Satisfaction vs. Job Performance

Since the beginning of the human relations movement the theory that “satisfaction causes performance” has been widely accepted.  A more recent theory maintains that “performance causes satisfaction” and has also gained prominence.  An even newer theory now insists that satisfaction and performance are not related, but that both satisfaction and performance are themselves “functions of rewards.”

As an older citizen, and one who has held a variety of jobs, I have had the opportunity to see each of these theories in practice.  While working as a restaurant manager in my younger years I was encouraged to follow the “satisfaction causes performance” theory and did so to the best of my ability.  Within my limits I did what I could to keep employees happy so that they were productive.  It never really worked all that well.  After all, what makes one employee happy may do nothing for the next.  I doubt whether any manager is truly capable of making an employee happy or satisfied with their job.  At our restaurant there was a lot of disparity among employees when it came to job performance.

A few years later I was working in hotel management when the “performance causes satisfaction” idea was just beginning to gain favor. Concepts that seemed to go hand-in-hand with this theory had titles like “total quality management” and “the job is its own reward.” I have to agree that for a number of people good job performance does cause a degree of job satisfaction.  I also came to believe that a person’s background and own personal “work ethic” play a large part in whether they truly derive satisfaction from doing their job well.  I personally observed many employees who did not seem as motivated by money or other rewards as other employees, yet nevertheless took great pride in their work.

The newest idea–that satisfaction and performance are tied to rewards–is one that I believe has a great deal of merit.  I do not see how rewards, either tangible or intangible, can be separated from a person’s job satisfaction and performance.  While I agree with the author that automatic pay raises may do little to enhance job performance, I have seen how bonus plans, fairly executed, can cause a work team to be highly motivated.  At the hotel I worked at we used a variety of compensation and bonus plans, coupled with other reward incentives, to greatly stimulate our work teams.  We found that when workers were given a level playing field, attainable bonus incentives, and genuine praise and recognition for a job well done, we could get the most out of each employee at the hotel.

Our productivity soared.

What do you think motivates employees best?

© Wade Kingston