Everyone wants a job they enjoy, whether for the pay and other benefits, the comaraderie of their relationship with their coworkers, the satisfaction gained from the work, or whatever gives a person job satisfaction. Every employer wants dedicated, high-performing employees. We would assume, and in fact studies to an extent confirm (Iaffaldano & Muchinsky, 1985) that there would be a correlation between job performance and job satisfaction, in that employees who perform well would enjoy fairly high job satisfaction and that employees who experience high job satisfaction would also be high-performers. But which comes first?  Does a happy employee perform better or does performing well make an employee happier?

It can be looked at two ways. First, let’s consider the perspective of a satisfied employee. An employee who feels respected and valued by his employer, feels he is being adequately and appropriately compensated, and is happy with the demands and challenges of his job will likely experience high job satisfaction. This in turn will likely induce him to put forth his best effort, which will presumably lead to high job performance. Conversely, an employee who works hard and performs well will likely be rewarded with higher pay and recognition, which would probably increase her job satisfaction.

A study was conducted in 1977 that supports the idea that it is job performance which accounts for  job satisfaction. Jacobs and Soloman (1977) hypothesized that it is the reward that leads to satisfaction, and their study found that when a reward was given for high performance, then satisfaction and performance are related more strongly.

This is not to say, however, that high job performance always leads to high job satisfaction, or that the converse is never true. The results of the literature are mixed and the correlations that have been found are not overly strong. There are so many individual differences involved in what constitutes employee satisfaction that it is a hard construct to adequately measure.

I have an aquaintance who owns a small business and claims that his employees seem in general to have moderately high levels of job satisfaction, based at least on his observations. He receives few complaints and production generally runs smoothly. According to my friend, the one day of the year in which there is a distinct atmosphere of dissatisfaction in the workplace is, ironically, on the day on which raises and bonuses are distributed. It does not appear to be the actual amount of the raises that the employees take issue with, it is the amount they receive in comparison with their fellow employees.

It is my friend’s appraisal that the more industrious employees, who are more generously rewarded, want more recognition for their superior work and feel their less productive coworkers were given too much for the smaller amount of work they do. Conversely, the less productive workers, whose raises are smaller, feel slighted. My friend is not a psychologist, but he hypothesizes that the harder workers probably exaggerate in their own minds the superiority of their efforts, and the lesser producers probably diminish in their own minds their own lack of effort. Interestingly, he notes that the most content of his employees seems to be those in the middle, who put forth an average effort and receive an average raise.

Also, during the difficult economic times of ther last few years, he suspended raises for three years. There were almost no complaints. But when he re-instigated raises this year he was dreading the grumbling which was sure to follow so much that he arranged to be out of the office that day, and there were indeed a lot of highly dissatisfied employees following their first raise in three years. This illustrates how tricky a construct job satisfaction and “reward” can be.

It is a nice idea to believe that satisfaction on the job will lead to higher job performance, and there is some evidence to support that this is to a degree true. It could also be supposed that high job performance would be likely to lead to high job satisfaction, and in many cases this is found to be the case. There is no simple one-fits-all model.


Iaffaldano, M.T., & Muchinsky, P.M. (1985). Job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 97, 251-273.

Jacobs, R., & Soloman, T. (1977). Strategies for enhancing the prediction of job performance form job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 417-421.