10 factors creating job satisfaction: what motivates now?

By | September 27, 2010

jobsatisInteresting jobs, security and being appreciated are top of employees’ lists for creating job satisfaction in today’s workplace. And it’s that second one – feeling your job is safe – that really speaks to today’s job climate.

In 2008 I wrote a piece in HR Director where I reported data from an ongoing project of mine. I had for about a year been collecting data on the relative importance of 10 longstanding factors that research identifies as significant in influencing people’s motivation. These factors are listed in the table below, which contrasts the ranking of these factors in 2008 (from a sample of 268 managers across UK and Europe) with those achieved with a new sample of 146 managers collected over the course of the last 12 months.




Interesting work



Job security



Full appreciation of work done



Good wages



Promotion and growth in the organization



Personal or company loyalty to employees



Feelings of being in on things



Tactful discipline



Good working conditions



Sympathetic help with personal problems



Today’s top 3 job motivators

1 Interesting work

In 2008, one compelling outcome of the research was that interesting work had, unlike in previous studies, such as one by Carolyn Wiley in 1997, beaten pay off the top spot for the first time. In the new data it is still there, so people still want to be doing something that compels and engages them.

2 Job security

The most significant mover in the table is probably job security – up to 2 from 6. In 2008 I argued that the lower importance of job security, compared with earlier research, was an indicator of people’s willingness to engage in a portfolio career and expectations they had that as their career develops they might move organizations on a regular basis. This now seems to have been a short-lived phenomenon.

As to why, the answer seems to lie in the current economic uncertainty. It is easy to discount the significance of having a job when the economy is buoyant and there seem to be lots of opportunities out there, but over the last year, with higher unemployment – currently standing at 7.8% – and regular news of redundancies and business closures people would inevitably be much keener to hang onto the jobs they have.

3 Full appreciation of work done

Recognition (full appreciation of work done) now ranks more highly than financial rewards (good wages). I suspect the realities of the availability of rewards and pay raises in the current climate is having an impact here. Nonetheless they both remain powerful tools for motivation. Research by Nitin Nohria, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, and colleagues identifies both recognition and rewards are important motivators. But we also know that it is the recognition that matters most. In an experiment where students were rewarded differently for a simple computer based task, Professor Dan Ariely from Duke University, and his co-worker James Heyman, clearly showed that the greatest performance came not with the highest reward but where students were working solely as a favour and for the thanks of the researcher. So remember to say thank you for a job well done!

What is less important today?

The big mover going down the chart was good working conditions, down to 9 from 5. We might interpret this as the flip side of lower job security, with people being seemingly more willing to put up with poor conditions in the current environment rather than go and seek better conditions elsewhere.

5 top tip for managers

So what does this mean for managers? It certainly does not suggest we should lower the standard of working conditions. It does suggest that some of the fundamentals stay the same. People still want compelling work and rewards and recognition for doing the same.

  1. Show your appreciation in meaningful ways.
  2. Acknowledge the efforts of others – this is even more important given the pressures that the current economic environment places on employees.
  3. Spend time with employees explaining the organisation’s current position thereby helping to keep them informed about the safety of their job.
  4. Be bold. Promise no redundancies, even if revenues or profits are hit – sending a clear signal on the job security front.
  5. Move people round the organization to meet short-term needs – this will help meet challenges now and put your business in an even stronger position when the up-turn does come.

Doing all this is likely to more than pay back its dividend in the loyalty and commitment it creates. Surely developing employees’ skills, giving them compelling work and making them feel appreciated is the way ahead?

About Dr David Spicer

David is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Change at Bradford University School of Management where he lectures in the areas of change management and organizational behaviour on undergraduate, postgraduate and executive programmes. He is also a visiting professor at TiasNimbas Business School in Holland and Germany and alumnus of Harvard Business School’s Global Colloquium for Participant Centred Learning. He holds degrees from the Universities of Bristol, Stirling, and Plymouth.  His research is concerned with organizational learning and change, and he is currently working on a major project looking at the dynamic capabilities of Motorola and Intel.


+        Organisational learning in small firms

+        Organisational learning in a downturn

+        Styles of leadership – East vs West

+        Cultural change in mergers and takeovers

16 thoughts on “10 factors creating job satisfaction: what motivates now?

  1. Saima Rifet

    Although I agree that developing employees’ skills, giving them compelling work and making them feel appreciated is the way ahead, I also feel that during the current economic climate many managers value their commitment to business needs more than the importance of employee satisfaction. Whilst some organisations (John Lewis being a prime example) are excelling in their profits this is not the case for the majority.
    Therefore we can advise managers of the ‘way forward’, however it all boils down to fulfilling the needs of the company in question. When business needs depict something rather different the manager has little choice but to focus on targets rather than employee development and motivation.

    It seems that its the hierarchy of an organisation, i.e. directors and top managers, that need to make the changes because they are responsible for the way an organisation is run.

    In many cases its a shame that other organisations do not hold the strategy utilised by companies like John Lewis because a business can only excel when its skills & capabilities are utilised. If Employee skills were utilised to their maximum potential then it would only strengthen the business, but lack of motivation leads to dissatisfaction and as a result an employee finds themselves barely getting through a full day at work without watching the time.

    If an employee feels like this on a daily basis then what are the chances of them helping the business in any way? Are they not a financial burden on the organisation when this occurs? Yes the basic daily tasks are being undertaken which means the business is still running, but isn’t there a difference between a open/running business and one that is progressing? If so then can this same difference be applied to the employees within it? Does this lack of motivation account for a loss in potential profits? Can organisations overcome the issues they are facing with the current economic climate by investing more in their employees?

  2. Jenny Allen

    Thanks for a really interesting piece on what motivates individual employees in today’s workplace. In reflecting on the findings presented, I did wonder what the correlation would be between managers motivation factors and those of the staff managed by these managers? Job design, job security and undoubtedly recognition for the role carried out would be important but perhaps in a differing priority order or with an alternative slant? The perspective on job security also prompted me to question what opportunities might be out there for those prepared to risk to whatever extent this security in the current economic climate?

  3. Simon

    One constant I have heard on exit interviews in many companies is that “my manager didn’t appreciate me” – obviously this can mean many things but each day is made more pleasurable by a simple thank you. Even better in the current climate – its free! –

    The changes in relative standings in the items between recessionary times and non recessionary times tell their own story about what’s important to employees – the smart thinkers are thinking about the upturn and when these priorities change in a looser employment market where people have options.

    How many businesses will be wishing they said thank you and built the skills of their people during the recession in a couple of years time when more people have the option to vote with their feet?

    So well done Gratterpalm and Morrisons for maintaining high level of investment in people during tough times – its pays – Best Companies to Work for in Yorks!

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  7. Emile Bons

    That’s an interested article on what drives employees and on what it takes to have and even increase employee engagement. Many, however, often forget that the most easiest trick is to start measuring employee engagement. Though, it requires follow-up in the end, it will immediately helps you focusing on the topics that are relevant for your organization.

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  15. Rohai

    I agree with you. The two top things that can motivate an employee is how interesting the job will be for him or her and security. It’s a big plus if they’re interested in the job or if the job itself is not boring. Second one, who would not want a job that has 100 percent security. I guess this is what the companies in Invisume.com is offering, an interesting and safe job. It’s a platform that connects sales professionals with the best companies.

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