Professional standards research: job satisfaction and innovation

Helen Shipton, Michael West, Carole Parkes, Jeremy Dawson, Malcom Patterson

Research output: Contribution to specialist publication or newspaperArticle


Job satisfaction is a significant predictor of organisational innovation – especially where employees (including shop-floor workers) experience variety in their jobs and work in a single-status environment.
The relationship between job satisfaction and performance has long intrigued work psychologists. The idea that "happy workers are productive workers" underpins many theories of performance, leadership, reward and job design. But contrary to popular belief, the relationship between job satisfaction and performance at individual level has been shown to be relatively weak.
Research investigating the link between job satisfaction and creativity (the antecedent to innovation) shows that job dissatisfaction promotes creative outcomes. The logic is that those who are dissatisfied (and have decided to stay with the organisation) are determined to change things and have little to lose in doing so (see JM George & J Zhou, 2002).
We were therefore surprised to find in the course of our own research into managerial practices and employee attitudes in manufacturing organisations that job satisfaction was a highly significant predictor of product and technological innovation.
These results held even though the research was conducted longitudinally, over two years, while controlling for prior innovation. In other words, job satisfaction was a stronger predictor of innovation than any pre-existing orientation organisations had towards working innovatively. Using prior innovation as a control variable, as well as a longitudinal research design, strengthened our case against the argument that people are satisfied because they belong to a highly innovative organisation. We found that the relationship between job satisfaction and innovation was stronger still where organisations showed that they were committed to promoting job variety, especially at shop-floor level.
We developed precise instruments to measure innovation, taking into account the magnitude of the innovation both in terms of the number of people involved in its implementation, and how new and different it was. Using this instrument, we are able to give each organisation in our sample a "score" from one to seven for innovation in areas ranging from administration to production technology. We found that much innovation is incremental, involving relatively minor improvements, rather than major change. To achieve sustained innovation, organisations have to draw on the skills and knowledge of employees at all levels.
We also measured job satisfaction at organisational level, constructing a mean "job satisfaction" score for all organisations in our sample, and drawing only on those companies whose employees tended to respond in a similar manner to the questions they were asked. We argue that where most of the workforce experience job satisfaction, employees are more likely to collaborate, to share ideas and aim for high standards because people are keen to sustain their positive feelings.
Job variety and single-status arrangements further strengthen the relationship between satisfaction and performance. This makes sense; where employees experience variety, they are exposed to new and different ideas and, provided they feel positive about their jobs, are likely to be willing to try to apply these ideas to improve their jobs.
Similarly, staff working in single-status environments where hierarchical barriers are reduced are likely to feel trusted and valued by management and there is evidence (see G Jones & J George, 1998) that people work collaboratively and constructively with those they trust.
Our study suggests that there is a strong business case for promoting employee job satisfaction. Managers and HR practitioners need to ensure their strategies and practices support and sustain job satisfaction among their workforces to encourage constructive, collaborative and creative working.
It is more important than ever for organisations to respond rapidly to demands of the external environment. This study shows the positive association between organisational-level job satisfaction and innovation. So if a happy workforce is the key to unlocking innovation and organisations want to thrive in the global economy, it is vital that managers and HR practitioners pay close attention to employee perceptions of the work environment. In a world where the most innovative survive it could make all the difference.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationPeople Management
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2004


Dive into the research topics of 'Professional standards research: job satisfaction and innovation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this