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EMPLOYEE ATTITUDES AND JOB

SATISFACTION

Lise M. Saari and Timothy A. Judge

This article identifies three major gaps between HR practice and the scientific research in the
area of employee attitudes in general and the most focal employee attitude in particular—job
satisfaction: (1) the causes of employee attitudes, (2) the results of positive or negative job satis-
faction, and (3) how to measure and influence employee attitudes. Suggestions for practition-
ers are provided on how to close the gaps in knowledge and for evaluating implemented prac-
tices. Future research will likely focus on greater understanding of personal characteristics, such
as emotion, in defining job satisfaction and how employee attitudes influence organizational
performance. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

“Happy employees are productive employ- this area are: (1) the causes of employee at-
ees.” “Happy employees are not productive titudes, (2) the results of positive or negative
employees.” We hear these conflicting state- job satisfaction, and (3) how to measure and
ments made by HR professionals and man- influence employee attitudes. Within each
agers in organizations. There is confusion gap area, we provide a review of the scien-
and debate among practitioners on the topic tific research and recommendations for
of employee attitudes and job satisfaction— practitioners related to the research find-
even at a time when employees are increas- ings. In the final section, additional recom-
ingly important for organizational success mendations for enhancing organizational
and competitiveness. Therefore, the purpose practice in the area of employee attitudes
of this article is to provide greater under- and job satisfaction are described, along
standing of the research on this topic and with suggestions for evaluating the imple-
give recommendations related to the major mented practices.
practitioner knowledge gaps. Before beginning, we should describe
As indicated indirectly in a study of HR what we mean by employee attitudes and job
professionals (Rynes, Colbert, & Brown, satisfaction. Employees have attitudes or
2002), as well as based on our experience, viewpoints about many aspects of their jobs,
the major practitioner knowledge gaps in their careers, and their organizations. How-

Correspondence to: Lise M. Saari, IBM Corporation, Global Workforce Research, North Castle Drive MD
149, Armonk, NY 10504-1785, tel: 914-765-4224, saari@us.ibm.com

Human Resource Management, Winter 2004, Vol. 43, No. 4, Pp. 395–407
© 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
DOI: 10.1002/hrm.20032
396 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2004

ever, from the perspective of research and study, childhood temperament was found to
practice, the most focal employee attitude is be statistically related to adult job satisfac-
job satisfaction. Thus, we often refer to em- tion up to 40 years later (Staw, Bell, &
ployee attitudes broadly in this article, al- Clausen, 1986). Evidence even indicates
though much of our specific focus will con- that the job satisfaction of identical twins
Evidence even cern job satisfaction. reared apart is statistically similar (see
indicates that The most-used research definition of job Arvey, Bouchard, Segal, & Abraham, 1989).
the job satisfaction is by Locke (1976), who defined Although this literature has had its critics
satisfaction of
identical twins
it as “. . . a pleasurable or positive emotional (e.g., Davis-Blake & Pfeffer, 1989), an ac-
reared apart is state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job cumulating body of evidence indicates that
statistically or job experiences” (p. 1304). Implicit in differences in job satisfaction across em-
similar. Locke’s definition is the importance of both ployees can be traced, in part, to differences
affect, or feeling, and cognition, or thinking. in their disposition or temperament (House,
When we think, we have feelings about what Shane, & Herold, 1996).
we think. Conversely, when we have feelings, Despite its contributions to our under-
we think about what we feel. Cognition and standing of the causes of job satisfaction,
affect are thus inextricably linked, in our psy- one of the limitations in this literature is that
chology and even in our biology. Thus, when it is not yet informative as to how exactly dis-
evaluating our jobs, as when we assess most positions affect job satisfaction (Erez, 1994).
anything important to us, both thinking and Therefore, researchers have begun to explore
feeling are involved. the psychological processes that underlie dis-
positional causes of job satisfaction. For ex-
Gap 1—The Causes of Employee ample, Weiss and Cropanzano (1996) sug-
Attitudes gest that disposition may influence the
experience of emotionally significant events
The first major practitioner knowledge gap at work, which in turn influences job satis-
we will address is the causes of employee at- faction. Similarly, Brief (1998) and Mo-
titudes and job satisfaction. In general, HR towidlo (1996) have developed theoretical
practitioners understand the importance of models in an attempt to better understand
the work situation as a cause of employee at- the relationship between dispositions and job
titudes, and it is an area HR can help influ- satisfaction.
ence through organizational programs and Continuing this theoretical develop-
management practices. However, in the past ment, Judge and his colleagues (Judge &
two decades, there have been significant re- Bono, 2001; Judge, Locke, Durham, &
search gains in understanding dispositional Kluger, 1998) found that a key personality
and cultural influences on job satisfaction as trait, core self-evaluation, correlates with (is
well, which is not yet well understood by statistically related to) employee job satisfac-
practitioners. In addition, one of the most tion. They also found that one of the primary
important areas of the work situation to in- causes of the relationship was through the
fluence job satisfaction—the work itself—is perception of the job itself. Thus, it appears
often overlooked by practitioners when ad- that the most important situational effect on
dressing job satisfaction. job satisfaction—the job itself—is linked to
what may be the most important personality
Dispositional Influences trait to predict job satisfaction—core self-
evaluation. Evidence also indicates that
Several innovative studies have shown the some other personality traits, such as extra-
influences of a person’s disposition on job version and conscientiousness, can also in-
satisfaction. One of the first studies in this fluence job satisfaction (Judge, Heller, &
area (Staw & Ross, 1985) demonstrated Mount, 2002).
that a person’s job satisfaction scores have These various research findings indicate
stability over time, even when he or she that there is in fact a relationship between
changes jobs or companies. In a related disposition or personality and job satisfac-
Employee Attitudes and Job Satisfaction • 397

tion. Even though organizations cannot di- also been found in how employees are
rectly impact employee personality, the use viewed and valued across countries/cultures
of sound selection methods and a good (Jackson, 2002)—countries systematically
match between employees and jobs will en- vary on the extent to which they view em- Even though
sure people are selected and placed into jobs ployees in instrumental versus humanistic organizations
cannot directly
most appropriate for them, which, in turn, ways. In terms of practical recommenda- impact
will help enhance their job satisfaction. tions, an awareness of, and, whenever possi- employee
ble, adjustments to, cultural factors that personality, the
Cultural Influences influence employee attitudes and measure- use of sound
ment are important for HR practitioners as selection
methods and a
In terms of other influences on employee at- employee attitude surveys increasingly cross good match
titudes, there is also a small, but growing national boundaries. between
body of research on the influences of culture employees and
or country on employee attitudes and job sat- Work Situation Influences jobs will ensure
isfaction. The continued globalization of or- people are
selected and
ganizations poses new challenges for HR As discussed earlier, the work situation also
placed into jobs
practitioners, and the available research on matters in terms of job satisfaction and or- most
cross-cultural organizational and human re- ganization impact. Contrary to some com- appropriate for
sources issues can help them better under- monly held practitioner beliefs, the most no- them, which, in
stand and guide practice (Erez, 1994; House, table situational influence on job satisfaction turn, will help
enhance their
1995; Triandis, 1994). is the nature of the work itself—often called
job satisfaction.
The most cited cross-cultural work on “intrinsic job characteristics.” Research stud-
employee attitudes is that of Hofstede (1980, ies across many years, organizations, and
1985). He conducted research on employee types of jobs show that when employees are
attitude data in 67 countries and found that asked to evaluate different facets of their job
the data grouped into four major dimensions such as supervision, pay, promotion opportu-
and that countries systematically varied nities, coworkers, and so forth, the nature of
along these dimensions. The four cross-cul- the work itself generally emerges as the most
tural dimensions are: (1) individualism-col- important job facet (Judge & Church, 2000;
lectivism; (2) uncertainty avoidance versus Jurgensen, 1978). This is not to say that
risk taking; (3) power distance, or the extent well-designed compensation programs or ef-
to which power is unequally distributed; and fective supervision are unimportant; rather,
(4) masculinity/femininity, more recently it is that much can be done to influence job
called achievement orientation. For example, satisfaction by ensuring work is as interest-
the United States was found to be high on ing and challenging as possible. Unfortu-
individualism, low on power distance, and nately, some managers think employees are
low on uncertainty avoidance (thus high on most desirous of pay to the exclusion of other
risk taking), whereas Mexico was high on job attributes such as interesting work. For
collectivism, high on power distance, and example, in a study examining the impor-
high on uncertainty avoidance. tance of job attributes, employees ranked in-
The four dimensions have been a useful teresting work as the most important job at-
framework for understanding cross-cultural tribute and good wages ranked fifth, whereas
differences in employee attitudes, as well as when it came to what managers thought em-
recognizing the importance of cultural causes ployees wanted, good wages ranked first
of employee attitudes. More recent analyses while interesting work ranked fifth (Kovach,
have shown that country/culture is as strong 1995).
a predictor of employee attitudes as the type Of all the major job satisfaction areas,
of job a person has (Saari, 2000; Saari & satisfaction with the nature of the work it-
Erez, 2002; Saari & Schneider, 2001). self—which includes job challenge, auton-
There have been numerous replications omy, variety, and scope—best predicts overall
of Hofstede’s research (reviewed by Sonder- job satisfaction, as well as other important
gaard, 1994). The importance of culture has outcomes like employee retention (e.g., Fried
398 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2004

& Ferris, 1987; Parisi & Weiner, 1999; between job satisfaction and performance
Weiner, 2000). Thus, to understand what was trivial.
causes people to be satisfied with their jobs, However, further research does not agree
the nature of the work itself is one of the first with this conclusion. Organ (1988) suggests
places for practitioners to focus on. that the failure to find a strong relationship
We hear between job satisfaction and performance is
debates and Gap 2—The Results of Positive or due to the narrow means often used to define
confusion about Negative Job Satisfaction job performance. Organ argued that when
whether
satisfied
performance is defined to include important
employees are A second major practitioner knowledge gap behaviors not generally reflected in perfor-
productive is in the area of understanding the conse- mance appraisals, such as organizational citi-
employees, and quences of job satisfaction. We hear debates zenship behaviors, its relationship with job
HR and confusion about whether satisfied em- satisfaction improves. Research tends to sup-
practitioners
ployees are productive employees, and HR port Organ’s proposition in that job satisfac-
rightfully
struggle as they practitioners rightfully struggle as they must tion correlates with organizational citizenship
must reduce reduce costs and are concerned about the ef- behaviors (Organ & Ryan, 1995).
costs and are fects on job satisfaction and, in turn, the im- In addition, in a more recent and com-
concerned pact on performance and other outcomes. prehensive review of 301 studies, Judge,
about the
The focus of our discussion in this section is Thoresen, Bono, and Patton (2001) found
effects on job
satisfaction on job satisfaction, because this is the em- that when the correlations are appropriately
and, in turn, ployee attitude that is most often related to corrected (for sampling and measurement
the impact on organizational outcomes. Other employee at- errors), the average correlation between job
performance titudes, such as organizational commitment, satisfaction and job performance is a higher
and other have been studied as well, although they .30. In addition, the relationship between job
outcomes.
have similar relationships to outcomes as job satisfaction and performance was found to
satisfaction. be even higher for complex (e.g., profes-
sional) jobs than for less complex jobs. Thus,
Job Satisfaction and Job Performance contrary to earlier reviews, it does appear
that job satisfaction is, in fact, predictive of
The study of the relationship between job sat- performance, and the relationship is even
isfaction and job performance has a contro- stronger for professional jobs.
versial history. The Hawthorne studies, con-
ducted in the 1930s, are often credited with Job Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction
making researchers aware of the effects of
employee attitudes on performance. Shortly An emerging area of study is the interplay be-
after the Hawthorne studies, researchers tween job and life satisfaction. Researchers
began taking a critical look at the notion that have speculated that there are three possible
a “happy worker is a productive worker.” Most forms of the relationship between job satisfac-
of the earlier reviews of the literature sug- tion and life satisfaction: (1) spillover, where
gested a weak and somewhat inconsistent re- job experiences spill over into nonwork life
lationship between job satisfaction and per- and vice versa; (2) segmentation, where job
formance. A review of the literature in 1985 and life experiences are separated and have
suggested that the statistical correlation be- little to do with one another; and (3) compen-
tween job satisfaction and performance was sation, where an individual seeks to compen-
about .17 (Iaffaldano & Muchinsky, 1985). sate for a dissatisfying job by seeking fulfill-
Thus, these authors concluded that the pre- ment and happiness in his or her nonwork life
sumed relationship between job satisfaction and vice versa. Judge and Watanabe (1994)
and performance was a “management fad” argued that these different models may exist
and “illusory.” This study had an important for different individuals and were able to clas-
impact on researchers, and in some cases on sify individuals into the three groups. On the
organizations, with some managers and HR basis of a national sample of U.S. workers,
practitioners concluding that the relationship they found 68% were the spillover group, 20%
Employee Attitudes and Job Satisfaction • 399

in the segmentation group, and 12% in the jobs or be absent than satisfied employees
compensation group. Thus, the spillover (e.g., Hackett & Guion, 1985; Hulin,
model, whereby job satisfaction spills into life Roznowski, & Hachiya, 1985; Kohler &
satisfaction and vice versa, appears to charac- Mathieu, 1993). Job satisfaction shows corre- Numerous
terize most U.S. employees. lations with turnover and absenteeism in the studies have
shown that
Consistent with the spillover model, a re- –.25 range. Job dissatisfaction also appears to dissatisfied
view of the research literature indicated that be related to other withdrawal behaviors, in- employees are
job and life satisfaction are correlated (aver- cluding lateness, unionization, grievances, more likely to
age true score correlation: .44; Tait, Padgett, drug abuse, and decision to retire. quit their jobs
& Baldwin, 1989). Since a job is a significant Hulin et al. (1985) have argued that or be absent
than satisfied
part of one’s life, the relationship between these individual withdrawal behaviors are all employees…
job satisfaction and life satisfaction makes manifestations of “job adaptation” and have
sense—one’s job experiences spill over into proposed that these individual behaviors be
one’s life. However, it also seems possible the grouped together. Because the occurrence of
causality could go the other way—a happy or most single withdrawal behaviors is quite
unhappy life spills over into one’s job experi- low, looking at a variety of these behaviors
ences and evaluations. In fact, the research improves the ability for showing the relation-
suggests that the relationship between job ship between job attitudes and withdrawal
and life satisfaction is reciprocal—job satis- behaviors (Hulin, 1991). Rather than pre-
faction does affect life satisfaction, but life dicting isolated behaviors, withdrawal re-
satisfaction also affects job satisfaction search and applied practice would do better,
(Judge & Watanabe, 1994). as this model suggests, to study patterns in
Also in support of a spillover model for withdrawal behaviors—such as turnover, ab-
job and life satisfaction, the research litera- senteeism, lateness, decision to retire, etc.—
ture shows a consistent relationship between together. Several studies have supported this,
job satisfaction and depression (Thomas & showing that when various withdrawal be-
Ganster, 1995). One might speculate on the haviors are grouped together, job satisfaction
possibility that the relationship is simply due better predicts these behavioral groupings
to personality traits that cause both low job than the individual behaviors.
satisfaction and depression. However, to Based on the research that shows job sat-
counter this, there is evidence that job loss isfaction predicts withdrawal behaviors like
and other work events are in fact associated turnover and absenteeism, researchers have
with depression (Wheaton, 1990). Thus, this been able to statistically measure the finan-
research suggests that dissatisfaction result- cial impact of employee attitudes on organi-
ing from one’s job can spill over into one’s zations (e.g., Cascio, 1986; Mirvis & Lawler,
psychological well-being. 1977). Using these methods can be a power-
Based on this research, one conclusion is ful way for practitioners to reveal the costs of
that organizations only have so much control low job satisfaction and the value of im-
over a person’s job satisfaction, because for proved employee attitudes on such outcomes
many people, their job satisfaction is a result, as absenteeism and retention.
in part, of spillover of their life satisfaction.
However, continuing to take actions to ad- Gap 3—How To Measure and Influence
dress low job satisfaction is not only impor- Employee Attitudes
tant for organizational effectiveness, but by
not doing so, organizations can cause The third major practitioner knowledge gap is
spillover of employees’ low job satisfaction in the area of how to measure and influence
into their life satisfaction and well-being. employee attitudes. There are a number of
possible methods for measuring employee at-
Job Satisfaction and Withdrawal Behaviors titudes, such as conducting focus groups, in-
terviewing employees, or carrying out em-
Numerous studies have shown that dissatis- ployee surveys. Of these methods, the most
fied employees are more likely to quit their accurate measure is a well-constructed em-
400 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2004

ployee attitude survey. Thus, we first provide There are two additional issues with
an overview of the major research on em- measuring employee attitudes that have
ployee attitude surveys. To positively influ- been researched and provide potentially use-
ence employee attitudes, understanding of ful knowledge for practitioners. First, mea-
some of the research already discussed is im- sures of job satisfaction can be faceted (such
…measures of portant. In addition, knowledge of important as the JDI)—whereby they measure various
job satisfaction considerations for analyzing employee survey dimensions of the job—while others are
can be faceted results is essential for taking appropriate global—or measure a single, overall feeling
(such as the
JDI)—whereby
steps to improve attitudes. Finally, practition- toward the job. An example of a global mea-
they measure ers often use survey feedback discussion sure is “Overall, how satisfied are you with
various meetings as a means for acting on employee your job?” If a measure is facet-based, over-
dimensions of attitude surveys—the final part of this section all job satisfaction is typically defined as a
the job—while addresses research related to this topic and sum of the facets. Scarpello and Campbell
others are
the most important ways to support action. (1983) found that individual questions
global—or
measure a about various aspects of the job did not cor-
single, overall Employee Attitude Surveys relate well with a global measure of overall
feeling toward job satisfaction. However, if one uses job
the job. Two major research areas on employee atti- satisfaction facet scores—based on groups
tude surveys are discussed below: employee of questions on the same facet or dimension
attitude measures used in research and facet rather than individual questions—to predict
versus global measures. The areas discussed an independent measure of overall job satis-
are not meant to provide knowledge of all rel- faction, the relationship is considerably
evant considerations for designing employee higher. As has been noted elsewhere (e.g.,
surveys, but rather provide background on Judge & Hulin, 1993), job satisfaction facets
the research and an overview of some major are sufficiently related to suggest that they
areas of study. are measuring a common construct—overall
In the research literature, the two most job satisfaction.
extensively validated employee attitude sur- Second, while most job satisfaction re-
vey measures are the Job Descriptive Index searchers have assumed that overall, single-
(JDI; Smith, Kendall, & Hulin, 1969) and the item measures are unreliable and therefore
Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire should not be used, this view has not gone
(MSQ; Weiss, Dawis, England, & Lofquist, unchallenged. Wanous, Reichers, and Hudy
1967). The JDI assesses satisfaction with five (1997) found that the reliability of single-
different job areas: pay, promotion, cowork- item measures of job satisfaction is .67. For
ers, supervision, and the work itself. The JDI the G. M. Faces scale, another single-item
is reliable and has an impressive array of val- measure of job satisfaction that asks individ-
idation evidence. The MSQ has the advan- uals to check one of five faces that best de-
tage of versatility—long and short forms are scribes their overall satisfaction (Kunin,
available, as well as faceted and overall mea- 1955), the reliability was estimated to be .66.
sures. Another measure used in job satisfac- Therefore, respectable levels of reliability
tion research (e.g., Judge, Erez, Bono, & can be obtained with an overall measure of
Thoresen, in press) is an updated and reliable job satisfaction, although these levels are
five-item version of an earlier scale by Bray- somewhat lower than most multiple-item
field and Rothe (1951). All of these measures measures of job satisfaction.
have led to greater scientific understanding of Based on the research reviewed, there is
employee attitudes, and their greatest value support for measuring job satisfaction with
may be for research purposes, yet these mea- either a global satisfaction question or by
sures may be useful for practitioners as well. summing scores on various aspects of the
In practice, organizations often wish to ob- job. Therefore, in terms of practice, by mea-
tain a more detailed assessment of employee suring facets of job satisfaction, organiza-
attitudes and/or customize their surveys to as- tions can obtain a complete picture of their
sess issues unique to their firm. specific strengths and weaknesses related to
Employee Attitudes and Job Satisfaction • 401

employee job satisfaction and use those facet company externally to other companies and
scores for an overall satisfaction measure, or the competition.
they can reliably use overall satisfaction
questions for that purpose. Comparisons and Numerical Accuracy. Com- …it is helpful
paring data is one of the most useful survey when
interpreting
Analyzing and Interpreting Survey Results for analysis techniques, such as described above survey data to
Action for using norms to compare a company’s sur- know how the
vey results to other companies. Comparisons survey results
Effective analysis and interpretation of em- for the same organization or unit over time compare to
ployee attitude survey data is necessary in with a trended survey are also valuable to industry norms
or country
order to understand the results and, in turn, measure progress. At the same time, compar- norms.
take appropriate actions to improve em- isons must be done with professional care,
ployee attitudes and job satisfaction. Re- taking into account measurement issues
search on employee attitude measurement (Cascio, 1986). This is one of the major
and statistical analyses is a key contribution areas of practitioner misinterpretation in our
of the field of psychology (e.g., Edwards, experience.
2001; Macey, 1996). Highlights of the re- Of particular concern are organizations
search on survey analyses and the most im- using unreliable survey data, based on low
portant issues for HR practitioners to con- numbers of survey respondents and/or de-
sider are reviewed below. partment size, to compare departments/man-
agers or to inappropriately measure change
The Use of Norms. Ratings made by employ- over time. In general, the lower the number,
ees on survey questions can systematically the greater the effects of random error on
vary—and vary widely—no matter what com- data, like the differences between flipping a
pany they work for. For example, ratings of coin 10 times versus 1,000 times. Thus,
pay are typically low and ratings of workgroup comparisons of groups or departments with
cooperation are typically rated very high. small numbers generally should not be done,
Similar systematic variations are found when especially when the survey is a sample survey
comparing survey data for many companies and designed to provide data only at higher
across countries. For example, Switzerland levels. Even for surveys of all employees that
tends to have some of the highest ratings, provide survey results to each manager/de-
Italy some of the lowest. Therefore, it is help- partment, numerical accuracy is still of con-
ful when interpreting survey data to know cern and comparisons across time or be-
how the survey results compare to industry tween managers should be avoided—data at
norms or country norms. Survey norms are the workgroup level is best provided to each
descriptive statistics that are compiled from manager for department feedback and local
data on the same survey questions from a actions. To avoid these measurement issues,
number of companies and are obtained by it is helpful to have a lower limit on the or-
joining a consortium. Comparability of the ganization size and/or number of respon-
companies, company size, and number of dents needed to create reports for compar-
companies are important factors in the value isons (most organizations we have worked
of the norms (Morris & LoVerde, 1993). In with set this at a maximum margin of error of
addition, the professionalism in the norms plus/minus 9 percentage points, which is
process and the age of the norms will affect generally around 100 respondents). Numeri-
their relevance and accuracy (Bracken, 1992; cal accuracy and appropriate comparisons
R. H. Johnson, 1996). If survey norms are not are especially important when using survey
an option, overall company or unit results can data for performance targets and employ-
serve as internal norms, although they en- ment-related decisions.
courage an inward focus and potentially in-
ternal competition. Actions determined Global Considerations. For organizations op-
through normed-based comparisons can be erating in more than one country, under-
strong drivers of change and help focus a standing survey data by country is also valu-
402 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2004

able for improving employee attitudes. How- are predictive of important financial perfor-
ever, making comparisons across countries is mance measures, such as market share (e.g.,
another type of analysis that should be con- Ashworth, Higgs, Schneider, Shepherd, &
ducted with caution. As stated earlier, there Carr, 1995; Colihan & Saari, 2000; Harter,
are country/cultural influences on employee Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002).
One of the attitudes, and the use of country norms is Linkage research can be done in any or-
newest areas of preferable. In other words, comparisons are ganization where there is some way to group
research that best made against an appropriate country enough survey data—such as in stores,
assists with
identifying
norm rather than comparing one country’s branches, districts, and even countries—and
important areas survey results to another country’s results. In then correlate it with financial and/or cus-
for survey addition to cultural factors, linguistic factors tomer data for the same groups. This type of
action is to across countries can affect survey results survey measurement and analysis helps prac-
statistically link (Ryan, Chan, Ployhart, & Slade, 1999). Con- titioners demonstrate the impact of em-
employee
cepts—such as “employee recognition”—can ployee attitudes on the business, as well as
attitudes to
business have different meanings due to different cul- identify key levers for action.
outcomes. tural meanings (Hui, 1990; Hui & Triandis,
1985), and this can affect the equivalence of Survey Feedback and Action
the measurements of employee attitudes
across countries. To help minimize linguistic Employee surveys, used effectively, can be
and other issues, professional translations, catalysts for improving employee attittudes
back translations (translations back into and producing organizational change. This
English then checked against the original statement is based on two important as-
English), and country reviews are recom- sumptions, both supported by research al-
mended. Other guidance on administrative ready reviewed in this article: first, that em-
and practical issues when conducting a ployee attitudes affect behavior and second,
multinational employee attitude survey is that employee attitudes are important levers
also available (e.g., S. R. Johnson, 1996). of organizational performance.
Survey feedback and action help support
Linking Employee Attitudes to Business Mea- and drive organizational change, and the
sures. One of the newest areas of research that “ability to manage change” is evaluated by
assists with identifying important areas for line managers as the most important compe-
survey action is to statistically link employee tency for HR professionals (Ulrich, Brock-
attitudes to business outcomes. This research bank, Yeung, & Lake, 1995). There are many
is an extension of the research discussed ear- variations of survey feedback and action,
lier that correlated job satisfaction with job though an important research finding is that
performance. Schneider and his colleagues participation in feedback sessions alone will
carried out the groundbreaking studies in this not result in change—and this is often where
area, showing how employee attitudes about organizations fall short. In fact, Rynes et al.
various human resources practices correlated (2002) found that one of the highest per-
with customer satisfaction measures, thus in- centages of HR professionals responding
dicating key levers to improve customer satis- contrary to the research facts was to the
faction. For example, they found that when statement “Ensuring employees participate
employees reported higher satisfaction with in decision making is more important for im-
work facilitation and career development, cus- proving organizational performance than set-
tomers reported higher service quality ting performance goals.” Extensive research
(Schneider & Bowen, 1985). Other re- does not support this statement, yet 82% of
searchers (e.g., Wiley, 1996) have developed HR professionals marked it as true. In fact,
linkage models that identify the organizational actual action, not just involvement in survey
practices—as rated by employee attitude sur- feedback discussions and the development of
veys—that relate to high levels of organiza- plans, is critical for an employee survey to re-
tional performance. In addition, a variety of sult in improved performance. Feedback ses-
studies have shown how employee attitudes sions that result in concrete goals and result-
Employee Attitudes and Job Satisfaction • 403

ing actions have the most impact. This is In terms of evaluating the practices dis-
supported by extensive research on goal-set- cussed in this article, the most rigorous and
ting theory, which shows that having specific defensible methods are to apply return on
goals is a major factor for motivation and investment (ROI) principles. These involve Today,
performance (Locke, Feren, McCaleb, Shaw, defining the objectives of a program—such organizations
need more from
& Denny, 1980; Locke & Latham, 2002). as assess employee attitudes that predict or- HR than
ganizational performance and improve em- someone to
How To Close the Gaps and Evaluate the ployee attitudes and job satisfaction—and administer the
Effectiveness of Practice then evaluating, through appropriate re- tactical aspects
search designs and measurements, whether of an employee
survey and to
Throughout this article, as we discussed the these objectives were met. Approaches for check that
relevant research for each of the three carrying out ROI and cost-based evaluations managers are
knowledge gaps, we provided suggestions are described in the literature (e.g., Cascio, holding
for closing the gaps. In this section, we 1986). These evaluation approaches are the feedback
offer some final suggestions, as well as most rigorous, yet can be resource- and discussions and
have action
ideas for evaluating the effectiveness of im- time-intensive.
plans.
plemented practices. In terms of more straightforward sugges-
One important way to close the gap be- tions for evaluating the practices imple-
tween research and practice is to be better mented, we offer the following questions
informed about the research. Given the de- that HR practitioners can ask themselves:
mands on HR practitioners’ time, this is a “Do we have an employee attitude survey
difficult task, yet one that is increasingly ex- that measures areas important for employee
pected of HR professionals. Today, organi- job satisfaction as well as organizational suc-
zations need more from HR than someone cess?” “How do we know this and make this
to administer the tactical aspects of an em- case to line management?” “Is the survey
ployee survey and to check that managers routinely used as part of decision making?”
are holding feedback discussions and have “Is the survey a respected source of infor-
action plans. Organizations need HR practi- mation about the people side of the busi-
tioners who know how to develop effective ness?” “Am I at the table with line manage-
and research-based employee attitude mea- ment using the survey insights for needed
sures, understand and derive valuable in- action and organizational change?” “Can I
sights from the data, and use the results to discuss these measures in light of other key
improve employee attitudes and job perfor- business measures?” These may be new eval-
mance and help lead organizational change. uation criteria for many HR professionals
There are many excellent and emerging who have traditionally evaluated themselves
ways to gain this knowledge—professional in areas such as attitude survey response
HR organizations (e.g., the Society for rates, timeliness of action plans submitted
Human Resource Management) are in- by managers, and the number of reports dis-
creasingly offering ways to get summarized tributed. In the end, the evaluation of the
research information, and new ways to gain practices implemented should consider
knowledge through online and other meth- these two important points: Are measures of
ods are emerging. employee attitude used as important infor-
Another suggestion relates to improving mation for the business? Ultimately, do em-
knowledge of basic statistics. The need to ployee attitudes and job satisfaction move in
measure, understand, and improve employee the desired direction?
attitudes is essential for organizations of
today. Yet, without the numeric comfort Conclusions and Future Directions
needed to fully understand and discuss em-
ployee attitude measurements, what they The field of industrial/organizational psy-
mean, and how they relate to other business chology has a long, rich, and, at times, con-
measures, HR cannot be at the table to assist troversial history related to the study and un-
with achieving this goal. derstanding of employee attitudes and job
404 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Winter 2004

satisfaction. Some of this research is very impacts, is needed and has been largely over-
specific and aimed primarily at other re- looked in past research.
searchers, while other publications provide In addition, ongoing research will pro-
practical guidance on understanding, mea- vide more in-depth understanding of the ef-
suring, and improving employee attitudes fects of employee attitudes and job satisfac-
(e.g., Edwards & Fisher, 2004; Kraut, 1996). tion on organizational measures, such as
One likely future direction of employee customer satisfaction and financial mea-
attitude research will be to better understand sures. Greater insights on the relationship
the interplay between the person and the sit- between employee attitudes and business
uation and the various internal and external performance will assist HR professionals as
factors that influence employee attitudes. In they strive to enhance the essential people
particular, a better understanding of the role side of the business in a highly competitive,
of emotion, as well as broader environmental global arena.

Lise M. Saari, PhD, is the director of global workforce research for IBM. Previously,
she was the senior manager of people research at Boeing and, prior to that, a research
scientist at the Battelle Research Institute. Dr. Saari has authored numerous articles,
chapters, and presentations on employee attitudes and motivation. She served on the
board of the Mayflower Group, a consortium of companies engaged in professional
surveys. She also has served on the editorial boards for the Journal of Applied Psy-
chology and Personnel Psychology. Dr. Saari is a member of the International Associa-
tion of Applied Psychology, the European Congress of Work and Organizational Psy-
chologists, and the Society for I-O Psychology.

Timothy A. Judge, PhD, is the Matherly-McKethan Eminent Scholar, Department


of Management, Warrington College of Business, University of Florida. He holds a
bachelor of business administration degree from the University of Iowa, and master’s
and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois. Dr. Judge worked as a manager
at Kohl’s Department Stores and was formerly a full professor at the University of
Iowa and associate professor at Cornell University. His research interests are in per-
sonality, leadership and influence behaviors, staffing, and job attitudes. He serves on
the editorial review boards of the Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology,
and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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