The secrets to job satisfaction? Time, change, and appreciation

Research into job satisfaction reveals that happiness lies in two simple factors: time and change. Here's what you can do to keep your team engaged.

Results from most job satisfaction surveys all point to a steady pattern: as many as a third of us are dissatisfied, and even considering a change of job. Research into job satisfaction from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) reveals that happiness lies in two simple factors: time and change.

Job satisfaction is known to boosts work performance and improve quality of life. According to Dr Shoshana Dobrow Riza, assistant professor of management at LSE, job satisfaction actually increases as people get older but – paradoxically – declines the longer they stay in a job. In a paper slated for the next issue of the Journal of Management, Dr Riza highlights the cyclical nature of job satisfaction. “It’s important that people understand that these up-and-down job satisfaction cycles in their careers are normal and sometimes the answer is to find a new job, but not always,” she said.

The paper shows that people’s satisfaction in a job gradually declines over the years, until they move to a new organisation, when they experience a boost. Then, the cycle of decline begins again. Dr Riza suggests employees and managers can both work towards breaking this cyclical pattern by finding new ways to design work so that daily responsibilities are motivating and meaningful. This could include job rotations, secondments, or event a sabbatical. 

Researchers working on this report found as employees get older, they become more satisfied with their working lives. One reason for this is that a lot of older employees have earned their way to senior roles and higher pay–both indicators of success in the workplace.

The research also revealed that employees of any strata experience higher job satisfaction in the same job if their pay increases, as a direct marker of market worth and performance.

Another reason for greater job satisfaction among older workers may be because they have more realistic expectations of their job role.

Mentoring programmes

Dr Riza suggests mentoring programmes as a way to re-energise older employees and motivate younger workers feeling the dissatisfaction cycle kick in. “Older workers, with their higher levels of job satisfaction, could be a valuable resource to mentor younger members of staff,” she added.

Because of these findings, the researchers behind the report emphasised that moving organisation doesn’t guarantee greater job satisfaction, and that this should not be the only factor motivating a career move. Data from two cohorts of the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, involving 21,670 participants spanning 40 years, was analysed for this study.

Is it time to say ‘thanks’?

Many factors beyond age, tenure and pay, also play a role in how satisfied people are with their work, including how the work is designed and workplace culture. According to a survey of 750 employees across businesses in the UK, job satisfaction largely hinges on workplace appreciation. However, over two-thirds of those surveyed felt under appreciated in the workplace. The study commissioned by Podium Designs also revealed that only 16 per cent of the respondents had heard a thank you from their boss in the last six months.

“Employee engagement seems to be at an all time low, and if employers want to keep hold of staff, they’re going to have to do more to show their appreciation,” Richard Mckie, director of Podium Designs said. “The idea of a ‘job for life’ seems one that has been forgotten as we jump from one opportunity to the next. Employers and managers need to nurture their team to fully integrate new talent and get the best from their staff.”

Employee appreciation: the ROI

Dissatisfied employees are largely unproductive and constantly on the lookout for an exit. The single greatest non-productive cost to businesses in the UK is high staff turnover, which can hinder business growth and cashflow.

Show that your management team sees every individual employee as more than just numbers on a page based on their output. The return on investing in employee satisfaction ultimately adds up to cost savings for businesses, while strengthening team loyalty and overall productivity.

Plus, it’s just a nice thing to do for the people responsible for flying your business flag high.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics