Accueil » 27-4 ( 1972) » Satisfaction au travail : reformulation théorique

Satisfaction au travail : reformulation théorique

Viateur Larouche et François Delorme


Dans cet article, les auteurs attribuent principalement la confusion qui gravite autour du thème de la satisfaction au travail à une carence manifeste au niveau du cadre conceptuel d'analyse. Ils proposent donc d'aborder la notion de satisfaction au travail par le biais d'une discussion approfondie de ses pôles principaux, c'est-à-dire les besoins humains et les incitations de l'emploi.


Job Satisfaction : A Theoretical Reformulation


This article submits a conceptual framework for the analysis of job satisfaction. It seems clear, from an extensive review of literature (see Dunnette and Kirchner, Evans, Hinrichs, Larouche, Locke, Schwab and Cummings, Wanous and Lawler III1), that there is a serious gap at this theoretical level. In order to fill in thisdeficiency, the authors adopt the organismic model of analysis. Some of the pioneers of this school of thought (see Goldstein, Maslow and Rogers), view man as an entity interacting with many environments, the work situation being an important one. Based on this assumption, the present analysis will proceed through four major steps before formulating a conceptual definition of job satisfaction.


After reviewing some of the job satisfaction definitions available (Beer, Ivancevich and Donnelly, Lofquist and Dawis, Smith, Kendall and Hulin, Vroom), it appears difficult to find a common denominator. To cope with this problem, the authors propose a first model of analysis which permits to clarify some of the terms currently used, such as motivation, stimulus, and other variables related with the concept ob job satisfaction.

The main interaction of the first model (see Figure 1) describes the relation-ship between the individual and his job. Taking into account the theory of Work Adjustment (see Lofquist and Dawis), one can characterize the individual by two main sets, his needs and skills. The human needs provide the energy available for action while the skills refer to the tools used by the individual in order to fulfil his needs. The concept of skills takes form through intelligence, memory and perceptual system. On the other hand, the concept of human needs includes what has been called the primary and the secondary needs, i.e. the physiological and the psychological needs. In the same trend, the other term of this basic relationship, the job, is also viewed as a two-dimensional construct, i.e. the requirements and the incentives. The job requirements represent all the comportmental requests that are considered relevant by the employer to fulfil the job adequately. The incentives are the material and psychological objects that are sent back to the employee through his job. For example, wages, working conditions, social status, autonomy, self-esteem and interpersonal relationships can be viewed as some of the major dimensions of this concept.

In this connection, the concept of job satisfaction raises up from a worker's subjective evaluation toward the adequacy of his job incentives in order to fulfil the needs he experiences. The use of the term job satisfaction implies an end of action, a result of the interaction human needs — job incentives. The use of the term motivation rather implies a beginning of action, a state of activation of the organism to find out an appropriate mean in order to eliminate the experience need.


Two main series of coordinates (human needs and job incentives) emerge from the initial model of job satisfaction. This second part begins with a summary of the so popular initial theory of Maslow (1954) on human needs (Hogue, Huneryager and Heckman, Leavitt and Pondy, Muller and Silberer, Van Hoorick, Vroom and Deci). As it is known, this theory postulates the existence of five levels of human needs structured in a hierarchical order (see Figure 3). Maslow states two basic principles concerning the human motivation. First, he asserts that all needs are virtually present in the human being. Secondly, needs of a superior levelwill become active and « motivators » to the extent that the adjoining lower level needs are gratified. This sequential pattern is currently referred to as the prepotency process.

In spite of its wide acceptance and utilization, this theory is not supported by the few empirical tests we may refer to (Alderfer, Goodman, Hall and Nougaim, Lawler III and Suttle, Payne). According to these results, one should rather turn to Maslow's (1968, 1970) revised theory. In this new version, Maslow advances a new typology of human needs : those linked to deficiencies of the organism and those associated with the growth of the organism. The prepotency process still operates in this new classification but we cannot predict which superior needs will become salient once the deficiency needs stop acting as motivators or once they are sufficiently gratified. By way of consequences, this model allows to take into account individual differences when measuring the relative importance of human needs in empirical studies of job satisfaction.


Discussing the role of the incentives in a work situation requires a resort to a human behaviour framework which allows a comprehensive explanation of the human dynamic. The authors of this paper have selected an expectancy model (see Figure 4) congruent with the major theoretical foundations already used. The framework begins with the perception of an organic need through some internal stimuli. These signals set in motion a state of activation (motivation) ; the individual then seeks actively for an appropriate mean (behaviour) to gratify his need which, when gratified, allows him to « feel good » (expected outcome). In short, the chosen model relies on the organismic approach. This construct displays a variety of behaviours which can be equated to different forms of responses. Thus, the authors do not support the mecanicist explanation of the S >R behavioural scheme because the individual is able to use his differential skills to attain the expected result. Finally, the expectancy model integrates two operational notions previously described by Vroom. These notions, valence and expectancy, prove to be very useful in a framework of dynamic behaviour, because they offer a mode of understanding one's personal way of reaching the expected outcome. When applied to the work situation, the job held becomes a primary mean of need fulfilment on account of its social value. As far as the concept of incentives is concerned, it is identified with all the possible outcomes linked to the occupationnal behaviour.

The next step consists in categorizing the work incentives in accordance with the two-level human needs analysis. The two-factor theory (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman) proves to be of importance for this purpose. Without discussing further the validity of this theory, save the use of the critical incident technique in collecting data, we shall limit ourselves to the dual categorization of factors the theory advocates. The extrinsic factors or incentives pertaining to the external work conditions, involve : wages, fringe benefits, security and seniority policies, etc. In parallel, the intrinsic incentives refer to the content of the task in itself, such as opportunities for promotion, responsibilities connected to the job, feelings of self-actualization, etc. For the purpose of this study, this dichotomy allows an harmonious matching between both typologies, needs and incentives, on account of their complementarity.


The illustration of the pairing between needs and incentives is shown in Figure 6 under the heading of « inactive framework ». This model would remain useless if a corner-stone was not found upon which dynamic relationships between its components could elaborate. Wolfs need gratification theory puts forward the elements necessary to a dynamic process. More specifically, three cases can be depicted to show the operationality of our job satisfaction/dissatisfaction model (see Figure 7). The three underlined cases permit to bridge the gap between the divergent results concerning Herzberg's theory and also to develop a conceptual definition of job satisfaction, centered on human needs.


In conclusion, job satisfaction can be defined as a worker's affective result toward his work roles. This outcome stems from the dynamic interaction between two sets of coordinates : human needs and work incentives. Hence, the worker will feel satisfied or dissatisfied in his work, depending upon the adequacy or the discordance between his perceived needs and the work incentives.

1 All the authors mentionned in this summary refer to some sources of reference used in the French version. The reader can easily find them by going back to the bibliography.