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According to Campbell, Dunette, Lawler, and Weik (1994), the content theories of job satisfaction prescribe the needs and values that must be fulfilled in the job in order to have positive job satisfaction. Examples of content theories are (a) Maslow's need-hierarchy theory (Maslow, 1954; Whaba & Bridwell, 1976), the Alderfer theory of needs (Alderfer, 1972), the Mumford theory of needs (Mumford, 1976), and Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory (Herzberg, 1966).
Maslow's Need-Hierarchy Theory
Maslow's need-hierarchy theory argues that job satisfaction implies that an individual's need in the job environment is based on a five-tier model of human needs, arranged in ascending order of importance (physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization).
1. Physiological needs (food, water, shelter, sex, and other bodily needs) refer to salary and working conditions.
2. Safety needs (security, protection from harm, stability) are related to job security, employment benefits, and safe working conditions.
3. Social needs (affection, acceptance, feelings of belonging, friendship) refer to interpersonal relationship with workers, supervisors, and subordinates.
4. Esteem needs (autonomy, self-respect, recognition) are related to titles, promotion, status, and rank.
5. Self-actualization needs (personal growth, achievement of one's potential, advancement, self-fulfillment) refer to career advancement and challenging work assignments.
According to Maslow (1954), the more basic needs must be satisfied in a gradual manner as translated into the hierarchy before the ultimate needs, especially self-actualization needs, can be fulfilled. Wahba and Bridwell (1976) conducted a review of research about Maslow's theory and found no evidence of a human hierarchy of needs.
Hertzberg's Two-Factor Theory
The two-factor theory is built on the foundations of Maslow's theory and aims to understand the factors that determine job satisfaction. According to Herztberg (1959), job satisfaction is inherent to the job itself, and is positioned in a double continuum composed of motivator and hygiene factors. The motivators are "job satisfiers" that fulfill the psychological growth of a worker, and include intrinsic factors, such as responsibility, recognition, advancement, and opportunity for growth. The hygiene factors are "job satisfiers" associated with the work environment and constitute needs that must be met to prevent dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors encompass extrinsic variables, such as wages and salaries, work conditions, supervision, organizational policies, relationships with peers, and personal life (Castillo & Cano, 2004).
Hertzberg's two-factor theory contributed to the advancement of research on job satisfaction. This theory has introduced the use of double scales (satisfaction/dissatisfaction) to measure job satisfaction. Basset-Jones and Lloyd (2005) argue that Hertzberg's theory challenges the conventional assumption that money is the principal factor of employee satisfaction. However, some argue that the motivation-hygiene theory is limited by its methodology (Solomon & Corbit, 1973), ignores situational variables (House & Wigdor, 1967), and is based on a nonevident relationship between satisfaction and productivity (House & Wigdor, 1967).
Alderfer's Existence Relatedness Growth Theory
Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the Hertzberg two-factor theory inspired the development of the existence relatedness growth theory (Alderfer, 1969). Similar to Maslow and Hertzberg, Alderfer (1969) believes that employees do have needs that must be satisfied. However, he argues that these needs must be understood through a continuum of
- Existence needs: Physiological and safety needs (salary, employment benefits, job security, and work conditions)
- Relatedness needs: Social and esteem needs (interpersonal relationships with co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, family members, friends, and other people)
Growth needs: Self-actualization needs (personal development, career advancement, and fulfillment of one's potential)
Contrary to Maslow's argument that a lower-level need must be satisfied before the next-level need in the hierarchy becomes operative, Alderfer (1969) argues that employee needs can be satisfied simultaneously. Contrary to Maslow, Alderfer believes that a satisfied need can remain a motivator for other job satisfaction needs. Schmidt, Gast-Rosenberg, and Hunter (1980) found evidence that indicates the validity of Alderfer's theory. Wanous and Zwany (1977) conducted a cross-sectional study that supports the existence of growth, relatedness, and existence needs as classified by Alderfer. However, Wanous and Zwany (1977) found that Alderfer's theory is not applicable to some organizations.