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Job Satisfaction May Not Be Everything

February 15, 2001
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Tom Davenport, a principal in the San Francisco office of Towers Perrin, aninternational management-consulting firm, thinks that far too much emphasis isplaced on employee job satisfaction. "Companies spend a lot of time andmoney surveying job satisfaction as if it were a prescient factor in highperformance," he explains. "Managers tend to think if they get highersatisfaction levels, then employees will perform better. Actually, the exactopposite is true."

    Davenport claims that satisfaction does not driveproductivity, but that performance drives satisfaction. "Instead ofworrying about boosting satisfaction, companies should be trying to createenvironments where performance is enabled," he says. Why? Because whenpeople have the tools to perform - e.g., the proper training, coaching andfeedback from the boss, and recognition for good work - they not only do abetter job, but they also feel better about their jobs.

    Davenport, who is also the author of HumanCapital: What It Is and Why People Invest It (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999),offers this advice to HR professionals who want to boost employee performance:

  1. Stop talking about job satisfaction and talk more about performance.Instead of worrying about how to make people happy, work to create anenvironment in which people can perform their jobs well. "Your companywill benefit and so will your employees," he says.

  2. Build the capabilities of supervisors and managers. "When we dosurveys on job performance, employees always tell us, in one way or another,'It's the manager, stupid!' " Davenport says. In other words, there isan enormous correlation between an employee's job performance and theeffectiveness of his or her manager. "If HR can build the capability ofline managers, they will build performance and satisfaction levels."

  3. Stop thinking that HR programs are going to make all the difference.According to Davenport, HR professionals tend to work like engineers. Theybelieve that if they build a comprehensive enough program - comp andbenefits, learning and development, whatever - then the program can't helpbut be successful.

    "Unfortunately, a lot of what happens in theworkplace to build job satisfaction can't be built programmatically," hesays. Instead of trying to engineer commitment through a lot of programs, thinkabout how to engage employees by making their jobs easier to do.

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