The Critical Difference Between Job Satisfaction and Motivation

I moonlight as a graduate professor at my alma mater, The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.

I recently led a management class on job satisfaction vs. job motivators — how satisfying your employees is critically different than motivating them. We had a great discussion that reminded me how important it is for corporate, and especially nonprofits, to understand this.

Humans are your most valuable asset and it is both wise succession planning and sustainability planning to invest in your most valuable asset. It’s how you get a strong return on your investment.

Whenever I work with clients to increase employee productivity, the first areas we address are satisfaction and motivation. We untwist the two concepts from one another and focus on the one that matters most…

The difference between satisfaction and motivation

As leaders, we often assume that job satisfaction leads to motivation. If an employee is satisfied with his position, then he’ll be motivated to do a good job, right?

Sometimes, yes. But not necessarily.

Job satisfaction relates to what an employee gains as a result of doing his/her job. Satisfiers are things like salary, benefits, perks, work environment, job security, co-workers, etc. They’re the objective things that make an employee either feel satisfied or dissatisfied in their position.

Motivators, on the other hand, are subjective.

Motivation is a reason for acting a certain way. When you’re motivated, you have meaningful justification for why you do something. An employee can be motivated by intangibles like recognition, achievement, advancement, growth, responsibility, and job challenges.

Both satisfiers and motivators encourage you to do the work. With satisfiers, you do the work because you have to. But with motivators, you do the work because you WANT to.

What do motivation and satisfaction look like when they come together?

Satisfaction and motivation aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other, you can have both, or you can have neither!

Each scenario leads to different employee behavior:

  • High satisfaction + low motivation = low complaint, low performance
    • Employees aren’t doing excellent work but they can’t complain about how they’re being compensated.
    • Ex. working in a dead-end job that pays well 
  • Low satisfaction + low motivation = high complaint, low performance
    • Employees aren’t happy at all and they’re producing low-quality work.
    • Ex. working in a boring, underpaid position
  • High satisfaction + high motivation = low complaint, high performance
  • Employees are performing very well and appear to be quite happy with their roles.
    • Ex. loving your role within the company and being paid handsomely
  • Low satisfaction + high motivation = high complaint, high performance
    • Employees are doing fantastic work but they don’t feel adequately rewarded for their work.
    • Ex. feeling challenged and excited about the work but not making enough money

Satisfied employees are content employees. Motivated employees are productive employees.

The 4 key drivers to motivate employees

It’s relatively straightforward to improve job satisfaction because of its correlation with money, benefits, and other perks. Job motivators, on the other hand, aren’t as simple.

According to research by Nohria et al, there are four drivers that motivate employees.

The drive to acquire (goods, experience, status)

Key point: Employees are driven by the things they stand to gain if they work hard.

Sample motivator: Implement a reward system within your organization and link layers of rewards to employee performance.

The drive to bond (kinship, identity, associations, organizations)

Key point: Workplace culture is extremely important.

Sample motivator: Foster friendship, collaboration, and teamwork among your employees.

The drive to comprehend (make sense of the world around us, challenge, solve)

Key point: Employees like to understand their contribution to the organization as a whole.

Sample motivator: When it comes to job design, ensure that each position is a distinct and important role to foster a sense of value.

The drive to defend (property, accomplishments, community, justice)

Key point: Team members like to be treated fairly.

Sample motivator: Ensure a sense of transparency and equality when it comes to performance management and resource allocation.

Remember, no organization can survive without its people. Your people are your jewels! Motivate them well to see the highest return on your investment, along with a driven, galvanized team.

What is one way that you motivate your employees? How do you increase satisfaction for your employees? Where do you most need to grow in order to build a team of highly motivated (and highly productive) employees?

We love getting into the dirty details when it comes to management. For weekly tips to motivate your employees, strategically plan your success, and advance your business, click here to sign up for The Painefree Leadership blog.

By | 2018-03-07T13:26:59-06:00 February 21st, 2018|Leadership, Management|Comments Off on The Critical Difference Between Job Satisfaction and Motivation