Who were the investigators and what was the aim of the study? Why does job satisfaction tend to increase with age?

One hypothesis is that job satisfaction has a complex relationship to the length of time one has been in a job, and not to age per se. Satisfaction might be high in the beginning of a job, stabilize or drop during the middle phase, and rise again later. Each time a person changes jobs, the cycle might repeat. Arie Shirom and Tsevi Mazeh (1988) decided to test this hypothesis and see whether this cycle happens.

How did the investigators measure the topic of interest? Shirom and Mazeh administered questionnaires containing items measuring teachers’ satisfaction with salary, working hours, social status, contacts with pupils, autonomy, opportunities for professional growth, and opportunities for carrying out educational goals.

Who were the participants in the study? A representative sample of 900 Israeli junior high school teachers with varying seniority participated.

What was the design of the study? Shirom and Mazeh studied the cyclical nature of job satisfaction using a cross­sectional research design. By using sophisticated data analysis techniques, they were able to identify year-to-year changes in job satisfaction.

Were there ethical concerns with the study? There were no concerns in this study; the topics were not controversial nor were they likely to cause strongly negative feelings.

What were the results? Shirom and Mazeh found that teachers’ job satisfaction followed systematic five-year cycles that were strongly related to seniority but unrelated to age. That is, the cycles begin when the person starts a job, and the level of satisfaction is then linked to how long the person has been on the job. Because the age at which people start new teaching jobs can vary a great deal, Shirom and Mazeh were able to show that the cycles had nothing to do with how old the teachers were; all ages showed the same basic pattern.

Most interesting, Shirom and Mazeh noted that a
major work-related change, a sabbatical leave, or a change in school assignment seemed to occur approximately every five years. They concluded that such changes reinitiated the cycle with high job satisfaction. When tracked over long periods, the cycle appears to show a steady increase in overall job satisfaction. This long-term gradual increase in job satisfaction is consistent with the general finding of gradual increases in job satisfaction with age, even though the fundamental cyclic nature of job satisfaction is unrelated to age.

What did the investigators conclude? An important implication of Shirom and Mazeh’s data is that change may be necessary for long-term job satisfaction. Although the teaching profession has change built into it (such as sabbatical leaves), many occupations do not (Latack, 1984). Based on Shirom and Mazeh’s data, the option of periodic changes in job structure would probably benefit other occupations as well.

several alienated workers and found that all of them expressed feeling that they were merely nameless, faceless cogs in a large machine.

Employees are most likely to feel alienated when they perform routine, repetitive actions such as those on an assembly line (Terkel, 1974). Interestingly, many of these functions are being automated and performed by robots. But other workers can become

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alienated, too. Especially since the beginning of cor­porate downsizing in the 1980s, many middle-level managers do not feel that they have the same level of job security that they once had (Maslach, 2003) and feel that they have less control (Spector, 2002). Consequently, their feelings toward their employers have become more negative in many cases (Roth, 1991).

How can employers avoid creating alienated workers? Research indicates that it is helpful to involve changing the organizational structure to, for example, include employees in the decision­making process, create flexible work schedules, and institute employee development and enhancement programs (Maslach, 2003; Roth, 1991). Indeed, many organizations have instituted new practices such as total quality management (TQM), partly as a way to address worker alienation. TQM and related approaches make a concerted effort to get employees involved in the operation and adminis­tration of their plant or office. Such programs work; absenteeism drops and the quality of work improves in organizations that implement them (Offerman & Growing, 1990).

Sometimes the pace and pressure of one’s occupa­tion becomes more than a person can bear, result­ing in burnout, a depletion of a person’s energy and motivation, the loss of occupational idealism, and the feeling that one is being exploited. Burnout is a unique type of stress syndrome, characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished per­sonal accomplishment (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Posig & Kickul, 2003; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Burnout is most common among people in the help­ing professions, such as teaching, social work, and health care (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Posig & Kickul, 2003). For example, nurses in intensive care units have high levels of burnout from stress (Iskra et al., 1996). People in these professions must con­stantly deal with other people’s complex problems, usually under difficult time constraints. Dealing with these pressures every day, along with bureaucratic paperwork, may become too much for the worker to bear. Ideals are abandoned, frustration builds, and disillusionment and exhaustion set in. In short, the worker is burned out. The situation is exacerbated when people must work long shifts in stressful jobs (Iskra et al., 1996; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Finally, burnout tends to increase with increasing age and years on the job (Stanton-Rich, Iso-Ahola, & Seppo, 1998).

The best defenses against burnout appear to be practicing stress-reduction techniques, lowering workers’ expectations of themselves, and enhancing communication within organizations. Providing longer rest periods between shifts in highly stress­ful jobs may help (Iskra et al., 1996), as well as an appropriate vacation schedule (Etzion, 2003). No one in the helping professions can resolve all problems perfectly; lowering expectations of what workers can realistically accomplish will help them deal with real-world constraints. Similarly, improv­ing communication among different sections of organizations to keep workers informed of the out­come of their efforts and creating a positive social atmosphere give workers a sense that what they do matters in the long run (Kalimo et al., 2003). Finally, research also suggests that lack of support from one’s co-workers may cause depersonalization; improving such support through teamwork and/ or co-worker support can be an effective interven­tion (Corrigan et al., 1994; Greenglass, Burke, & Konarski, 1998; Kalimo et al., 2003).

In short, making sure that workers feel they are important to the organization by involving them in decisions, keeping expectations realistic, ensuring good communication, and promoting teamwork and co-worker support may help employees avoid alienation and burnout. As organizations adopt dif­ferent management styles, perhaps these goals can be achieved.

Concept Checks

1. What is Holland’s theory?

2. Describe Super’s stages of occupational development.

3. What is reality shock?

4. What are the stages in the development of the mentor-protege relationship?

5. What factors are associated with job satisfaction in older workers?