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Process theories focus primarily on the cognitive process that determines the level of job satisfaction of an employee. These theories argue that job satisfaction can be explained through examination of variables, such as value, goal, attribution, and behavior (Hoy & Miskel, 1982). In fact, the expectancy theory (Vroom, 1982), the goal theory (Locke, 1969), the attribution theory, the behavior theory, and the equity theory (Adams, 1963) are the classical examples of process theories.

Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory also called valence-instrumentality-expectancy (VIE) and value theory is based on the assumptions that individual decision-making processes in organizations are inspired by one's ability to think, reason, and anticipate future events. Individual behavior is influenced by the interactions between an employee's values and attitudes with the organizational climate (Vroom, 1964). The expectancy theory argues that such interaction occurs around the notions of valence, instrumentality, and expectancy. Valence refers to the perceived value that a person places on expected rewards. Instrumentality is the relationship between individual performance and the expected rewards. Expectancy implies the individual's belief that a task will be performed at a specific level of success. In short, expectancy theory argues that employee compensation is proportional to their level of performance, and therefore is a source of job satisfaction. A discrepancy will lead to dissatisfaction. Vroom (1982) suggests that an employee may decide to complete a task based on the perceived fairness of the compensation, whether such compensation is monetary or nonmonetary.

Goal Theory

Goal theory explains job satisfaction by the awareness of employees that the task being completed will help achieve a goal (Locke, 1969). The assumptions of the goal theory are that specific goals are superior to general goals, and difficult goals lead to greater performance. Locke (1970) argues that goal setting leads to job satisfaction through a series of processes that involve:

- Existents (incentives, objects, actions, outcomes)

- Evaluation (cognition, values)

- Emotions and desires

Anticipated existents (incentives, objects, actions, outcomes)

- Judged instrumentality of anticipated action and anticipated effect

- Goal setting

- Action


Situational theories argue that there are situational factors that influence job satisfaction, and such factors result from the job's characteristics. The assumption is that people have similar needs, and therefore can be satisfied by the same job characteristics. Some of the situational theories follow the job characteristics model (Hackman & Oldham, 1980) and the operant approach.

The Job Characteristics Model

The job characteristics model explains that there are five core job characteristics (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback from job) that influence the outcomes of job satisfaction (high internal work motivation, high growth satisfaction, high general satisfaction, and high work effectiveness). Hackman and Oldham (1980) argue that job satisfaction outcomes are moderated through critical psychological states (experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility for outcomes, and knowledge of actual results) like other moderators, such as knowledge, skill, growth, and need strength.

The Situational Occurrences Theory

The situational occurrences theory argues that an individual's job satisfaction depends on a combination of situational characteristics and situational occurrences (Quarstein, McAfee, & Glassman, 1992). Situational characteristics are characteristics that an individual considers before accepting a job offer (wages, working conditions, supervision, promotion, and organizational policies). Other situations that an individual considers while in the job are called situational occurrences. The situational occurrences can be positive (for example, giving an employee an unexpected pay increase for completing a task outstandingly) or negative (e.g., coworkers are constructing roadblocks that prevent an employee from efficiently completing his or her assignment).

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