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Keep a person satisfied in his or her job and it will result in superior job performance.

At least that’s been the prevailing wisdom.

But now a researcher says it doesn’t quite work that way. Nathan Bowling, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Wright State, says that his research shows that satisfaction does not cause performance. Instead, he says that employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness determine it.

According to Bowling, the studies show that employees who have an overall negative attitude to all things in life likely won’t find job satisfaction, regardless of performance, because of their personality characteristics.

“Emotional stability matters a lot,” Bowling said. “People who are neurotic, those who tend to be anxious, depressed, regardless of the situation, typically won’t find satisfaction no matter how many jobs they try.”

What are the implications of his work?

Bowling says that workplace interventions designed to improve performance by exclusively targeting employee satisfaction are unlikely to be effective. He also suggests that the studies show that intelligence is one of the things that drives the performance. Another common denominator of solid performing employees, according to Bowling, are those who exhibit a high level of conscientiousness — those who are detail-oriented, hard workers and who set goals.

Source: Is the Job Satisfaction-Job Performance Relationship Spurious: A Meta-Analytic Examination. Source: Bowling, N.A. (2007). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71, 167-185.

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