employee survey

Taking the Pulse of Job Satisfaction

on April 30 | in Human Resources, Management | by | with No Comments

Some people quit because they are  frustrated by a lack of recognition or organizational bureaucracy. Others quit their jobs for a variety of reasons. It’s a common assumption that low job satisfaction drives most turnover. In fact, job satisfaction is the most researched predictor of employee turnover even though research only shows modest correlations between the two. How could the research not show overwhelmingly support of what the general public often assumes to be a clear connection?

Brooks C. Holtom, associate professor at the McDonough School of Business, suggests the central research challenge in studying job satisfaction as a predictor of voluntary turnover is that companies only measure it at one point in time. They then assess who stays and who leaves in the next calendar year and compare those numbers, even though satisfaction can change throughout the course of the year.

In his article, “When Employees Are Out of Step with Coworkers: How Job Satisfaction Trajectory and Dispersion Influence Individual- and Unit-Level Voluntary Turnover,” Holtom and his colleagues introduce a fascinating dimension to the study of job satisfaction and employee turnover – trajectory of satisfaction.

“When assessing their job satisfaction, people do not only look at their current level of satisfaction but also the change in their satisfaction over time,” says Holtom. “For example, say job satisfaction is rated on a seven-point scale. Last year, I may have been a three but this year I’m a four. That’s just middle-of-the-scale, but my trajectory is positive. That could potentially reduce my probability of leaving since most people make decisions about the future based on trajectories as well as the static level.”

Holtom suggests managers utilize employee pulsing to better predict turnover and influence employee satisfaction and loyalty. To effectively “pulse” employees, organizations need to simplify the mechanism for feedback and move away from annual, large-scale employee surveys. Instead, they should consider introducing monthly or quarterly, short surveys (3-5 questions) to better assess job satisfaction trajectories as well as more easily analyze what cultural and organizational variables may be affecting employee sentiment at certain points in time.

Does it create more work for those administering the survey? In many instances, it alleviates the burden of a large, comprehensive annual survey while providing more insight for employers. Having a better understanding of job satisfaction trends and trajectories improves organization’s ability to retain human and social capital, as well as determine its strength in attracting new talent for the future.

Holtom suggests the following additional techniques for anyone looking to improve employee retention: Employee Retention Techniques-01

1. Question. “Pulse” employees often to assess job satisfaction.

2. Innovate. Continually increase skill variety and create opportunities that offer independence on projects.

3. Motivate. Introduce activities to raise awareness about positive experiences and job satisfaction growth in the workplace.

4. Incentivize. Offer recognition, grant bonuses, and introduce training and professional development opportunities to showcase the potential for career development.


Brooks C. Holtom is an associate professor of management at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. His article “When Employees Are Out of Step with Coworkers: How Job Satisfaction Trajectory and Dispersion Influence Individual- and Unit-Level Voluntary Turnover” received the 2013 Scholarly Achievement Award from the Academy of Management’s Human Resources Division. Professor Holtom’s research focuses on how organizations acquire, develop and retain human and social capital. He has twice received the Professor of the Year award for the Georgetown University Executive Masters of Leadership Program.

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