the measures. Every company is different, and the various teams require different types of motivation.

It must be clear by now where we’re going: how can the company’s energy and dynamic be measured? Right. With the help of employee surveys.

However, it’s important to remember that not all employees are the same! When you begin, there’s an important decision to take — should questions about employee satisfaction be asked in personal one-on-one interviews, more extensive surveys, or through digital survey tools. At Pulse, we’ve taken a clear stance: the most benefits stem from online employee surveys!

We also recommend making another critical decision: should the surveys relate to employee satisfaction, or does it make sense to directly target employee engagement?

Employee satisfaction vs. engagement

Although employee satisfaction and employee engagement are regularly used interchangeably, in practice, these two terms refer to different concepts. Therefore, if you decide to conduct employee surveys, knowing the difference is essential.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, job satisfaction generally measures the positive or negative feelings (Mladina, 2017) towards the entire work situation, taking into account resources as well as performance, and thus can be seen as a “combination of psychological, physiological, and situational conditions” (Hoppock, 1935).

In contrast, employee engagement mainly focuses on the concrete potential for action. Engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling, and work-related attitude. Characteristics of engagement include a high level of energy, mental resilience during work, and above all, the will to remain persistent in the face of significant difficulties. High engagement is also related to an experienced sense of purpose, inspiration, pride, and challenges at work (Bakker, Schaufeli, Leiter & Taris, 2008).

In short, engagement is to be understood as far more active than mere employee satisfaction. When employees are engaged, they are active whereas satisfaction is a state of mind. (Beidernikl, 2015). The difference is important to understand which possible implementations come to light through employee satisfaction surveys.

Now, the question is, where do you want to focus? Do you want to change the attitude of your employees towards the company, or do you want to encourage more engagement? It’s possible for employees to feel satisfied without being motivated or engaged. Likewise, employees may be engaged but not satisfied. We observe this scenario when employees constantly evolve under high pressure and in poor working conditions where there’s constantly a need to deliver.

With our employee survey Pulse Feedback you can measure employee engagement as a separate factor and thus increase it in an actionable and efficient way.

However, we recommend measuring both factors to avoid simply achieving more productivity in the short term and retaining talent in the long term.

Conclusion

The battle to find qualified specialists is in full force. It’s not only about recruiting employees but also about retaining them. To do so, companies must constantly promote and support employee satisfaction.

Well-known models of work psychology by Maslow or Herzberg aid in understanding which influencing factors are related to employee satisfaction. With our five employee satisfaction tips, you’ll receive a well–rounded and practical starting point to implement such elements.

At the same time, we mustn’t forget that every company is different. To obtain actionable insight that aids in achieving corporate goals, we recommend using employee surveys to measure passive satisfaction, and most importantly, motivation and active employee engagement.

At Pulse, we’ve developed a tool that does just that. And, it delivers targeted implementation possibilities to increase engagement and employee satisfaction! Learn more about our survey tool here.

Sources

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Beidernikl, G. (2015). Gesucht: zufrieden und engagiert. Der Unterschied zwischen Arbeitszufriedenheit und Mitarbeitermotivation. Retrieved from: https://www.hrweb.at/2015/03/Mitarbeiterzufriedenheit-arbeitszufriedenheit-mitarbeitermotivation/

Busold, M. (2019). War for Talents – Erfolgsfaktoren im Kampf um die Besten.

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