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Motivation At Work: Job Satisfaction Can Lead To Low Productivity

Updated on December 11, 2015
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish is a successful employment & training pro, setting Midwest regional records with tens of thousands placed in gainful employment.


How to Effectively Generate Employee Motivation and Productivity

The first part of this Hub series began with Workforce Education: Employee Motivation. In that Hub, we looked at the stimuli that can spur workers toward higher productivity on the job. This saves companies money in man hours used and in numbers of employees placed into work and creates greater numbers of products and services upon which to make money in the same time.

In another series article, The Top Seven Motivators, we discussed seven major factors that motivate workers to produce more goods and services per hour while enabling for themselves Top Job Satisfaction.

However, there are two sides to job satisfaction and one of them may be very little known to the general population. If you realize you have examples of this after you read the material, please jot them down in the comments section.

Job Satisfaction can lead to either High Productivity or Low Productivity.

A collection of works about job satisfaction and productivity edited by Ruut Veenhoven in 1989 was titled How harmful is happiness? and in the 21st century that title is both amusing and sad.

Happy Workers and Good Bosses

High Productivity, Lower Costs, and Higher Job Satisfaction

Limits apply to maximum productivity and how long it can be maintained among people that work.

While job satisfaction can increase productivity, the productivity can wear out an employee. Some workers are motivated by their own high productivity and burn out more slowly. For example, a friend worked with a middle-aged gentleman at a roller bearing plant.

The gentleman in his last years years of employment worked double shifts: from 3PM - 7AM, seven days a week and seemed to thrive on being highly productive and making overtime and double time pay, finally retiring from the plant on a Sunday night. The gentleman died at 6AM Monday morning after retirement, surviving the high productivity without burn out until he stopped. Four workers were hired to replace him, costing time and production levels in their learning curves.

In the Food and Hospitality industries, cross-training for employees became a major goal in the 1980s in some places around the US. This occurred again in the 2000s as the US Federal Minimum Wage increased in 2008. Minimum Wage increased and fewer workers were scheduled during a shift, increasing the average workload of the rest.

A goal developed in these industries to ensure that a small core number of employees could perform practically any function in the shop (some restaurants, fast food, convenient stores, etc.) and this was made possible by the lack of Labor Unions among these entities.

The shops with the largest gross sales could afford to use more labor hours proportionately than the smaller operations, where cost controls needed to be tighter to produce the same percentages of profits -- That is, each well-trained employee can handle a range of hourly sales, but the high end of this range does not occur in many smaller shops. In addition, a shop with lower customer traffic will experience an hour here and there with no sales whatsoever (mid-afternoons, or other) .

In some 1980s establishments, one could hear a manager call, "Run labor", which meant to send a worker home and encourage everyone left to handle more business by working faster and in a more organized way. Sometimes managers chipped in to help, but not always.

Some smaller Midwestern market chains attempted to compete with larger Eastern NYC and Washington DC mega-market chain shops and failed in their attempts, losing a certain number of management and crew employees to job burnout. A related link is found at: Job Burnout - What is it? How do I handle it?


Productivity 1980 - 2000

By the late 1980s, American workforce professionals noticed more fully that some office-based enterprises in both public and private business sectors were beginning to "run labor" as well.

Further, these companies were beginning to hire more temporary workers and independent contractors in order to avoid the company output of Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation Premiums, and some other fees and/or taxes.

All of this contributed to higher levels of worker burnout and employee turnover, which raised the overall business costs for some corporations, rather than reducing them. The burned out workers had lost all job satisfaction.

A few workers actually experience a "high" by watching others burn out while they maintain or increase the production pace.

We saw that this upped their productivity in a competitive way, increasing their job satisfaction at their own productivity in the late 1980s and 1990s.

This further increased productivity in a spiraling upward cycle until these folks crashed. They seemed to burn out more slowly, but usually did, in fact, burn out before the standard retirement age. Some began to make too many mistakes, become injured at work more frequently, smoke and drink more, experience increasing numbers of auto accidents, suffer increased short-term illnesses, and even the harsher conditions of heart attacks, etc.

Some became "difficult people." Some seemed obsessed with task completion.

In the late 20th - early 21st centuries, this obsession with productivity was termed by different sources as Type A Personality, Obsessive Compulsive characteristics, healthy competition, dysfunction, workplace abuse, and other nomenclature.

Healthier workplace conditions and a maximal but reasonable profit margin have become goals in the 21st century among some businesses, especially among green and sustainability industries which aim for the common good at first stride anyway. For others, approaching these goals can decrease insurance and absent-days costs and several other negatives.

A parallel: It's like working 14 hours without a break -- most people lose productivity and motivation. A few thrive, but may have other difficulties, like health or interpersonal problems.


Job Satisfaction and Job Complacency

At the other end of the continuum of the balancing elements of Productivty and Job Satisfaction comes Job Complacency and Job Satisfaction.

Job Satisfaction can result in complacency among some individuals and further, result in lowered productivity.

How can this be? -- Shouldn't satisfaction result in happier, more energetic workers with higher productivity, after the proverb "Contented cows produce more milk?" It need not.


The Need For Useful Work

Higher Job Satisfaction can lead to greater Work Productivity. However, a moderate- to high level job satisfaction can lead to complacency in some individuals. 21st century initiatives toward Continuous Improvement on the job can interrupt satisfaction and result in additional Job Burnout, Employee Turnover, and Lower Productivity - dipping below that of the level some already complacent workers. Some workers simply quit under this system of work.

Some workers are satisfied in positions in which they perform a modicum of tasks either adequately or well and do not wish to, or physically cannot, exert themselves any further.

For example, a certain percentage of jobs in programs sponsored by Federal and County initiatives, including summer employment for youth; and even in some positions offered by Temporary Employment Agencies do not provide enough work to fill a shift. However, some require 10 hours worth of work to be completed in a 6-hour shift. Too little work, just as too much work, can result in demoralized employees that burnout. Sometimes too little work is just right.

This was evident in the results of some US state Job Training Partnership (JTPA) programs before 2000. While some staff and subsidized employee groups were motivated toward greater productivity through a bonus scheme that worked, other groups "put in their time" sitting at their desks talking on the phone, playing on the Internet, taking long lunches, or leaning against counters, lounging in chairs, or even sleeping on the job - because there was not enough to do and some could not find anything to do, and some did not look. And no one ever told some of them that they should be productive. A few jobs were just slots to fill.

Everyone was paid full wages in many of these, adding foundation to the unfortunate proverb that the hard worker is never rewarded, while others are.

The motivated staff and employees were far more productive and found work to do, or they read and wrote articles. Both types of groups expressed high job satisfaction, although a very few in the unmotivated groups also admitted some boredom. A few were so bored that they quit right away.

This scenario has been true in a few Workers Compensation systems and other workforce related programs. Approved jobs in some large nonprofit or government programs need to be filled lest the money be revoked by the government and funded agencies even made to pay fines for not spending the funds and reporting results. This sometimes results in a few paid jobs with no tasks, because no one assigned any tasks to these positions. Some of the workers in positions quit, while others were satisfied in having no tasks and spend the day in their own pursuits. Unfortunately, some summer youth thought that working after high school gradaation in a full-time job would be similar. It was not.

Another interesting group is nearing retirement and a few of these individuals are sometimes complacent - or worn out - hoping to make it to retirement. However, some remain highly productive via inner motivation. Some may work on teams motivated through incentives along with team spirit and this can increase motivation and productivity. However, other teams become angry with an individual high producer, exert pressue to slow down, and are successful in lowering thsat person's output.

Overall, higher job satisfaction can be linked to 1) higher productivity or 2) complacency, depending on the external and internal motivating factors at work on/within employees involved. It may be linked to other factors as well.

The complexity of the Job Satisfaction and Worker Productivity issues cannot be addressed in a brief document and other factors likely assert themselves. However, it is fairly clear that the American employment system can benefit from some further improvements and is hopefully seeking them.

What does it all really mean?
What does it all really mean? | Source

Statistics Not Fully Explained

On August 21, 2008 the Gallup Poll examining American Job Satisfaction was released to the media with some news headlines shouting that job satisfaction in America was nearly at an all time high (under the GW Bush administration). However, if we look carefully at the categories of worker satisfaction we can see discrepancies, narrated below.

Only 1,009 adults 18 or older were polled, by telephone. As of July 31, 2008 American contained 145,819,000 recorded workers; 1.009 represents only 0.0069% of the working population. It seems too low a figure for accuracy, but I do not have the official formula handy (and there is one) for determining the adequate number for scientific accuracy.

The percentage of employees satsified ranges from a low of 23% (satisfied with work stress) to a high of 73% (satisfied with physical conditions of the workplace).

This means that the majority - 77% of workers responding - were dissasatified some way with stress at work. This is an important issue toward Job Burnout and illness.

72% are dissatisfied in some way with their salaries. The Poll suggests this may be among the young that are still building their careers (?). I don't know the correctness of that - haven;t seen the dataset.

It seems 69% are satisfied with coworker relations, meaning perhaps that only 31% will admit coworker problems. Part of the 69% may not admit the problems or not realize there are problems.

Only 35% are satisfied with possibility of promotion/job advancement. It suggests 65% see little hope of promotion and may consider themselves in stalled careers, which can lower productivity and job satisfaction.

The percentage of responders completely satisfied with work in America was only 48%, and the partially satisfied was only 42%. Indeed, 48 + 42 = 90%, but that "PARTIALLY" indicates problems like the low 23% that feel they can accept the job stress. Part of them may not actually be able to endure it and 77% percent are unhappy about it somehow. That seems a problem.

Over half - 55% - claim to feel job security; only 51% are satisfied with their bosses; 66% are dissatisfied with retirement benefits.

Just 40% are satisfied with health insurance benefits - 60% are dissatisfied some way. Add these possibly under-insured to the uninsured in America and we likely have a problem.

Only 45% are satisfied with recognition received; they may be developing a negative attitude at work that may spread, actually. Recognition and autonomy are shown very important to job satisfaction and productivity. Recognition is used in Employee Incentive Programs. Is it being used effectively or at all? In some places, yes.

Overall, it seems that Job satisfaction is not as high as some headlines state. While there is likely always room for improvement, I hop the American workplace is improving and welcome your experiences of it.

Job Satisfaction/Human Rights

Some of us in America might benefit from learning more about the operations of Labor Unions in the country.

One interesting site established in December 2005 by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) about labor needs is located at: Rank and File.Org.

Their logo appears to the right.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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