Although I’ve written about team member satisfaction here before, it is such an important topic to understand I wanted to amplify some of the basics.  Researchers have been studying satisfaction on the job for decades so there are clear findings regarding actions leaders can take to improve employee satisfaction.  But why?

Satisfaction and Productivity

When asked, many people first respond that a satisfied worker is a productive worker.  On the surface, that makes sense, but the science says otherwise.  There isn’t a clear causal link between satisfaction and productivity.  Some people are more productive and report that they are satisfied, but is their satisfaction a result of their productivity?  Or is it the other way around?

At a more practical level, don’t you know people in your workplace who love coming to work, chatting with others, decorating their space, and reporting high levels of engagement, but they don’t really seem to do a lot of work?  Or on the other extreme, don’t you also know people who always complain about things and don’t want to participate in group activities; who sound like they’d rather be anyplace else.  But when it comes time to get something finished, you can count on them to get the work done.

If not productivity, then what?

If we don’t get productivity from satisfied workers, what do we get that makes it such a vital piece of an excellent organization?  We get two main things:

  1. Satisfied workers are more likely to show up and stick around. We generally don’t have a big turnover problem with people who are satisfied.
  2. Satisfied workers are more likely to report problems, share ideas, and work in teams than dissatisfied workers.

These are incredibly valuable.  We can build work systems that deliver productive results, but without satisfied employees sharing their ideas to make them better, things just stop.  If improvement efforts stop, that doesn’t mean the workplace stays at a particular level.  I had a General Officer tell me once that “if you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse.”

Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction

I’ll write a few more posts about specific actions you can take to promote a more satisfying and engaging workplace, but first, the basics:

There are things at work that satisfy people and there are things at work that don’t.  These are not opposite ends of the same satisfaction spectrum.  I can be perfectly satisfied with the work that I’m doing but be completely dissatisfied with other aspects of work.  Sadly this is a big issue in most places I visit.

The things that satisfy people usually revolve around the work they do.  If people feel like they are doing important and meaningful work, they will report higher levels of satisfaction.  Rewards, recognition, achievement, and acknowledgement also serve as satisfiers or what Fred Herzberg called “motivators”.

On another spectrum though, the workplace is full of dissatisfiers; things Herzberg called “Hygiene factors.”  These include pay and benefits, relationships with others (particularly supervisors), and policies and procedures.

Wrap up

In most places I visit, people are doing important work.  People consistently show me how much they love what they do in helping people.  But pay continues to be an issue as are cumbersome procedures make doing that meaningful work very frustrating.

We can’t fix everything, but if we can use lean management systems and tools to improve processes and procedures, and if we can get leaders to treat people with respect and dignity, we can make big gains in satisfaction and in engagement for our team members.

Stay tuned for other concrete steps we can take.

As always, I welcome questions and comments.  Please send them in an email to us at