In Brief

The secret to job satisfaction? It's not just about the work you do, but the people you do it with, according to a study in the November Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 6, pages 1,321-1,339).

Previous research usually focused on the satisfaction employees derive from job characteristics such as autonomy, task variety and the significance of the work, notes psychologist Frederick P. Morgeson, PhD, a professor at the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University and one of the authors of the study. However some studies have suggested that factors such as the work environment can also be important, so Morgeson and his co-author Stephen Humphrey, PhD, integrated these characteristics into a comprehensive work design questionnaire and administered it to 540 people in a variety of jobs, including teachers, doctors and construction workers. The questionnaire covered four main categories: task characteristics, or how the work is done; knowledge characteristics, or the skill and abilities necessary to do the work; social elements such as how often the job allows interaction with others; and the work environment, which includes characteristics such as the surroundings or physical demands of the job.

The authors expected to find that the nature of the work affected job satisfaction, but they were surprised that social factors were even more important to job satisfaction.

Frequent interaction with others, office friendships and emotional support were strong predictors of job satisfaction, notes Morgeson.

The finding may help supervisors increase employee morale, he continues. Employers can't always redesign a job to make it less boring or to allow more autonomy, but they can encourage changes in the social environment by encouraging employee interaction and teamwork, Morgeson explains.

Social support can even make up for low pay, the study found. "Social support not only predicted satisfaction beyond the task and knowledge characteristics, but it was also unrelated to training and compensation requirements, so it is kind of a no-cost improvement," Morgeson says.

-L. Meyers