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How Important Are Dispositional Factors as Determinants of Job Satisfaction?



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Journal of Applied Psychology 1987 Vol 72 No 3 366 373 Copyright 1987 by the American Psychological Association Inc 002I 9010 87 J00 75 How Important Are Dispositional Factors as Determinants of Job Satisfaction Implications for Job Design and Other Personnel Programs Barry Gerhart Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations Cornell University According to recent research stable dispositional factors may result in considerable consistency in attitudes such as job satisfaction across time and situations If true this finding may have important implications For example Staw and Ross 1985 argued that many situational changes such as job redesign may not affect individuals as intended Such personnel programs may be prone to failure because they must contend with attitudinal consistency p 478 The present article has two purposes Fiist methodological and conceptual problems with the Staw and Ross assessment of the impact of situational and dispositional factors on job satisfaction are discussed Second given Staw and Ross s focus on job redesign this article examines the impact on job satisfaction of changes in two very different measures of job complexity Findings indicate that changes in situational factors such as job complexity are important predictors of job satisfaction consistent with Hackman and Oldham s 1975 1976 job design model In contrast measurement problems preclude accurate assessment of the predictive power of dispositional factors Contrary to the concern raised by Staw and Ross 1985 and Staw Bell and Clausen 1986 it does not appear likely that the success of personnel programs will be significantly constrained by the influence of attitudinal consistency Locke 1969 denned job satisfaction as a function of the tion might benefit from more attention to selecting individuals who have a higher probability of being satisfied p 311 An perceived relationship between what one wants from one s job and what one perceives it as offering Presumably this defini alternative interpretation however is that people who expected tion points to the importance of both dispositional and situational factors as determinants of job satisfaction In practice to receive relatively good jobs i e had higher instrumentalities for valued outcomes were in fact more likely to receive good jobs These persons tended to be more satisfied because they however Mitchell 1979 suggested that personality variables have received relatively little attention in empirical research on received better jobs not because of any propensity to be satisfied To examine the impact of traits on job satisfaction actual determinants of job attitudes Similarly Weiss and Adler 1984 argued that researchers have barely scratched the surface on job outcomes must be controlled the ways in which personality constructs may enter into theoretical systems p 43 There is disagreement however concern Staw and his colleagues conducted two studies designed to assess the impact of traits on job satisfaction Staw Bell and ing the need for future research on personality or dispositional Clausen 1986 found that adolescent affective disposition variables as determinants of job attitudes In Mitchell s view was correlated with adult job affect Although Staw et al interpreted this relation as evidence for the impact of traits on job the secondary role played by dispositional variables seems justified and necessary p 247 In contrast Weiss and Adler satisfaction the magnitude of the correlations was moderate argued that It is simply premature and unproductive to make any normative statements about restricting the role of personal the sample sizes small and control for job attributes limited perhaps indicating a need to view these findings as suggestive only ity in organizational research p 2 The role of dispositional factors or traits as determinants of In contrast to the Staw et al 1986 study Staw and Ross job satisfaction has been examined in three recent empirical studies Pulakos and Schmitt 1983 reported that high school 1985 sought to investigate both traits and job factors as determinants of job satisfaction consistent with Locke s definition students instrumentalities for job related outcomes measured They examined the temporal stability of a single global job prior to taking a job were predictive of subsequent job satisfac satisfaction item as a function of pay change occupational sta tion In their view this finding suggests that personnel selec tus change and previous global job satisfaction measured 5 years earlier Data were from the mature men cohort of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience NLS Staw and Ross found that satisfaction in 1966 was the I am grateful to John Boudreau Peter Dowling Lee Dyer George Milkovich and Sara Rynes for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Barry Gerhart New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations Cornell University Ithaca New York 14851 0952 strongest and most significant predictor of 1971 job attitudes The term trail is used as a synonym for dispositional factors in this article 366 367 HOW IMPORTANT ARE DISPOSITIONAL VARIABLES Neither changes in pay nor changes in job status accounted for nearly as much variance as prior job attitude p 475 satisfaction with both dispositional and situational factors in a Staw and Ross 1985 drew important implications from sample of young adults who in general are likely to experience more significant changes in central aspects of their work situa their study They argued that it is difficult to conclude from the tions The greater sample variance in such changes provides a present data that situational effects will supersede attitudinal consistency in most contexts p 477 Note that Staw and more sensitive test for situational effects To facilitate comparison with the Staw and Ross results similar methods are used to Ross attributed the predictive power of previous job satisfaction some extent although it should be understood that this similar entirely to trait stability the accuracy of this assumption is ity does not indicate acceptance of the Staw and Ross methodol discussed later Regarding practical implications they concluded that many situational changes such as job redesign and ogy e g interpretation of the coefficient on previous job satis organizational development may not affect individuals as they are


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