Are certain jobs more prone to poor job satisfaction than others? A recent study discussed during the 10th Annual ‘Great Place to Work’ conference in Los Angeles revealed that employees working in retail positions report significantly and consistently lower job satisfaction than their counterparts in non-retail positions.
Job satisfaction refers to the overall satisfaction that a person feels with their job. There are many factors which can influence job satisfaction. These factors include, but are not limited to: the amount of pay someone receives in comparison to how much or how hard they work; opportunities for advancement in a company; negative or positive social interactions with coworkers; treatment of employees by management and others working in higher positions in a company; working conditions; and working hours. A “happy” employee may be thusly described: Someone who is receiving what they feel is adequate compensation for how much, and how hard they work, and has positive relationships with employees and employers; someone who feels that, if they want to, they could advance higher up in the company. People who feel trapped in their current position with no hope of promotion, or someone who is experience difficulties due to interpersonal conflicts with employees, and so on, are more likely to report lower job satisfaction.
Recent studies, however, have shown that people in certain positions—in this case, retail positions—are more likely to report lower job satisfaction than people in similar positions which are not considered retail. Someone working for the large media-based company Best Buy, for example, is more likely to report lower job satisfaction than someone working for a smaller, independent based media store. The reason for this lower job satisfaction may be found in the overall poorer conditions which exist for workers in retail positions in the current industry. People working in retail positions are more likely to have shifts which are either too long or too short—due to having too few or too many employees; people working in retail positions are also more likely to be paid minimum wage or only slightly over; and people working in retail positions are more likely to feel that they are unable to advance higher in the company, and feel that their employers consider them to be faceless and replaceable. In short: Someone working in a retail position is much more likely to experience many of the negative factors which tend to cause people to report lower job satisfaction.
There have been some attempts by retail companies to increase job satisfaction through outward rewards, such as a small increase in pay for employees who work certain hours or meet certain requirements. However, these incentives are usually not enough to turnaround job satisfaction reports to any significant degree.
Scott Crabtree, a cognitive scientist who started the “Happy Brain Science” consultant agency based in Portland Oregon, says: “Unfortunately incentives usually backfire ... The research described in Dan Pink’s book ‘Drive’ shows that, at least in the short-term, if/then incentives usually hurt performance. The perks that will make a lasting difference in employee happiness are the ones that keep on giving: a fun break room that brings employees together, childcare that helps working parents be better parents, etc.”
Retail companies tend to focus too much on incentives which provide only temporary satisfaction. For example: An employee who is working long hours and feels that they are unable to advance in the company may feel temporary placated by a $1.00 increase in pay. However, this promotion in their hourly wage does not eliminate the other factors which caused them to feel poor job satisfaction in the first place—long hours, the lack of the ability to advance within the company, and all of the associated personal stress which comes with these negative job factors. However, incentives which encourage a positive atmosphere in the workplace—a better break room with stress busters, such as games or music; childcare to reduce the stress in employees who are struggling to both find childcare and pay for it; open communication between regular retail employees and their management regarding their treatment in the workplace, and so on—will be much more likely to increase overall job satisfaction in someone who is working a retail position.
Another factor which may influence the consistently low job satisfaction scores among retail employees is that most retail employees report feeling a lack of sincerity in the company’s mission statement. For example: Someone working for a large retail bookstore might feel that the company does not really care about encouraging reading and encouraging authors and writers due to their high prices and focus on giving employees strict book quotas for bestsellers. Despite the company’s mission statement that they are a “store for readers and writers,” an employee who knows the “ins-and-outs” of the company may feel otherwise. On the other hand, an employee working for a small, mom-and-pop style bookstore might feel that their employees care much more about encouraging readers and writers because of their emphasis on community and encouraging customers to explore different genres and authors, rather than focusing on making certain sales. This feeling of insincerity can cause employees to feel as if they are working for a so-called “bad company.” Studies have shown that employees who do not feel confidence in the business that they work for are much more likely to give poorer performances, in addition to feeling lower job satisfaction. By contrast, an employee who feels that they are doing something good with their job—such as encouraging people to read by selling books in a small store—are more likely to feel satisfied with their job.
In order to increase job satisfaction among their employees, retail companies will need to confront the many factors which lead their employees to report consistently lower job satisfaction. This includes instituting better employee incentives that address problems in the workplace, encouraging managers and other company leaders to have open dialogues with even the lowest-ranked of their retail employees, ensuring that employees are fairly compensated for the amount of work that they do—and so on.