Why Work Group Satisfaction Matters

Topic: Employee Satisfaction, Job Performance, Teams
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SPRING 2010)
Article: Satisfaction, citizenship behaviors, and performance in work units: A meta-analysis of collective construct relations
Authors: D.S. Whitman, D.L. van Rooy, and C. Viswesvaran
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

The happy worker is the productive worker, right?  Not necessarily.  Indeed, much of the past research on job satisfaction (which is extensive, to say the least) suggests that at the individual employee level, job satisfaction and performance are weakly related.  This finding, however, tends to go against common sense.  Doesn’t it seem reasonable to believe that employees who are satisfied at work perform better than those who are not as satisfied or dissatisfied at work?  It apparently does to many researchers and thus the search for clarification continues.

A recent meta-analysis by Whitman, van Rooy and Viswesvaran (2010) suggests that while the relationship between satisfaction and performance may be weak at the individual level, satisfaction may still be important for predicting performance when measured at the work group/unit level.  In other words, Whitman et al. hypothesized that work units with more satisfied employees may tend to outperform work units with less satisfied employees. It is important to mention that work unit-level satisfaction represents an aggregate of the group members’ levels of job satisfaction.  That is, every group member plays an important role in determining the satisfaction level of the work unit.

As the authors also note, there are a number of performance indicators (i.e., productivity, customer satisfaction, withdrawal behaviors, Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs)) that can be meaningfully measured at the work unit level.

Whitman et al.’s results suggest that job satisfaction at the work unit level is, in fact, important for predicting a variety of performance indicators.  And importantly, the relationships tend to be stronger than those found in past research measuring these outcomes at the individual employee level.  Specifically, work units with satisfied employees are more productive, engage in more OCBs, and receive higher customer satisfaction ratings than work groups with less satisfied group members. Moreover, satisfied work units have lower rates of turnover and absenteeism.

So while the satisfied employee may not necessarily be the productive employee, the satisfied work group does seem to be the more productive unit!

Whitman, D.S., van Rooy, D.L., & Viswesvaran, C. (2010). Satisfaction, citizenship behaviors, and performance in work units: A meta-analysis of collective construct relations. Personnel Psychology, 63, 41-81.