sealPurdue News

August 1999

Emotions, events dictate job satisfaction

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Gauging job satisfaction is like measuring the tidewaters – both can change with the time of the day.

That is one reason why typical measures of job satisfaction – such as surveys and polls – are not very useful, says a Purdue University expert on organizational psychology.

"Job satisfaction is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the science and practice of work behavior," says psychology Professor Howard Weiss. He says research shows that whether you rate your job satisfaction as high or low has little effect on work behaviors such as job performance, absenteeism or turnover. "That's counterintuitive and will no doubt surprise the average manager," he says.

Weiss, who studies job satisfaction, says daily events drive the emotional states of employees and thus affect their daily behavior and overall job satisfaction. He says an unhappy employee can be productive and may decide for other reasons not to quit the job. But his or her attitude may negatively impact fellow workers, customers or clients.

Weiss says a once-a-year survey of employee attitudes gives only a snapshot of office morale. "Too often organizations assume that employees' feelings are constant," Weiss says. "Actually, workplaces are more like emotional cauldrons, with daily circumstances influencing employee feelings and job performance."

In fact, daily turmoil may be the most important factor affecting job satisfaction. Weiss suggests supervisors be "events managers," controlling to whatever extent possible the events that affect employees. For example, a boss yelling at a worker may start a chain reaction of irritation as the berated employee interacts with others throughout the day.

"It's particularly important to keep the number of negative events down, in order to minimize negative emotional states," he says. Research shows that the negative effects of negative emotions affect job performance more than do the positive effects of positive emotions.

That negative impact may also be greater depending on the time of day, according to Weiss' latest findings on employee attitudes.

In a study of 24 managers, Weiss found that their moods on the job fluctuated in daily cycles, with the overall pattern being a low point at the beginning of each day, with a rise throughout the day that peaked in mid-afternoon and stayed there.

In all, Weiss found 36 percent of the variance in the mangers' moods was attributed to this cycle. "If you work in an environment that's fairly quiet and calm, these mood fluctuations might greatly influence your work," he says. "On the other hand, if your workplace is crazy, the changes in mood caused by daily cycles might go unnoticed."

The study monitored 24 middle managers in a Midwestern office of a national charity organization. The male and female participants recorded their moods at work, four separate times each day for 16 working days. Moods were gauged using a 24-item checklist that asked respondents to describe "how you are feeling right now," using words such as calm, bored, sad or cheerful. The participants filled out the list when they arrived at work; just before leaving work; and at two random times each day when they were signaled by a beeper.

The study appeared in the April issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Source: Howard Weiss, (765) 494-6227,

Writer: Beth Forbes (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A copy of the journal article mentioned in this story is available from Beth Forbes at the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-9723,

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