You would expect that if employees have high job satisfaction then organisations would experience high job performance and staff retention. This is only part of the story. Thomas A. Wright (Professor of Management at Kansas State University) and his colleagues reveal through their research that psychological wellbeing is the critical factor.
In reviewing the history of research on this topic, Wright found that early organisational theorists found inconsistent results between the ‘job satisfaction leads to job performance / staff retention’ theory. Yet years before that, in the 1920s and 1930s, a rare few researchers noted that employee wellbeing was a greater contributor to labour turnover than was commonly realised.
It’s only lately that researchers such as Wright and his colleagues are again interested in the relationship between employee wellbeing and job performance. Their recent findings support the early theories that there is a significant relationship between employee wellbeing, psychological wellbeing and job performance and staff retention. That is, job satisfaction alone is not enough to predict performance and retention.
Wright points out that the positive states which characterise psychological wellbeing also help people to “thrive, to mentally flourish and psychologically grow.” He suggests that employees with high levels of psychological wellbeing and who are satisfied with their job are “more easily able to ‘broaden and build’ themselves…and as a result these satisfied and psychologically well individuals will reap such additional benefits as being more creative, resilient, socially connected, physically healthy and derive more meaning from their work”. Such people also have the resources to “initiate, foster, facilitate and sustain high levels of job performance”. In summary:
- Job performance is highest when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction
- Job satisfaction predicts job performance but only if the employee also has high psychological wellbeing
- The relationship between job satisfaction and retention is also stronger when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing
“The promotion of employee psychological wellbeing is an intrinsic good for both individuals and organizations; one toward which we should all work” (Wright)
“Happiness is a broad and subjective word, but a person’s well-being includes the presence of positive emotions, like joy and interest, and the absence of negative emotions, like apathy and sadness, Wright said. An excessive negative focus in the workplace could be harmful, such as in performance evaluations where negatives like what an employee failed to do are the focus of concentration, he said. When properly implemented in the workplace environment, positive emotions can enhance employee perceptions of finding meaning in their work. Happiness is not only a responsibility to ourselves, but also to our co-workers, who often rely on us to be steadfast and supportive.” (K-State media release)
Employee Engagement and Wellbeing
The Gallup Organisation recently reported similar findings to Wright’s. They undertook a global study of 47,361 employees. Gallup notes that employee engagement is significantly impacted by employees’ personal wellbeing. Wellbeing is measured by reference to how people rate the quality of their lives overall, and how they rate their emotional states.
Among the workers studied, the wellbeing component shows up in these statistics:
- 95% of the engaged workers said they were treated with respect
- 88% said they experienced enjoyment for much of the day
- Actively disengaged employees are more likely that engaged employees to say they felt stressed for much of the day (this impacts physical and emotional health)
- Actively disengaged employees are twice as likely as engaged employees to say they experienced anger in their day.
“Happy workers are not magic, but they can give a workplace that extra boost” (Ed Diener, quoted in Gallup Management Journal)
Wright makes a number of recommendations which can help enhance psychological wellbeing:
- Put people into appropriate work situations which maximize psychological wellbeing
- Train people to help improve job fit
- Adapt the work conditions as best as possible to help employees maximize psychological wellbeing
- Put people who are psychologically well, socially responsible and ethically strong into leadership positions; in turn they contribute to creating healthy organizations
- Provide stress management training
- Emphasise social support at work
- Implement family friendly policies
- Provide training and implement policies which emphasize the broaden and build theory
Gallup points out “Ideally, high employee wellbeing creates a virtuous cycle: workers who are happier and more content with their lives make for a more productive workplace, and that greater productivity leads to successes that boost their wellbeing even further. Too often, the reverse seem to be a vicious cycle: low worker productivity is accompanied by high levels of pessimism and physical health problems, which, in turn, lower productivity.
In environments like these, employers must be concerned with doing whatever they can to help workers avoid ‘negativity traps’.”
Like Wright, Gallup suggests that employees are placed in the right job and they feel supported and appreciated.
Wright, T.A. (2010). More than Meets the Eye: The Role of Employee Well-Being in Organizational Research, In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Garcea, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 143-154). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
“K-State researcher says happy employees are critical for an organization’s success” (February 2009) http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/feb09/wellbeing20309.html
“A Good Job Means a Good Life” (Gallup Management Journal, May 2011): http://gmj.gallup.com