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Job Satisfaction and Self-esteem

© July 2006 Claudia Garcez

Claudia Garcez, Consultora de RH

Job Satisfaction and Self-esteem: A Literature Review of the Relationship Between Job Satisfaction and Self-Esteem

By Claudia Garcez

The relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem has been pondered for decades by many different professionals. These groups of professionals include psychologists, sociologists, academic professors, and people from the business community. In a capitalistic environment, learning the relationship that exits between job satisfaction and self-esteem is for the ultimate purpose of improving worker productivity. However, from a human interest prospective, the importance of the relationship is to learn whether happiness with one's job is related to one's self-confidence. Although the research includes many different jobs, methods and test groups, the research is almost unanimous that, regardless of job status, there's a strong job satisfaction/self-esteem relationship.

The relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem was part of a 1977 study involving college students. Although the study dealt with goal setting, performance and attitudes of college students, it gathered data that gives important information concerning a possible link between satisfaction on the job and self-esteem. The study involved 61 students from an "Introduction to Business" course. The students played the Henshaw and Jackson Executive Game, which required them to make sophisticated decisions regarding pricing, advertising, inventory, and personnel. Over a simulated 2-year period, five criteria were measured which included goals, effort, psychological success, self-esteem and involvement (Hall and Foster, 1977). The importance of this study, as it relates to satisfaction/self-esteem, was that when students

had feelings of success in a task, they had feelings of increased self-esteem. Also, an increase in self-esteem was linked to increased involvement, and lead to increased goal setting. The relevance of self-esteem in the study can be seen in the following diagram:

Goal->Effort->Performance->Psychological Success ->Involvement and Self-Esteem


An interesting finding was that there was no evidence that an increased self-esteem caused performance. Instead, it was the feeling of psychological success, as a result of performance that caused an increase in self-esteem (Hall and Foster, 1977). This can be interpreted to mean that when one is satisfied on the job (because one is perceiving himself or herself to be performing well) one will have an increased self-esteem (Hall and Foster, 1977).

Self-esteem, job satisfaction, and job performance were also the focus of a 1980 study. In this study, the differential impact of self-esteem on the relationships between various job satisfaction scores (e.g. overall, intrinsic, extrinsic, pay) and job performance were explored (Lopez, 1982). The authors hypothesized that self-esteem moderates the relationship between job performance and satisfaction (Lopez, 1982). The study was conducted in six different eastern metropolitan universities. Although this involved college students, unlike the Hall and Foster study, these students worked full-time jobs. Here, a total of 1,487 Master of Business Administration students, voluntarily participated (Lopez, 1982).

The instruments used in this study were the Job Description Index (JDI) and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ). The JDI measured satisfaction with five aspects of the job: work, pay, promotions, supervision, and co-workers (Lopez, 1982). The MSQ was used to measure overall satisfaction and intrinsic versus extrinsic satisfaction (Lopez, 1982). Additionally, self-esteem was measured in three different scales, Chronic, Task-Specific, and Social self-esteem (Lopez, 1982).

The study found that there was no significant correlations between the three self-esteem measures and performance on the various satisfaction scales. This suggests that Chronic, Task Specific, and Social components of self-esteem are unrelated to both performance and satisfaction. Although Chronic self-esteem was significantly linked with both Task-Specific and Social components of self-esteem, Task-Specific and Social self-esteem were not significantly correlated.

These findings provide support for the idea that self-esteem moderates the job performance-job satisfaction relationship. The data revealed that, in females, Social self-esteem was the strongest factor in the six dimensions of satisfaction. Conversely, in males, Task-Specific self-esteem was the greatest moderating power. The study's researchers believe that follow-up studies are needed to explore the generalization of this data on a broader range of individuals and organizations.

One such follow-up study occurred in a recent 2002 study by Andrea Kohan and Brian P. O'Connor. In this study, Kohan and O'Connor (2002) investigated job satisfaction of police officers in relation to mood, well-being and alcohol consumption. Also, Kohan and O'Connor (2002), examined job satisfaction, job stress, and thoughts of quitting in relation to positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA). A high PA means a zest for life, excitement, and pleasurable engagement. Contrastly, a high NA is associated with feeling upset, nervous, and tense. Alcohol consumption was used as a variable because it has been a serious issue in many police officers lives (Kohan and O'Connor, 2002).

The study involved giving a cover letter, questionnaire and a return envelope in the mailbox of 395 police officers. The cover letter assured officers that their involvement was confidential and voluntary. 122 officers participated by fully completing the questionnaires. Their mean age was approximately 36 and they had been on the job an average of almost 12 years.

On average, the study revealed that police officers reported more PA than NA. In other words, they had high levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, job satisfaction, and job stress. Also, there was a relatively low amount of officers intending to leave their job. As far as alcohol consumption, the level was surprisingly moderate, with the average consumption only being 2.3 ounces of alcohol "a few times a month." Job satisfaction, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and intention to leave were more strongly linked to PA. Conversely, job stress and alcohol consumption was linked to NA. The import of this study is that police officers with a zest for life and excited about their job had higher self-esteem and thus, higher job satisfaction than officers who were nervous and tense (Kohan and O'Connor, 2002). It is believed that police officers are excellent samples for studying job experiences and well-being because police work is a way of life and not just a job.

Studies haven't just focused on one distinct occupational group. Probably one of the most comprehensive studies of numerous occupations was a 1980 study conducted by Edward J. Walsh and Marylee C. Taylor, focusing on aspects of job experiences and self-esteem. In this study, Walsh and Taylor (1980) examined the association of work-related factors and various indicators of self-esteem for seven work groups. These groups included garbage-collectors, park workers, bartenders, barbers, mail carriers, high-school teachers and university professors. In addition, this study focused on the relationship of occupational status, conditions of work, and intra-occupational achievement to dimensional as well as global measures of self-evaluation (Walsh and Taylor, 1980).

With the exception of the teachers, each of the samples was randomly selected from local incumbents of the various occupations. As for the teachers, the entire teaching faculty of three Philadelphia high-schools participated in the study. To measure the self-esteem of the participants, Walsh and Taylor (1980) used the "global" evaluation, but their real purpose in this study was to emphasize the multidimensionality of that variable. A battery of items designed to use the participants' attitudes toward themselves in specific areas, followed by a single item, intended to measure the person's overall self evaluation. Also, Walsh and Taylor (1980) added 200+ pre-existing self-esteem scales to the dimension of "familial" and "sociability"(adding a total of three dimensions of self-esteem) self-esteem. The instruments used in this study forced the manual workers to rate themselves on items such as job pride and getting ahead. For each type of job measure, participants were asked to evaluate themselves on a five-point scale ranging from "not too well" to "extremely well." The following passage describes a request of the researchers of a general evaluation from the participants:

"You have told your feelings about yourself in a number of special areas, but now we'd like a general evaluation. Some people feel pretty good about themselves, overall, and others feel pretty bad. Think about yourself in general-including everything you are and everything you do-and say which of the following overall evaluations best describes your feelings about yourself" (Walsh and Taylor, 1980).

Although the findings of this study are too numerous to state in this review, the research did provide some valuable information on aspects of occupational factors and self-esteem. Pertaining to job prestige, it had a positive affect on occupational self-esteem. However, interestingly, job prestige only accounted for about four percent of the variance in "global" self-esteem. Walsh and Taylor are of the opinion that this should diminish the generalization that low status jobs produce serious negative social psychological consequences (Walsh and Taylor, 1980).

In addition, the research provided data to generate two hypotheses related to the issues in my review. The first is that incumbents of lower status jobs involving idiocultural norm control in stable small group settings (e.g. bartenders) will experience relatively high self-esteem. The second is that job recognition and rewards mean more to job self-esteem than job prestige or work conditions. The authors conclude that the data challenges the belief that blue-collar workers experience "an overwhelmingly sense of inferiority." Also, that the relationship between work experience and self-esteem is more complex than they thought (Walsh and Taylor, 1980).

A second more recent 1999 study, involving more than one occupational group, investigated the relationship between differential inequity, job satisfaction, intention to turn over, and self-esteem. Pertaining to self-esteem, Rebecca Abraham (1999) hypothesized that self-esteem moderates the under equity-job satisfaction and under equity-intention to turn over relationships; more simply, individuals with low self-esteem experience greater job dissatisfaction and propensity to turn-over than those with high self-esteem (Abraham, 1999).

The study's sample was made up of 108 employees from the telecommunications, entertainment, food service, and clothing retail industries located in the Southeastern, United States. 41 (38%) of the participants were men, and 60 (55.6%) were women. Seven participants did not report their gender. The participants' ages ranged from 19 to 50 years old with a median of 30 years. Also, 78 of the participants were first-line managers and 24 were clerical workers (6 participants did not report their job titles). The average of their organizational tenure was 3 years (Abraham, 1999).

Hackman and Oldham's five-item, 7-point Job Satisfaction Scale was used to measure job satisfaction. Intention to turn-over was measured by a three-item, 7-point Intention to Turn-over subscale of The Michigan Organizational Assessment Questionnaire. Finally, self-esteem was measured by Quinn and Shepard's four-item, 7-point, bipolar Self-Perceptions at Work Scale (Abraham, 1999).

One of the relevant findings was that age and system inequity were predictors of job dissatisfaction and company inequity for intention to turn-over. Also, strong support was provided for the moderation by self-esteem of the relationship between inequity and the criteria. Abraham (1999) believes that the finding that focal persons with low self-esteem experience more aversive effects attributable to inequity in working conditions has both practical and theoretical implications. According to Abraham (1999), from a practical viewpoint, firms should target individuals with low self-esteem for the dissemination of information regarding company policy on status symbols at the inception of employment. Also, companies should provide ongoing support to assist low self-esteem employees in copying with inequity. Finally, Abraham (1999) believes theoretically, low self-esteem may be innate, so that individuals with inherently low self-esteem react more strongly to inequity (Abraham, 1999).

Another distinct group of individuals who have been the focus of a study concerning the relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem was a group of individuals with mental illnesses. In this study, Edward S. Casper and Steven Fishbein (2002) investigated job satisfaction and job success as moderators of the self-esteem in people with mental illnesses. It was hypothesized that status satisfaction and success variables would have a significant and meaningful relationship with self-esteem, while the employment status and status duration variables alone would not (Casper and Fishbein, 2002).

The instruments used were the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (as the dependent variable measure), the Need for Change Scale ( as the job satisfaction measure), and the Need for Change Scale-Others ( as job success measure). The participants in the research were individuals with mental illnesses attending mental health agencies in New Jersey. During a of two month period (November, 2000 to January, 2001), the participants completed the protocol, regarding their gender, current age, ethnic background, current employment status (employed vs. unemployed)(Casper and Fishbein, 2002).

It was found that measures of "felt satisfaction" and "felt success" with employment status were significant and moderate level predictors of self-esteem for both employed and unemployed (Casper and Fishbein, 2002). Satisfaction and success were measured as moderators of self-esteem so that the participants' level of self-esteem were not directly related to functional status but to the participant's satisfaction and success with the functional status (Casper and Fishbein, 2002). The findings also showed that the differences in functional status alone did not appear related to self-esteem, but differences in satisfaction and success with the functional status were related (Casper and Fishbein, 2002).

The relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem has even been studied outside the United States. In a recent 2003 study, Hamid Reza Alavi and Mohammad Reza Askaripur (2003) used a random sample of 310 personnel in the Kerman Province, Iran. Two types of questionnaires were used, the Kruskal-Wallis test and the Median test. Alavi's and Askaripur's hypothesis was that there is a relationship between self-esteem and job satisfaction of personnel (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003).

To test their hypothesis, Alavi and Askaripur (2003) used statistical population of personnel from 18 organizations, mostly from government offices. The location was Kerman, Iran with a total population number of 620 people. Half of the population were random selected of that 310. Only 274 people completed the two different research questionnaires. The variables mentioned on one questionnaire were: sex, marriage, age, record of service, the amount of salary, and the number of family members (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003). A second questionnaire, called job satisfaction questionnaire, was used to measure self-esteem. The different dimensions in this questionnaire were: the kind of job, manager or supervisor, co-worker, promotion in the organization, and salary and wage benefits. The job satisfaction questionnaire was made up of 40 questions (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003).

The result of the data analysis showed that there is a significant meaningful relationship between self-esteem and job satisfaction of personnel. Also, it was found that personnel with high self-esteem have more satisfaction in their jobs than personnel with low self-esteem. Therefore, the results accepted and confirmed the project's hypothesis (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003).

Based on the results of this research, Alavi and Askaripur (2003) suggest that managers and employers should employ people with high self-esteem so that their job satisfaction might be increased after employment. On the contrary, Alavi and Askaripur (2003) state that a decrease in job satisfaction may be due to a decrease in self-esteem, and thus, organizations should increase their employees' self-esteem, which, in turn, will increase their job satisfaction (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003). According to this study, one of the best methods for increasing self-esteem in personnel is to increase their job satisfaction in all of its dimensions (Alavi and Askaripur, 2003).

In order to know how to increase job satisfaction, it is important to learn what factors make people fully satisfied in their jobs. In a 2003 survey on job satisfaction, college graduates with degrees in Financial Planning from a large Midwest university, ranked factors that they considered essential to be fully satisfied at work. These factors included realization of expectation, company support, attitude, relationships with others, and pay. The results of this survey are relevant because it shows a relationship between job satisfaction and personal happiness (DeVaney and Chen, 2003).

The University Development Office provided DeVaney and Chen (2003) information for all graduates since 1980s. It included a list of 624 graduate names and addresses. The Dillman method for mailed survey was used in this study. Unfortunately, only 25 questionnaires were fully completed and returned. Luckily, out of the remaining 599 questionnaires, 211 (35%) usable responses were received (DeVaney and Chen, 2003).

The relevant part of this study shows that realization of expectation, company support, attitude, relations with fellow workers and pay were determinants of job satisfaction (DeVaney and Chen, 2003). Also, the results suggest that if graduates obtain positions that are consistent with their expectations, they will more likely to be satisfied. Finally, the results imply that once an individual's job needs are satisfied, the person will consequently experience a sense of inner reward and happiness (DeVaney and Chen, 2003).

The relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem was also analyzed in a school- work transition project. This project, called My Turn, was a cooperative effort of public schools, institutions of higher education, corporations, and small businesses seeking to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged young people ("My Turn," 1996). "My Turn" provided internship experiences that included formal counseling or mentoring to designate training and educational needs for career paths associated with job experience (" My Turn," 1996).

The project involved eighty high-school students which were placed in six-to eight-week internships that matched their desired career interests. There was special attention given to maintain meaningful connections between internships and the students' potential career goals. The students had the opportunity to learn about the overall workings of a business ("My Turn," 1996). They spent four to six hours each week training in a different area of the business, including sales, human resources, shipping and receiving, telemarketing, billing, and payroll. The students also had one or two sessions with the chief executive officer or a senior vice-president as a way of acquainting them with organizational philosophies and missions ("My Turn," 1996). In addition, the students were required to keep a journal of their work experience. Journal keeping was important because it enabled students to map out their own thoughts and understanding concerning their experience. Also, it provided feedback, which allowed the staff to identify areas of failed expectations or inappropriate experience ("My Turn," 1996).

The results of the My Turn project showed an increase in the students' self-esteem. Also, the students reported having learned a great deal, considering they had very little practical business knowledge prior to the internship. Finally, the high-school teachers observed a significant increase in the students' confidence and interest in school ("My Turn," 1996).

It appears that individuals that are satisfied with their jobs have a higher self-esteem than individuals who aren't satisfied. Interestingly, there is support for the notion that people that have made a career choice, even before they have started working, have a higher self-esteem than people who are undecided about their career. This notion was the hypothesis of Harvey Resnick, Marianne Lesson Fauble, and Samuel H. Osipow in a 1970 study, in which they hypothesized that college students who have a high self-esteem show more advanced vocational crystallization than college students low in self-esteem. "Crystallization refers to the formulation of tentative ideas regarding the level and field of future work, along with a tentative commitment, and should be complete by age 18, thus making way for specification where the general choice becomes specific" (Resnick, Fauble & Osipow, 1970).

The subjects of the study were 114 male and 102 female college students enrolled in "Introductory Psychology" at Ohio State University (1970). The instruments used were the Biographical Inventory Questionnaire, The Kuder Preference Record, and The Tennessee Self-Concept Scale. The first instrument, The Biographical Inventory Questionnaire, was an important device for this study to ascertain a number of attributes. Some of the attributes included age, parental income, college major and minor, grade point average, extracurricular activities, expected career patterns, and for women, purpose for attending college and their mother's working pattern. This questionnaire also included information about certainty of career choice. The second instrument, The Kuder Preference Record, was used to assess differences in degree of preference for various career choices. The final instrument, The Tennessee Self-Concept Scale, was designed to provide a convenient and objective measure of self-esteem. This questionnaire presented a number of scores, of which self-esteem, or P score, was of most interest to this study. According to Resnick, Fauble, and Osipow (1970), the P score was a reflection of how individuals valued themselves.

The three questionnaires were administered to the students in small groups, ranging from 10 to 20 students. Students had a total of two hours to complete the three questionnaires in standardized conditions. They were informed that the data was being collected for research purposes and that they could fill the questionnaires anonymously (1970). The results of this study showed that high self-esteem males expressed greater certainty about their career choices than did the low self-esteem males. Similarly, high self-esteem females showed greater certainty about their career plans than low self-esteem females. Also, it revealed that the relationship between self-esteem and vocational crystallization was the same for both sexes (Resnick, Fauble and Osipow, 1970).

This same type of research was the focus of a study of even younger individuals, high-school students. In this more recent study, Lian-Hwang Chiu investigated the relationship of career goals and self-esteem among adolescents (1990). The purpose of the research was to test the hypothesis that adolescents with some career goal tend to have higher self-esteem than those without an idea of what they want to do after graduation from high-school (Chiu, 1990). The study was conducted in a small Midwestern city with a total of 221 students in tenth and eleventh grade English classes (Chiu, 1990).

One of the instruments used was the Rosenberg Self-Esteem (RSE) Scale. The RSE is a global measure of self-esteem composed of 10 statements, such as, "On the whole I am satisfied with myself." (Chiu, 1990). Another instrument used was the Self-Esteem Rating Scale for Children (SERSC). The SERSC consisted of 12 items, such as, "Hesitates to speak up in class" (Chiu, 1990).

The teachers administered the RSE and rated the students' self-esteem (SERSC). The students were divided into two groups. One group was named "career decisive group" and the other group was "career indecisive group." The group who knew what they wanted to do, the career decisive group, was predicted to have higher self-esteem on the RSE than the career indecisive group. Also, The career decisive group was predicted to score higher in self-esteem on the SERSC than the career indecisive group (Chiu, 1990).

The prediction that adolescents who knew what they would do after school would score higher on the RSE than the career indecisive group was supported by the data. Nevertheless, the difference in self-esteem was only substantial for males. Also, the data confirmed the same result on the SERSC (Chiu, 1990). Based on the results of this study, Chiu believes that there is a normal period of indecision in the process of making career choices but significant indecision may be a reflection of other psychological problems, including low self-esteem (Chiu, 1990).

There appears to be no doubt that there is a strong relationship between job satisfaction and self-esteem. As we have seen, many different professionals, using many different study groups, have researched this relationship for decades. The studies range from research on high status jobs, such as university professors, to low status jobs, such as garbage-collectors. Also, studies have been performed on people with mental illnesses, college students who work, and even high school students making career choices. Many different testing methods have been used, as well as many different dimensions of self-esteem and numerous occupational aspects of satisfaction.

The research consistently provides support for the notion that a person who is satisfied with their job has a higher self-esteem than one who is not. Likewise, a person who has a high self-esteem is likely to be more satisfied with their job. True, regardless of this seemed to be job status that was evaluated. The job satisfaction/self-esteem relationship is somewhat like the "chicken or the egg" analogy. The research isn't exact on which one comes first. Either way, there's no questioning the bond between the two, whether for productivity or human interest reasons, will continue to be the focus of research studies for decades to come.


Abraham, Rebecca. (1999). The relationship between differential inequity, job

satisfaction, intention to turn over, and self-esteem. The Journal of Psychology, 133 (2), 205-211.

Alavi, H. R. & Askaripur, M. R. (2003). The relationship between self-esteem and job

satisfaction of personnel in government organizations. Public Personnel

Management, 32(4), 591-598.

Archived Information (1996). A guide to promising practice in educational partnerships:

My Turn. Jan. 31,2004. https://www.edu.gov/pubs/PromPract/prom10.html (link dead, sorry)

Casper, E. S. & Fishbein, S. (2002). Job satisfaction and job success as moderators of the

self-esteem of people with mental illnesses. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal,

26(1), 33-43.

Chill, L. H. (1990). The relationship of career goals and self-esteem among adolescentes.

Research Library Core, 593-597.

DeVaney, S. A. & Chen Z. (2003). Job satisfaction of recent graduates in financial

services. U. S. Department of Labor. Feb. 2, 2004.


Hall, D. T. & Foster, L. W. (1977). A psychological success cycle and goal setting: goal,

performance, and attitudes. Academy of Management Journal, 20 (2), 282-290.

Lopez, E. M. (1982). A test of the self-consistency theory of job performance-job

satisfaction relationship. Academy of Management Journal, 335-348.

Kohan, A. & O'Connor, B. P.(2002). Police officer job satisfaction in relation to mood,

well-being, and alcohol consumption. The Journal of Psychology, 136 (3), 307-


Resnick, H., Fauble, M.L. & Osipow, S. H. (1970). Vocational crystallization and self-

esteem in college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 17 (5), 465-467.

Walsh, E. J. & Taylor, M. C. (1980). Occupational correlates of multidimensional self-

esteem: comparisons among garbage-collectors, bartenders, professors, and other workers. The Pennsylvania State University, 66 (3), 252-268.

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