12 December 2019

Job Environment Defines Job Satisfaction


The job satisfaction of employees is becoming the center of interest of many international companies with ever-increasing frequency.

One of the biggest German enterprises “Daimler” recently asked their employees, how they would like to work in the future and the general answer was that they would like to work autonomously regarding time and space.

Daimler wants to put to test their complete working conditions from meeting culture, structure of command to work time models and bonus system.  But “Daimler” is not the only company who is reacting to a general movement in modern countries, where employees are looking for employers who are offering more flexible work conditions. Also, companies like “Bosch” or “Siemens” are investigating in the same direction.

To fulfill or at least to come closer to the expectations of young talented people, companies must react to stay attractive and especially the old economy still has its problems with re-thinking work conditions to keep job satisfaction at a high level. But to re-think, puts old economy companies with a long tradition in a dilemma; re-defining job environment and organizational culture means re-defining the company itself and breaking, at least partially, with the past. How to break with a culture which is always seen as one major reason of all successes?

But, it has to be done and the main reason behind it is obvious; job satisfaction is definitely an essential key for higher performance. Especially nowadays, where traditional managing practices are coming to their limits and employees have the same level of information as their managers, job satisfaction must be seen in a total different context than it was seen in the past.

Best practice visits to or studies of companies like “Google” or “Apple” are a reasonable way to understand how different systems work.

The information and learnings gathered during these studies depend entirely on what is observable at first sight and which information is public; for instance, time models, bonus systems, meeting culture, design work systems or work stations, etc.

Also, after such investigations and studies, both company and employees are willing to do things differently and therefore also expectations for the future may rise. However, when the expected results are not accomplished or are delayed, management and employees actually get discouraged due to the same reason.

Both parties expected that the other one will behave differently after all and this is primarily since the acquired behavior pattern responds only to the exterior stimuli rather than to a profound organizational cultural change.

At this point, it is important to contextualize the meaning of “organizational culture”.

Just as a person’s behavior is rooted in his mind, the culture of an organization represents its general mind-set, thus, its way of approaching different situations, for example: customer claims, recommendations, warranty cases or even success. In addition to this, an organizational culture is generally reflected in the common stories which are told inside an organization.

In general, an organizational culture is shaped and strongly influenced by its leaders.

Leadership style affects job environment, which in return, permeates the motivation system and therefore also job satisfaction. Following the above considerations, the success of a sustainable implementation of a different culture very much depends on the work environment employees are or have been exposed to and on the lessons learned along the whole experience.

We also have to accept, that a firm conviction is less likely to change if the framework of job environment stays the same. Neither open statements nor training will overrule the experience of several years.

Therefore, it is not very likely to implement a sustainable desired culture in any work environment without the understanding of the past shaped by different industrial psychology currents. As George Santayana states:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

George Santayana (1)

Unlike new economy enterprises which started with a totally new and never before seen work environment with open space meeting areas, flexible or even completely open work conditions, “old economy” companies have a history and commemoration.

Anyone who wishes to implement a cultural change must understand the past to learn from it. Therefore, a profound investigation should be conducted in regard to how employees think respecting the past, present and future, how management was and is taking decisions and which values have been honored. The outcome of such an investigation into the company’s cultural heritage is quintessential for finding the right approach to create a motivating momentum and environment for a change movement to be developed.

Even if today, the menace of Santayana is more understood in a historical morale way, in our context it should also be understood as it was originally meant. George Santayana criticized the unconditional and uncritical belief in the present technological progress with its declared perfectionism and idealism as an answer to all social questions.

Furthermore, Santayana proclaims that even in such societies sustainable progress necessarily implies an analysis (knowledge) of the past and without it, any attempt to progress is doomed. This practice is deeply rooted in the oriental mentality and manifests in its couching and meditation routines in which the simple question “What have we learned out of that approach” plays a central role.

Job Environment in History

To understand and influence actual job satisfaction, it is important to review how previous leadership culture has shaped the work environment.

Also, it is well known, that the work environment employees are exposed to, defines how they will react to new culture elements.

Job environment and satisfaction, which also can be understood as corporate culture, is very much related to the common mindset of employees which in its turn directly influences their perspective or point of view, called paradigms.

Paradigms guide the way one thinks and acts and as stated before, one cannot expect a firm conviction to change overnight, especially if frame conditions are kept the same. 

Figure 1:   F.W. Taylor; Assembly line of the Ford T Model

But how is job satisfaction perceived and how can it be influenced on a broader scale?

In general, there exists the belief that job satisfaction is inter-individual and can be influenced by objective circumstances.

But objective reasoning often is not applicable when including culture and job environment into our scope.

Since the 20th Century, work psychology is dominated by Newton’s three laws of motion and Aristotlelean logic (see 2).

Many companies are still very much influenced by these traditional organizational psychological models and guide their current management and human resource activities accordingly.

Therefore, when it comes to motivate (= move) people, external force is all what is required.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (Figure 1), who named his discovered awareness “Scientific Management”, separated and specified work content in detail in a way that the increase of work efficiency could be guaranteed. This approach is also known as “work task idea”. The work of every workman is completely planned out by the management and at least one day in advance.

F.W. Taylor claimed that the single task must be specified not only by what is done, also by how and how much time exactly is allowed to perform that task.

Taylor describes his findings based on the experiences he had with so-called pig iron workers, who had to load the iron from the ground to a car. While applying “Scientific Management” the productivity increased 370% while the salary was increased by 60%.

Also, it is interesting to read in the notes of Mr. Taylor, that a careful scientific selection of the proper people was done before they were trained and developed. F.W. Taylor´s holistic approach took in consideration features such as general behavior, physical strength and even personal background of every potential worker while supporting the premise that a higher income would be motivation enough to carry out a much higher effort which would translate into significant increase of the productivity.

Besides, he also divided the work and responsibility between the management and the workmen very strictly.

In general, Taylor claims higher payments in exchange for higher output preserves job satisfaction. However, this should, under no circumstances, compromise workers’ health or well-being.

The salary system based on the “Scientific Management” model is better known under the name “piecework wages”. Also, Taylor recognized at his time, that this model works mainly for unskilled workers with limited access to higher paid jobs. Piecework wages are still very common in certain industries with a high rate of repetitive work content and in emerging nation’s under-developed countries. Well known examples are the harness or the textile industry in Vietnam or Bangladesh where work tasks are specified even in milliseconds and the companies neglect the health aspect, including psychological stress, headache and muscular pain.

In higher developed countries this kind of salary has its limits, even if unions are still demanding it, due to better educated and self-aware workforce. So, for countries and industries still using this salary system, it is high time to rethink.

Nevertheless, F.W. Taylor’s work is also seen as the root of modern time management and measurement methods such as REFA (3).

Between 1924 and 1932, Fritz J. Roethlisberger, William J. Dickson and Elton Mayo conducted socio-psychological experiments regrading workers’ behavior in organizations under different work environments, nowadays better known as the “Hawthorne studies”, named after the plant of the Western Electric Company (Figure 2).

Figure 2:   Hawthorne plant, Western Electric Co. 1927

At this time, the management was mainly dominated by “scientific management” and further studies were performed to investigate how productivity could be even more increased.

Therefore, the Hawthorne experiments aimed to establish how changes to the working environment or to general working conditions influenced the output.

In one case it was assumed that there exists a perfect light condition where the workers would reach a higher output level. At the beginning of the study, it seemed that it would work and output increased but almost immediately dropped when the experimental conditions stopped.

The Hawthorne experiments considered a huge variation of possible socio-psychological aspects of organizational behavior such as: cleaning and relocating workstations, providing food, applying different breaks, shortening the working hours, incentive payments and the implementation of a non-directive, supportive management style.

Surprisingly, almost any change resulted in short term productivity increases even if the variable was just a change back to the original condition. The experiment where incentive payments and cooperative management leadership were involved even showed an increase of productivity of more than 30%.

This initiated a wave of discussions and further studies. Despite various different findings all agree in one general insight, that the most important aspect was the “observer effect”.

Instead, the way in which experiments were conducted may have led to misleading interpretations of what happened

Business Studies, 2009 (5)

So, it can be assume that it was more the fact that operators were observed, than the elimination of dissents that raised productivity.

Nevertheless, the Hawthorne studies initiated the “Human Relations Movement” in parallel to the already established “Scientific Management” activities and soon both were considered as a counter statement.

Researchers of the “Human Relations Movement” focused on socio-psychological behavior studies of groups and individuals, especially on social relations and communication and their effects on productivity.

Generally speaking, the movement, led by Elton Mayo, tried to eliminate the discrepancies between individual and organizational interests. This task was also known as “finding the right person for the right job” and became, until now, one of the core issues in a job interview.

Besides the efforts to harmonize individual and organizational interests the movement primarily stressed that in general workers are more responsive to the social force of the group they belong to, than to the control and incentives of the company. Therefore, a reciprocal communication as well as a transparent and coherent decision-making process is key to establish a social relation between workers and management, which assures a harmonic job environment.

Because “Scientific management” uses facts and tries to address productivity by science and qualitative data, “Human Relations Movement” is often seen as the organizational model that focuses on the soft skills (6). It is worth to highlight that Taylor´s model focused on managing behavior and Mayo´s centered on consensus are both holistic models that aim at the same goal: productivity increase.

Job Satisfaction in History

The dilemma with Mayo´s theory is, that till now, no direct relation between job satisfaction based on the elimination of discrepancies between worker and employer, motivation and output could be doubtlessly proved and that also the educational influence in the investigations and studies was not satisfyingly reflected (7).

That raises two questions:

  • Is job satisfaction really measurable or is it a “contradictio in adjecto”?
  • If it would be measurable, is it an indicator or facilitator for higher output and better results in general?

Attempts to explain the phenomenon of motivation can be traced back to Ancient Greece where “pleasure” was considered the driving force. In the early 19th century the upcoming scientific psychology, dominated by Sigmund Freud, explained behavior and motivation as a consequence of life instincts e.g. the libido (8).

But it was only after the publications of Frederick Herzberg (1952) and Abraham Maslow (1954), that the utilization of humanistic psychological models became more common in economic sciences.

Figure 3:   Job satisfaction model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In his early and most known work, Maslow defines five principle needs and manifests that the next higher level of need can only be reached, if the lower one is satisfied at least to a certain amount[9]. Figure 3 shows Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs model as a five level pyramid (left pyramid) and how it can be translated into a job satisfaction model (right pyramid). To pay heed to new and upcoming societies, A. Maslow in a later publication added three more levels, “cognitive” and “aesthetic needs” before and “transcendence” as an elevated spiritual level after “self-actualization”.

Due to its simplicity, his theory of hierarchy of needs received a lot of attention via acceptance and critiques simultaneously. On the one hand, the theory gained reputation due to the interest of the psychology community in it. On the other hand, the subtle boundaries between one level and the next one made the theory very vulnerable to criticism.

Even if Maslow very clearly stated that one level not necessarily must be fully satisfied before the next level of needs can act as a motivator, the levels were perceived by the majority as overly discrete.

Nevertheless, the general statement in reference to Maslow is, that higher leveled motivational force will not work, as long as lower leveled force of needs are not satisfied to a certain degree, in general stated by at least 70%.

For example, an individual whose social needs (such as physical safety, law & order) are not satisfied may not find a job appealing that requires teamwork or even responsibility and certain skills.

In the hierarchy-of-needs pyramid, lower level needs are easier to separate and distinguish from one another than higher level needs. The complexity of interdependence and commutability of needs increases on the way up.

The theory is surely not reflecting the complexity of our society, but A. Maslow’s intention was to focus on people´s behavior rather than on people management. Therefore, the hierarchy-of-needs model should be used to get a general opinion about the dynamic of needs and how these needs might interfere with job satisfaction, motivation and aspiration.

If there exists a certain understanding about the level and degree of needs that are fulfilled in the organization, the question is which of the factors (e.g. safe work, good social benefit, teamwork etc.) of the needs work as a motivator and which should not be raised.

Frederick Herzberg provided one of the most influential theories on job motivation, which distinguished between content and context factors.

The first stimulates job satisfaction and does not affect dissatisfaction and the latter vice versa.

Furthermore, context factors (also named hygiene factors) often require to avoid dissatisfaction, which not necessarily provides job satisfaction or even motivation; at least, not over a long period. These factors are highly interrelated to the work conditions, for example quality and intensity of supervision, amount of salary and company policy.

In return, content factors can even provide motivation and, when absent, rarely cause dissatisfaction. Thus, they are closely related to the work content and development of personality e.g. perception of recognition, level of responsibility and advancement.

Figure 4:   Maslow‘s Hierarchy of Needs & Herzberg’s Two Factor Model

It can be said, that context factors are the foundation for job satisfaction even have the potential to turn into motivators. Figure 4 shows how the Herzberg’s two factor theory can be compared with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The theory of Herzberg itself received a lot of attention because of its capability to explain the psychological aspect of motivation in a very practical way to engineers and managers.

Herzberg’s model reveals its weakness based on the facts that it was formed by using the critical incident-method and only could be repeated if the same method was utilized.

Nevertheless, with Maslow it adds some deeper insights about the complicated interdependence of behavior of individuals and groups and job satisfaction aspects of an organization.


In case employees will be asked based on a critical incident approach what they like and dislike regarding the company and/or the work conditions, it must be known that these kinds of inquiries are very sensitive to the overall economic and political situation of the company itself. Especially big companies often underestimate the power of inconsistency of global statements and local actions. Also, it is human behavior to see the reason in uncomfortable situations in circumstances out of their reach or influence or even other persons and positive circumstances as one’s own.

Due to the different aspects and approaches of Taylor’s “quid pro quo” understanding of how to manage people, Mayo’s intention to form consensus on work conditions and Maslow’s and Herzberg’s models to explain the perception of different elements and factors of work environment, we are able to understand and evaluate existing situations or cultures much better. But different epochs and different experiences over time are adding additional aspects that have to be considered if we want to understand job satisfaction in the context of our current society nowadays.

For example, employees of today are living a much more complex life than before due to digitalization, access to information, the form and sequence of communication, buying goods four to six times the value of their net-income (e.g. houses), investing in their kids with much more capital than ever before without calculating the return on invest bringing up the question, if one-dimensional models of satisfaction really explain the mechanism of motivation nowadays?

Therefore, it should be pointed out, that there is quite a difference aiming for job satisfaction or motivation. Before someone is able to motivate an organization, we have to satisfy the needs and this might be much more challenging in our fully interlinked and multicultural, multidimensional society than it was a hundred years ago.

Therefore, it is necessary to extend the investigation to proved state-of-the-art psychological models and brain studies to define actions which will have a high sustainable impact on the behavior and motivation of leaders and employees and not only address their needs but also their expectations.

References and Further Reading

 [1] G. Santayana, “The Life of Reason (Great Books in Philosophy), “ Prometheus Books,  New York, 1998

[2] F. W. Taylor, “The Principles of Scientific Management and Testimony Before the Special House Committee”, Harper & Row, 1911

[3] REFA Website, www.refa.com

[4] Fritz Jules Roethlisberger, William J. Dickson, Harold A. Wright (Designer): “Management and the Worker. An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company.” Hawthorne Works, Chicago (1939). 14. Auflage: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1966, ISBN 0-6745-4676-8

[5] Business Studies, 2009

[6] A.J. DuBrin: “Human Relations Interpersonal Job-Oriented Skills (9 ed.).” New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall., 2007

[7] M.S. Viteles: “Motivation and moral in industries,” Norton, New York, 1953

[8] R. M. Steers: The Future of Work Motivation Theory. In: Academy of Management Review. Vol. 19 (2004), No. 3.

[9] A. H. Maslow: “Motivation and personality,” Harper & Row, New York, 1954

[10] F. Herzberg et al.: The motivation to work, J. Wiley & Sons, New York, 1959

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