Job Satisfaction: From Research to Action

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating a healthy workplace. Success is based on addressing the challenges unique to a particular organization and tailoring programs and policies to meet its needs. Changes implemented with the goal of improving job satisfaction should be desired by employees and flexible.

January 09, 2020

The Job Satisfaction: The Secret Agent of Well-being guide can help businesses re-examine organizational practices and policies that influence job satisfaction and overall well-being.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating a healthy workplace. Success is based on addressing the challenges unique to a particular organization and tailoring programs and policies to meet its needs. Changes implemented with the goal of improving job satisfaction should be desired by employees and flexible.

Fit, Culture & the Environment

The most successful companies are also the best places to work. Employee satisfaction with the environment is directly correlated with improved employee attendance and productivity, as well as increased profits and higher customer ratings. Organizations should identify and act on cultural and environmental levers that will add the most value for their employees and connect employees with meaningful work to improve health, well-being and engagement.

  • Empower employees to use their strengths every day
  • Focus on strengths over weaknesses and offer regular praise
  • Allow employees to decide how they will reach goals and tailor the approach to their preferences and talents
  • Provide information needed for employees to make thoughtful decisions
  • Use a coaching approach and guide employees by asking questions
  • Assess cultural fit when hiring and match individual needs and values to the organization and team culture
  • Look for patterns to reveal the type of work that motivates each employee
  • Engage in regular, honest and open communication
  • Encourage employees to discuss problems and resolve issues quickly and respectfully
  • Build self-awareness and accountability at all levels
  • Offer training that emphasizes civility, collaboration and active listening
  • Deconstruct organizational siloes that lead to exclusive cultures and flawed decision-making
  • Include diversity and inclusion and well-being in performance plans for senior leaders and managers
  • Maximize autonomy, including flexible schedules and telework
  • Provide natural daylight, views of nature and quiet spaces for private use
  • Adopt a smoke-free campus and indoor air quality policy
  • Provide lactation rooms, onsite clinics, fitness centers, showers, lockers and bike racks
  • Ensure easy access to free, clean water

Job Fit is Essential for Decreasing Job Stress

A 2015 study explored the relationship between person-job fit, person-organization fit and job stress. The study considered three dimensions of job stress—social support, control and workload. The results indicated person-job fit has a direct effect on all three dimensions of job stress while person-job unfitness has an impact only on social support. Furthermore, person-organization fit partially mediates the relationship between person-job fit and social support. To combat increased stress and organizational inefficiencies, the authors recommend careful attention to fit during the interview or assessment phase. Organizations that select employees who are compatible for the job and who are adaptable to the organization can avoid the negative effects of high stress.

Our study indicates that organization which attend to person-job fit and thorough adjustment programs of employees will experience increased performance levels and low staff dissatisfaction and turnover.

Nevin Deniz, Aral Noyan & Oznur Gulen Erotsun

Unilever’s Approach to the Work Environment

Physical conditions at work, such as ventilation and temperature, are associated with job satisfaction, controlling for many other variables. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is a strong employer example of commitment to the work environment. The plan aims to help more than a billion people improve their health and well-being, and organizational leaders believe a billion better lives begins with their employees. Their well-being strategy includes creating an agile, healthy work environment through disease prevention, ergonomics, protection from noise and more. They are targeting to be the first office with LEED, Gold WELL and Silver WELL certifications for their North America HQ in New Jersey. Design decisions have ranged from water-free urinals to onsite filtered water to healthy cafeteria and vending options.

open plan office

Physical conditions at work, such as ventilation and temperature, are associated with job satisfaction, controlling for many other variables. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is a strong employer example of commitment to the work environment. The plan aims to help more than a billion people improve their health and well-being, and organizational leaders believe a billion better lives begins with their employees. Their well-being strategy includes creating an agile, healthy work environment through disease prevention, ergonomics, protection from noise and more. They are targeting to be the first office with LEED, Gold WELL and Silver WELL certifications for their North America HQ in New Jersey. Design decisions have ranged from water-free urinals to onsite filtered water to healthy cafeteria and vending options.

We see the long-term benefits as achieving a sustainable workforce with long-lasting good health, happiness and purpose for our colleagues. And for our business, we see lower healthcare costs, which in turn also contribute to reducing the burden on public healthcare.


Leaders Primed for Success

In every interaction, managers and senior leaders are representing the company and its values, making them vital in improving the employee experience. Managers account for variance in employee satisfaction across business units, and when executives support benefits promoting well-being, employees are more motivated and satisfied with their jobs.

  • Strive to be personal, encouraging and empowering when interacting with employees
  • Implement regular opportunities for upward communication, such as an open-door policy, listening sessions, an executive-employee lunch series or short, frequent pulse surveys, and act on the feedback received
  • Emphasize and demonstrate there will be no negative consequences for raising questions, comments or concerns
  • Bring employees and leadership together to brainstorm ideas and develop solutions to problems
  • Run a calm company that removes unnecessary stress, anxiety and fear from employees’ lives
  • Set aside specific times on a regular basis to share what’s going on in the organization and make sure to explain tough decisions
  • Make routine visits to non-headquarters sites
  • Ensure employees understand how they contribute to the organization’s mission and goals
  • Share (and encourage staff to share) success stories that realize the company vision
  • Make the values and mission visible (e.g., post them in high traffic locations, reinforce them in meetings) and model behavior that matches the principles advocated by the organization
  • Take advantage of well-being and work-life programs and encourage employees to as well
  • Respect employees’ personal time
  • As leaders, capitalize on your strengths, be candid about growth and seek learning opportunities
  • Assess skill gaps, incorporate development into performance plans, and fund training needs accordingly
  • Offer frequent, constructive feedback in the moment

4 Traits Shape a Leaders’ Ability to Make Jobs More Meaningful

According to a Harvard Business Review article, there are four leadership characteristics that enable cultures of meaning and purpose:

  • 1 | They are curious and inquisitive: Curious leaders explore, ask questions, and engage people in ideas about the future.
  • 2 | They are challenging and relentless: Leaders who remain ambitious during failure and success and instill a deep sense of purpose, progress and growth in those around them.
  • 3 | They hire for values and culture fit: They hire people who easily connect with colleagues and the organization, driving a natural sense of meaning and belonging.
  • 4 | They are able to trust people: They help people mold their roles through job crafting.

There is a well-known story about a cleaner at NASA who, when asked by JFK what his job was, responded ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon.’ This anecdote is often used to show how even the most mundane job can be seen as meaningful with the right mindset and under a good leadership.

Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamarro-Premuzic

Great Leaders Demonstrate They Care

The Disney Institute believes genuinely caring for employees shows up in how employees care for customers. This requires individual efforts by every leader as well as an organizational commitment. Here are four methods Disney leaders use to operationalize care year-round:

  • Diversify how care is demonstrated and do it regularly.
  • Actively listen, ask questions and take action on what employees share.
  • Eliminate unnecessary annoyances in employees’ work to make their days hassle-free and their jobs a little easier.
  • Encourage peer-to-peer care to create a strong sense of community and enhance the emotional connection with colleagues and the organization.

Ultimately, ‘showing the love’ is one of the best investments we can make as leaders, and it pays dividends now and well into the future.

Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute

When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive.

Shawn Achor, Author of The Happiness Advantage

Benefits, Flexibilities & Work-Life

Benefits, flexibilities and work-life supports have become critical in attracting, empowering and retaining a high-performing workforce. For employers, a flexible workplace can improve attendance, productivity, employee health and well-being, diversity efforts, cost savings, sustainability initiatives and employee satisfaction.

  • Offer a comprehensive and diverse suite of benefits that target each of the drivers of well-being: physical health, mental health, financial security, social connectedness and job satisfaction
  • Educate senior leaders and managers on the business case for well-being, encourage them to model healthy behaviors, and incorporate support for well-being in performance plans
  • Train managers on relevant policies and procedures, results-oriented management and communication techniques
  • Instill a sense of accountability in employees to meet work goals, support colleagues, and demonstrate they can be successful in a flexible work environment
  • Offer a compressed workweek, gliding schedules and telework
  • Plan schedules in advance (two weeks if possible) for hourly employees to grant predictability
  • Make employee-driven shift swaps simple through scheduling apps
  • Remove bias by adopting right-to-request and/or universal policies
  • Design inclusive leave programs
  • Support transitions back-to-work
  • Offer financial assistance, such as student loan aid, subsidies for care, financial counseling and flexible spending accounts
  • Make direct services, such as on-site and back-up care, available and affordable
  • Find ways to involve families in well-being programs and services, like on-site clinics and EAPs
  • Analyze how pay differs, especially among individuals in the same jobs, and take steps to equalize pay rates if the variance is by invalid factors

Flexibility Improves Physical and Mental Health, Productivity and Engagement

Researchers found employees whose managers are supportive, open and creative in addressing work-family needs have lower cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and sleep longer than their less supported counterparts. Another study analyzing 2004-2005 data found that individuals with more flexibility also have healthier lifestyle behaviors. Furthermore, increasing schedule controls and decreasing negative work-home spillover improves well-being outcomes, linking flexible work arrangements to well-being.

Financial Well-being is a Priority for Employees and Employers

According to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and nearly three in four workers say they are in debt today with more than half of those individuals thinking they will always be in debt. PwC found finances are a distraction at work for nearly a third of the workforce, and almost half of those employees spend three or more hours a week handling their personal finances at work. Furthermore, a 2017 Northwestern Mutual survey found millennials are significantly more professionally and financially anxious than other age groups. Nearly a quarter say financial anxiety makes them physically ill weekly or monthly (compared to just 12% of the general population), 18% feel depressed due to financial anxiety on a weekly basis (twice as often as the general population at 8%), and 28% say anxiety impacts their job performance daily, weekly or monthly (more than twice the rate of the general population at 12%). To address these concerns, businesses are moving beyond helping employees prepare for retirement to supporting broader financial wellness. 

Publix is Recognized as One of the Best Places in America to Work

Publix twitter

Publix is continually recognized as one of the best places in America to work. This 1,200 store employee-owned grocery chain with a “family” feel offers associate benefits to enhance the financial, educational and personal well-being of both full-time and part-time employees, including an employee stock ownership plan, annual holiday cash bonuses, free flu shots, weekly pay checks for hourly employees, tuition reimbursement, discount services and more. Publix is committed to career growth, community service, diversity and sustainability. Their dedication to the workforce is evident in their retention rates—Publix’s annual voluntary turnover rate is 7% compared to a retail industry average of 65%, and more than 44,000 Publix associates have been with the company for at least 10 years.

While there are always changes that impact our business, our commitment to our associates remains constant. Our workforce has always comprised people spanning many generations, from Traditionalists to Millennials. Likewise, our associates are serving customers of varying generations. While we have to understand the needs of a diverse workforce and change accordingly, we also have to remain focused on our foundational philosophies in order to perpetuate our great culture.

Todd Jones, CEO of Publix Super Markets

Learning & Development

Advancing employee growth and development can enhance organizational effectiveness, work quality, talent attraction and retention, employee experience and overall well-being. According to a global study conducted by Aon Hewitt, one of the most important drivers of employee engagement is availability of career opportunities.

  • Discuss professional goals and what they mean personally to individuals
  • Make employee development holistic, including professional and personal growth opportunities (e.g., development related to emotional intelligence, intellectual growth, physical health)
  • Involve employees in performance plan development
  • Encourage or require individual development plans that include a self-assessment, career exploration, goal setting and regular progress checks
  • Share employee learning experiences through informal meetings or featured intranet spotlights
  • Broaden the scope of a job by varying the number of different tasks performed (job enlargement) or increasing employee responsibility in planning, organizing and controlling tasks (job enrichment)
  • Develop competency models at each career level to provide a roadmap for development
  • Offer job rotation opportunities, horizontal career paths and in-house coaches and mentors
  • Think outside the traditional classroom-based training and offer development through stretch assignments and opportunities to solve real-world business issues
  • Close experience gaps through virtual or augmented reality
  • Combine virtual and in-person training to allow employees to learn at their own pace and benefit from peer-learning
  • Incorporate micro-learning, video content, mobile opportunities, online social learning elements and gamification into training programs

Support for Career Development is Critical to Workforce Readiness and Employee Well-being

The American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) 2017 Job Skills Training and Career Development survey reveals that employees without supervisor support for career development are more likely to distrust their employer (56%) and look for other employment opportunities (53%). It also found nearly half of American workers are concerned about the changing nature of work (43%). Sixty-one percent feel their employer provides opportunities to develop the technical and soft skills needed in the future, and fewer (52%) report they have adequate time for growth and learning activities. Lack of supervisor support for career development was also linked to important organizational outcomes, including job satisfaction. Thirty-nine percent of Americans working without supervisor support for development are satisfied with their job (vs. 86%), 16% say their company makes them feel valued (vs. 80%), and 22% would recommend their organization as a good place to work (vs. 79%).

Employee growth and development is a key element of a psychologically healthy workplace, but it’s often overlooked in employers’ workplace well-being efforts.”

David Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence

Of course we all want to be the kind of organization that attracts and keeps the best talent. But the real struggle isn’t about attracting talent; it’s about making the best, most beautiful and coherent use of the talent that has already promised itself to you. We have untapped talent sitting right in front of us. And we have to help each person figure out how to unleash the unique qualities, strengths, and contributions he or she has to offer.

Marcus Buckingham, Author and Global Researcher

Recognition & Social Connections

Recognition and social connectedness are associated with high job satisfaction, stronger motivation to do one’s best and employee engagement. Still, 36% of the U.S. workforce reported they haven’t received any form of recognition in the last year, and only 30% of employees said they have a best friend at work. Employers have an important role to play in making employees feel valued and helping them to build strong personal relationships.

  • Recognize employees in the moment
  • Be specific about the result and behavior being recognized and how is relates to overall organizational goals
  • Celebrate team accomplishments, as well as personal accomplishments, such as a fitness goal
  • Share success stories through email blasts, all hands meetings, a recognition wall, web postings or internal blogs
  • Develop a peer recognition program (or better yet have employees develop it)
  • Offer a reward valued by the employee receiving recognition and/or give them a reward choice; consider rewards that promote well-being (e.g., time-off awards, a family trip, spa day, etc.)
  • Develop a toolkit for managers with a variety of recognition tactics
  • Make well-being activities and challenges team-based
  • Create opportunities for employees to collaborate on projects
  • Provide comfortable, collaborative spaces with couches, healthy snacks and beverages
  • Host book clubs during lunch breaks (consider books on personal development and/or well-being) or brown bags built around areas of interest (watching a TED talk together can spark a conversation)
  • Create online communities and workspaces
  • Provide group mentoring and cohort-based development activities
  • Go off-site and share a meal together or engage in an outdoor, physical or volunteer activity
  • Provide company sponsorships for sports team or a walking/running event, such as a 5k for a cause
  • Offer fun classes that employees and their families can attend after work or on the weekends
  • Encourage participation in employee affinity groups

Social Relationships Matter in Job Satisfaction

The results of a 540 person study indicated social factors, in addition to the nature of the work, were important to job satisfaction. Frequent interaction with others, office friendships and emotional support were strong predictors of job satisfaction. In jobs with opportunities for social support, employees indicate the work becomes more interesting to perform. The authors suggest if it is not possible to change job task characteristics, employers can focus efforts on the social context of work. Other studies also show having good relationships with colleagues is associated with higher overall wellbeing, increased engagement, higher quality work, reduced workplace injuries and job satisfaction.

The finding may help supervisors increase employee morale…Employers can’t always redesign a job to make it less boring or to allow more autonomy, but they can encourage changes in the social environment by encouraging employee interaction and teamwork.

Frederick P. Morgeson, PhD, Professor at Eli Broad Graduate School of Management

Companies need to focus less on rewarding performance (which has actually been shown to reduce intrinsic motivation) and start celebrating performance. This can be done in many ways, but the point is to highlight and appreciate employees and teams who have made a spectacular effort, have achieved great results or helped others achieve them. Celebrating success is fun and energizing and shows employees that their efforts are being seen by leaders and by their peers.

Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer

Job Satisfaction and Well-being

High job satisfaction must be a priority in organizational efforts to promote holistic employee well-being. Only 38% of employees are highly satisfied with their jobs.

Employee surveys, followed by focus groups and listening sessions, can illuminate drivers of satisfaction specific to your workforce, but one-on-one conversations are key, as the importance of job satisfaction contributors varies by employee.

Managers are responsible for identifying the passions and needs of their employees. HR and well-being practitioners should create channels to hear those needs and address them through policies, programs and supports. Senior executives are needed to provide the strategic direction, align well-being to business priorities, and model healthy behaviors. And employees must be proactive in shaping their own work experience and positively contributing to the organization's culture.

The goal for all involved is to maximize job satisfaction and engagement. Find a seat at every table you can to make the employee experience its best.

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More in Well-being and Workforce Strategy


  1. Fit, Culture & the Environment
  2. Leaders Primed for Success
  3. Benefits, Flexibilities & Work-Life
  4. Learning & Development
  5. Recognition & Social Connections
  6. Job Satisfaction and Well-being