Theories of Job Dissatisfaction

Bryoney Hayes, Rob Wengrzyn
  • Author
    Bryoney Hayes

    Bryoney Hayes earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Old Dominion University. Bryoney graduated with a B.A. in English (Journalism) in 2010 and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 2012. After graduation, she taught English in both South Korea and Qatar. She is midway through an Advanced Search Engine Optimization Certification Program.

  • Instructor
    Rob Wengrzyn

    Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Learn about job dissatisfaction and how it relates to the workforce. Explore the four causes of loss in job satisfaction and typical responses to job dissatisfaction. Updated: 03/22/2022

What is Job Dissatisfaction?

More than half of Americans are disengaged at work. Fewer than 50% trust their companies. Of those workers who do quit, more than 75% of them leave because of problems with their bosses. These statistics suggest that many American workers are unsatisfied with their jobs, but what exactly does job dissatisfaction mean? American psychologist Frederick Herzberg said that people need certain things to feel job satisfaction and that certain factors would breed job dissatisfaction. This is known as his Two-Factor Theory. The first factor, motivators, lead to job satisfaction. The second factor, hygiene factors, lead to job dissatisfaction when they are not met.

Job Satisfaction vs Job Dissatisfaction

Although employees of some professions (like clergy, humanities and healthcare) report higher rates of job satisfaction overall, only 20 percent of Americans say that they're truly passionate about their work. Job satisfaction is important for employee retention. The earliest theory about job satisfaction was presented in 1935 by Robbert Hoppock. He described job satisfaction ''as being any number of psychological, physiological, and environmental circumstances which leads a person to express satisfaction with their job.'' Since then, a number of theories have evolved regarding job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction, including Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory (also known as the Motivators-Hygeine Theory), Locke's Value Theory and Adams' Equity Theory. What they all share is the theory that when certain conditions are not met regarding employee growth, compensation, engagement and leadership, job dissatisfaction can develop. Job satisfaction and dissatisfaction should not be thought of as absolutes, however. It is important to note that they exist as a spectrum within any one employee. They can fluctuate based on a variety of situational, personal and day-to-day factors.

Job Dissatisfaction

Not everyone can be satisfied with their job. As a matter of fact, Gallup statistics revealed that only 32% of U.S. employees felt actively engaged with their job in 2022. This included both full-time and part-time workers.

One has to wonder about this high level of disengagement in the workplace and the reactions or responses from employees who feel dissatisfaction. When we are younger, we act out by pouting or stomping our feet, but it is important we understand how employees respond when they are not satisfied with their jobs. Understanding the responses helps companies to identify that discontent and hopefully address it before it goes too far.

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What are the Four Causes of Loss in Job Satisfaction?

Nicole is an adjunct professor who works at an English Language Department in her local community college. Nicole is a vibrant and dynamic teacher who loves to help students. Her favorite teaching moments are the ''aha'' moments, when a student's face lights up with understanding of a concept. The nature of the task itself, teaching language and communication, along with the responsibility of molding students and the reward of learner outcomes means that Nicki's teaching position meets many of the motivating factors that can create job satisfaction: she has an appropriate level of responsibility and she experiences reward recognition through her students for a job well done. Provided that the position pays well and that it has strong leadership, Nicole might invest her time, energy and creativity into growing herself as a teacher and leader within the English Language Department. Her long-term presence and enthusiasm could boost morale; her experience/expertise in departmental policy, procedure and best practices could boost productivity and save the department money through reduced turnover and training of new employees. On the other hand, Adams' Equity theory states that all employees expect the outcomes of their job to match the level of effort and attention that they put into it, or their input. If Nicole devotes herself to the department but experiences outcomes that she finds to be inequitable, she will probably begin to experience job dissatisfaction. Employees who experience poor management, limited career growth, being underpaid and lack of interest in their work have felt the four causes of loss in job satisfaction.

Poor Management

The other professors in Nicole's department are nice, but the department itself has an issue with its leadership. The chair of the department is a combination of disorganized and ill-tempered that makes them difficult to approach or please. This poor management affects many students and teachers in the department. They feel like the chair is unsupportive and untrustworthy, which makes it difficult for them to feel secure or satisfied when interacting with them. Though the department is talented, it is poorly managed, to the detriment of students and teachers alike, because dissatisfied employees tend to respond to their job dissatisfaction in negative ways.

Limited Career Growth

After a few years, Nicole had enough time to learn her position and the department really well. She decided to apply as a coordinator to help organize the department and mediate between the increasingly dissatisfied employees, the students and the department chair. Nicole had glowing reviews from students and consistently exceeded expectations in her evaluations. She even had a positive rapport with the chair. Unfortunately, Nicole was passed over for the position in favor of an external hire. According to Locke's Value Theory, job outcomes must match employee expectations. When employees experience outcomes that they value, they feel job satisfaction. Conversely, when employees don't experience outcomes they value, they experience job dissatisfaction. Until that point, Nicole considered herself and her work to be valuable to the department. Afterward, however, she began to feel that the college did not in fact value her time and talent. Because Nicole felt the college limited her growth, she began to feel undervalued, which led to job dissatisfaction.

Being Underpaid

Twenty percent of employees are passionate about their jobs, but being underpaid is a severe impetus to job dissatisfaction for even the most passionate of employees. Low income leads to job dissatisfaction because capitalist societies scale quality of life with higher income. In the USA, people who make less than $25,000 per year have significantly lower job satisfaction rates. Even among professions like the clergy or teaching, which can have job satisfaction ratings of 90%, they still need a certain amount of compensation to survive and live in safety and security with their families. If they do not feel they are fairly compensated, employees will adjust their input to their job to balance the input/output ratio once again. In Nicole's place, as an adjunct professor with limited growth potential within her department, Nicole was paid a fixed rate per course for each semester, but she did not have healthcare benefits or paid time off. She believed she was undercompensated for the investment of time and work that she put into her teaching and her students. This compounded her job dissatisfaction as well.

Lack of Interest

Two years after Nicole applied and was turned down for a promotion, she is in the same position teaching the same course. She has refined the course to be something she could teach in her sleep; and indeed, she does find herself sleepwalking through them more and more. Nicole's lack of interest in her position is evident, and it spreads through her students and her colleagues. As a result, Nicole's students are less engaged and less successful. At the same time, Nicole is less engaged with her colleagues, who miss out on valuable opportunities to collaborate with a professor who ''knows the ropes'' and has a lot to contribute regarding training and best practices. That's why it is important that employers strive to keep their employees engaged via job satisfaction and creating best practices.

Causes of Job Dissatisfaction

There are a number of specific causes for job dissatisfaction, but it is understood there are four main areas that reside in this issue. These areas are:

Being underpaid: Not being paid what you are worth is called being underpaid. This one issue is the most challenging one to work with because it can be driven by interpretation or perspective that is very personal or individually focused. If a person does not think they are being paid enough to do their job, then they perceive themselves to be underpaid - even if the wages they make are in line with that position. If they research the wages for that job (either on the Internet or by talking to others) and find they are indeed being underpaid, then their dissatisfaction is warranted.

In addition, they could see someone who does the same job they are doing driving a better car or living in a better house - and thus, perceive that person to be making more money. And so, once again, they believe they are underpaid. You see, unless you know what others are making or research the wages that are appropriate for a specific job function, then the dissatisfaction that comes from being underpaid is totally based on perception. From a company's perspective, it is a valuable and important perspective because individuals who are dissatisfied with the money they are making for the job they do will most likely leave the organization.

Limited career growth: Not having the opportunity to climb the ladder and grow your career is another area that can foster dissatisfaction with a position. For this aspect, it is important to understand that not everyone wants to move up the ladder. However, for those who do, if the company does not afford them the opportunity of growth, they will become disenchanted and become dissatisfied with their job. This could mean that the employee will potentially leave for another position that might have better career growth opportunities.

Lack of interest: A lack of interest is having a position that does not interest you. This is a very straightforward concept, but you might be wondering why anyone would take a job they were not interested in. Well, the first answer to that is typically money. People need to work and need jobs, so they might indeed take a position that does not interest them so they can pay the bills.

Another answer could be that sometimes what a person is told a job is in the interview process does not materialize. The old joke is the company and the prospective employee are all Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie during the interview process, but once the hiring is done, we can at times see the ugly side of a company or position and not want to stay.

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Video Transcript

Job Dissatisfaction

Not everyone can be satisfied with their job. As a matter of fact, Gallup statistics revealed that only 32% of U.S. employees felt actively engaged with their job in 2022. This included both full-time and part-time workers.

One has to wonder about this high level of disengagement in the workplace and the reactions or responses from employees who feel dissatisfaction. When we are younger, we act out by pouting or stomping our feet, but it is important we understand how employees respond when they are not satisfied with their jobs. Understanding the responses helps companies to identify that discontent and hopefully address it before it goes too far.

Causes of Job Dissatisfaction

There are a number of specific causes for job dissatisfaction, but it is understood there are four main areas that reside in this issue. These areas are:

Being underpaid: Not being paid what you are worth is called being underpaid. This one issue is the most challenging one to work with because it can be driven by interpretation or perspective that is very personal or individually focused. If a person does not think they are being paid enough to do their job, then they perceive themselves to be underpaid - even if the wages they make are in line with that position. If they research the wages for that job (either on the Internet or by talking to others) and find they are indeed being underpaid, then their dissatisfaction is warranted.

In addition, they could see someone who does the same job they are doing driving a better car or living in a better house - and thus, perceive that person to be making more money. And so, once again, they believe they are underpaid. You see, unless you know what others are making or research the wages that are appropriate for a specific job function, then the dissatisfaction that comes from being underpaid is totally based on perception. From a company's perspective, it is a valuable and important perspective because individuals who are dissatisfied with the money they are making for the job they do will most likely leave the organization.

Limited career growth: Not having the opportunity to climb the ladder and grow your career is another area that can foster dissatisfaction with a position. For this aspect, it is important to understand that not everyone wants to move up the ladder. However, for those who do, if the company does not afford them the opportunity of growth, they will become disenchanted and become dissatisfied with their job. This could mean that the employee will potentially leave for another position that might have better career growth opportunities.

Lack of interest: A lack of interest is having a position that does not interest you. This is a very straightforward concept, but you might be wondering why anyone would take a job they were not interested in. Well, the first answer to that is typically money. People need to work and need jobs, so they might indeed take a position that does not interest them so they can pay the bills.

Another answer could be that sometimes what a person is told a job is in the interview process does not materialize. The old joke is the company and the prospective employee are all Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie during the interview process, but once the hiring is done, we can at times see the ugly side of a company or position and not want to stay.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the consequences of job dissatisfaction?

Job dissatisfaction has a myriad of consequences for the employer. Employee job dissatisfaction can lead to significantly diminished performance when compared to companies with high employee job satisfaction. Furthermore, job dissatisfaction will be expensive for companies due to high turnover. It also lowers morale. Employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs will neglect them, modify their loyalty, speak about the problems within their work, and ultimately seek to leave the company.

How do you express dissatisfaction at work?

Employees express dissatisfaction at work in a variety of ways. They neglect their jobs by coming in late or increasing absenteeism; they reduce productivity and scale back on their performance. They might also spread job dissatisfaction among their colleagues by speaking about the problems within the company.

What causes job dissatisfaction?

Job dissatisfaction is caused by a variety of factors. Jobs which possess limited growth, poor management, poor compensation, or which do not interest the employee can lead to job dissatisfaction.

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