Work Satisfaction and Stress

As might be expected, the degree of satisfaction experienced on a job varies with the status, power, financial compensation, and other rewards indicative of successful performance. Chronological age is also significantly related to the level of job satisfaction. In general, both young and older workers express more job satisfaction than middle-aged workers (Warr, 1992). Despite a relatively high level of expressed job satisfaction, younger workers have more absenteeism, more disabling injuries, and higher accident rates,1 and are less committed to the organization (Human Capital Initiative, 1993).

Various factors contribute to the lower level of job satisfaction and occupational well-being shown by middle-aged workers. Realizing that their careers and chances for advancement are limited, and experiencing boredom with the present circumstances and concerns for the future, middle-aged workers are more likely to experience dissatisfaction than either younger or older workers. It would seem that these same factors would cause older adults to be even more dissatisfied with their jobs, but such is not the case. Among the explanations that have been offered for the high job satisfaction of most older adults are the following:

1. Realizing that they do not have much time left and having lowered their expectations, older adults have settled for a job in which they are reasonably happy.

2. Because of the way in which they were brought up, older adults learned to value work of all types more than younger cohorts.

3. Older adults, who may have changed jobs frequently over the years, have ended up in more fulfilling jobs than younger adults.

4. Work is less of a factor in the lives of older adults, and because of lower work motivation, they require less to remain satisfied with their occupation (Bray & Howard, 1983).

Job dissatisfaction can, of course, occur at any age and on any type of work—unskilled, semiskilled, skilled, or professional. In interviews with a large sample of workers in many different occupations, Terkel (1974) found that a sizable majority were dissatisfied with their jobs. Many of the interviewees indicated that their jobs were merely temporary, stopgap measures until they were able to do what they really wanted to. To Terkel and other observers (e.g., Dawis, 1984; Roth, 1991), the dissatisfaction with work expressed by so many individuals is related less to wages and benefits than to a feeling that their work is dull and meaningless and that their efforts are unrecognized and unappreciated by their supervisors and coworkers.

Dull, uninteresting work can lead to alienation, a feeling of personal disconnectedness or self-removal from the job. This is particularly likely when workers feel that their efforts are meaningless and unappreciated, and they fail to see the connection between what they do and the final product. Because worker alienation is costly to an organization, management has been alerted to the need to prevent it and cope with it. Involving employees in the decision-making processes of an organization, making work schedules flex-

■However, younger workers recover more quickly from serious accidents and are less likely to become permanently disabled (Sterns, Barrett, & Alexander, 1985). Young workers also experience less difficulty than older workers in adjusting to night-shift work (Harma, Hakola, & Laitinen, 1992).

ible (flextime2 ), and instituting worker development and enhancement programs are procedures that employers have instituted to avoid alienation among workers (Roth, 1991).

Unlike the alienated worker, who perceives his or her job as boring and unrewarding, the burned out worker finds it too involving and demanding. Burnout, a condition precipitated by the stress of overwork, is characterized by a cluster of physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. These include emotional exhaustion, negative attitudes, headache, backache, reduced productivity, feelings of depersonalization, and social withdrawal. An employee suffering from burnout can no longer keep up with the pace and pressure—often self-imposed—of an occupation, and eventually his or her energy and motivation become severely depleted. Burnout is not limited to the job; it carries over into the family situation. In general, burnout and other signs of stress on the job are more likely to affect family life than stress in the family is to affect performance at work. In addition, burnout is more common in married, female workers, who are subject to a greater amount of both work and nonwork stress than their husbands. Working women are more likely to show multiple-role strains, in that stress arising from the demands of the role of worker interfere with the effective performance of the roles of wife and mother (Repetti, Matthews, & Waldron, 1989).

Some of the same techniques for dealing with alienation can be used with burnout: Workers should be made to feel that they are an important part of the organization by involving them in decisions; communication and helpfulness on the part of management should be improved, and a sense of camaraderie and teamwork should be promoted. Workers who suffer from burnout should also be encouraged to lower their expectations as to what they can realistically expect to accomplish and assisted in their efforts to deal with constraints on the job and elsewhere.

Although the direction of emotional stress is more apt to be from work to home that vice versa, emotional problems stemming from the stress of an unhappy home life can make workers more distractible, increasing the likelihood of work accidents. Of course, stress on the job can also increase the likelihood of accidents on the job itself. Whatever the cause may be, frustrated, worried, and angry workers tend to have more accidents than happy, contented workers. Part of the explanation appears to lie in personality. For example, Shaw and Sichel (1971) found that workers who had repeated accidents were less emotionally stable, more hostile toward authority, and higher in anxiety than nonrepeaters. More recently, Hansen (1989) reported that measures of social maladjustment and neurotic distractibility were significantly related to the rate of accidents on the job. The results of these and other studies (Arnett, 1990; Montag & Comrey, 1987; Perry, 1986) support the

2Employees who work on flextime schedule can work whatever hours they wish, as long as they work the required number of hours and are at work during a specified "core period."

conclusion that personality variables are associated with accident frequency in various kinds of work situations.

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