Pay & Job Satisfaction

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By John T. Brinkmann, MA, CPO/L, FAAOP(D)

Take a moment and think back over the jobs you have had during your career, and ask yourself these questions: How satisfied were you with each job? What factors contributed to or detracted from your overall satisfaction? What prompted you to begin looking for another job? What did the new job offer that the existing job did not? According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report published in August, "individuals born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held an average of 11.9 jobs from age 18 to age 50…. Nearly half of these jobs were held from ages 18 to 24."1 This means that in the 25-year period following early adulthood, this segment of the baby boom generation transitioned to a new job every five or six years. Predictions are that millennials will make even more frequent job changes.2 Much has been written about why frequent job and career changes are predicted for the Millennial Generation, including their inappropriate expectations of rapid advancement and significant changes in national and international economies. Job transitions are costly for employers, who must invest time and money in recruitment and training, and employees, whose personal lives and relationships are often disrupted during times of transition.

An important aspect of any job is the financial compensation. According to one group of researchers, "When individuals are asked why they work…money is one of the most commonly cited reasons."3 Not only is money a practical necessity, but also, "there are few more visible hallmarks of success in society than those owing to the income of individuals." Additionally, "when individuals are asked what would most improve the quality of their lives, the most common response is a higher income…."3 Money provides the means for satisfying material needs, and can also meet more abstract needs such as quality of life and the status associated with success. There is a common belief that each of these areas will improve as pay increases: More money allows us to meet practical needs, enjoy a higher quality of life, and achieve a higher status. Because our employment is how we procure money, it is understandable to assume that satisfaction with our jobs also increases as pay increases. This article discusses issues raised in research articles related to pay and job satisfaction, and will provide insight into our complex relationship with money.

Pay Satisfaction Versus Job Satisfaction

In 2010, Judge et al. published a meta-analysis of 86 studies related to the relationship between pay and job satisfaction. Their research analyzed 119 correlations and 92 independent samples, and reported that "within studies, level of pay bears a positive, but quite modest, relationship to job and pay satisfaction. Between studies, there also is little relationship between average pay in a sample and the average level of job or pay satisfaction."3 Their research concluded that the literature contains "contradictory conclusions regarding the importance of income to life satisfaction," and "though the data tend to indicate a small, positive correlation between income and subjective well-being, this conclusion cannot be proffered with much confidence."3 They summarize their research by stating that "the notion that high pay leads to high levels of satisfaction is not without debate…. Despite the popular theorizing, results suggest that pay level is only marginally related to satisfaction."3

One of the interesting results of this meta-analysis is that it reveals that we can be satisfied with our pay but unhappy with our jobs.3 While we may recognize that our pay is competitive for our profession and region, and in that sense be satisfied with it, this satisfaction does not necessarily translate to the job in general. Evidence of this conclusion is found in situations where practitioners leave one company to work for another without a significant increase in income.

Our relationship with money is complex, and our perceptions about pay level are subject to numerous confounding factors. In their discussion, these researchers explain adaptation level theory, a phenomenon in which "judgments of experience are relative to a reference point that shifts with past experience and current background stimuli."3 What we consider a fair level of pay at one point, such as during the interview process, may be different than what we consider fair after we have received that amount for an extended time. They also point out that "…as soon as an individual receives an increase in pay, it may be quickly psychologically ‘spent' and thereby loses its satisfying value. Indeed, rising aspirations in response to rising incomes have been documented in the subjective well-being literature."3 The literature also suggests that comparing our income with the income of other practitioners can also factor into the level of satisfaction with our own pay, since income may only be satisfying insofar as it is higher than others.3

In discussing the implications of their research, Judge et al. suggest that "for the employee, if the ultimate goal in a job is to find one that is satisfying, given a choice, individuals would be better off weighing other job attributes more heavily than pay.… If job satisfaction can be equated with the perceived quality of one's job, then our results suggest that many employees are mistaken about what would improve the perceived quality of their work life."3 Employees often focus on income, when satisfaction with their jobs can be impacted more significantly by factors other than pay. On the other side of the negotiating table, employers must recognize that "even though level of pay may have a limited ability to satisfy, that does not mean that pay is not motivating."3 However, employers must also be aware that factors other than pay are also important contributors to job satisfaction and retention. "Given that job satisfaction is related to employee withdrawal and the financial effects of positive job attitudes are well-documented, employers interested in having a satisfied workforce may need to turn elsewhere to raise job satisfaction levels."3

Individual Differences

Much of the popular discussion about pay and satisfaction assumes that these dynamics affect every person in the same way. Hofmans et al. published research in 2013 related to individual differences in the job satisfaction dynamic. They concluded that "two person types exist, for the first person type both financial and psychological reward satisfaction relate to job satisfaction, whereas for person type two only psychological reward satisfaction does."4 In short, some employees receive satisfaction from financial and psychological rewards, while others receive satisfaction only from psychological rewards. The first type of employee values financial security and has "lower affective commitment and higher turnover intention than people whose satisfaction with the job relates to psychological reward satisfaction only."4

It is important to note that both types of employees value psychological rewards. Employers must be aware that all employees are motivated by deeper motivations than pay, such as recognition, compliments, appreciation, and encouragement.4 The authors caution that "this does not mean that optimizing financial reward satisfaction should be ignored, as this has still an important impact for a relevant number of employees."4 Employers should ensure that they offer rewards apart from pay to each employee that match his or her values.


To better understand job satisfaction, it is helpful to understand different types of motivation. Extrinsic factors are "external benefits provided to the professional by the facility or organization. Such factors include a flexible schedule, competitive pay, and continuing education."5 Intrinsic factors, on the other hand, are internal—they are motivations that we bring to the table based on our own set of values and goals. Intrinsic motivators can be further divided into those that relate to context or content. "Intrinsic-context factors are less tangible but inherent to the job; they are controlled by outside forces but affect the professional's internal satisfaction. Factors included are adequate staffing, realistic workload, stable environment, and balance between work and home. Intrinsic-content factors are those controlled primarily by the professional and affect the professional's sense of self-efficacy and competence. These factors include having diversity in practice, providing direct patient care, having meaningful work, and providing quality care."5 Judge et al. report that "because they have a negative effect on intrinsic interest in a task or job, extrinsic motivations tend to undermine perceived autonomy," and "intrinsic job characteristics…better predict job satisfaction than, apparently, does pay."3 Hofmans et al. state their research on the two types of employees in terms of their motivation: "…[For] some people extrinsic rewards do indeed relate to satisfaction, whereas for other people this is not the case."4 Further, they state that "we suggest that individuals whose satisfaction is determined by satisfaction with their financial rewards are less intrinsically motivated. Therefore, we expect these people to be less committed to the organization and to be more inclined to leave."4

Job Satisfaction in Rehabilitation

In 2005, Randolph and Johnson reported on research related to the job satisfaction of physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists. The purpose of their study was "to ascertain which extrinsic and intrinsic job satisfaction areas are most predictive of rehabilitation professionals' career satisfaction and desire to stay on the job."5 Their results "showed that intrinsic factors such as professional growth and having a work environment in line with personal values are more significant in predicting career satisfaction than are extrinsic factors such as pay and continuing education. These same intrinsic factors are also significant in predicting the rehabilitation professional's desire to stay on the job." The only significant extrinsic factors reported in their research were productivity expectations (which was negatively correlated with career satisfaction) and flexible scheduling (which was positively correlated with desire to stay on the job).5 Respondents from all three professions reported that an environment which was in line with their values and opportunities for professional growth were important factors in career satisfaction.5

These researchers' conclusions complement those reached by Hofmans et al. in their recommendation that facilities provide the aforementioned intrinsic factors as well as traditional benefits to attract and retain rehabilitation professionals.5 This includes finding ways to recognize employee accomplishments, providing opportunities for input, and maintaining "a realistic workload in a stable environment."5


Let's return to our walk down memory lane and the questions at the beginning of this article: How satisfied were you with each of the jobs you've held? What factors contributed to or detracted from your satisfaction? What prompted you to begin looking for another job? What did the new job offer that the existing job did not? It would not be surprising if the factors that most influenced your satisfaction were things other than pay. When I answer these questions, specific people, work conditions, and changes in my personal values and priorities come to mind. It takes me a while to recall the exact income level at any particular point in my career; the strongest memories of factors that influenced my job transitions are related to other rewards.

Discussions between potential employers and employees often focus on each party negotiating the best financial deal possible for themselves. Research and common experience confirm that many factors in addition to pay determine the satisfaction and contribution of employees. Both employers and employees would do well to consider ways that they can add value to the relationship so that is mutually beneficial for the long term.

Insight from Judge et al. provides a healthy perspective on money, values, and job satisfaction: "…[It] may be that earning relatively large amounts of money is more satisfying when the individual does not have earning money as an explicit goal."3 They suggest that future research should focus on "testing theoretical mechanisms that may explain why that which so motivates us has such little potential to satisfy."3 Thankfully, the practice of O&P itself offers the opportunity not only for a comfortable income, but also the opportunity to find satisfaction in the specific work we do every day.

John T. Brinkmann, MA, CPO/L, FAAOP(D), is an assistant professor at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center. He has more than 20 years of experience treating a wide variety of patients.




3.      Judge, T. A., R. F. Piccolo, N. P. Podsakoff, J. C. Shaw, and B. L. Rich. 2010.The relationship between pay and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the literature. Journal of Vocational Behavior 77(2):157-67.

4.      Hofmans, J., S. De Gieter, and R. Pepermans. 2013. Individual differences in the relationship between satisfaction with job rewards and job satisfaction. Journal of Vocational Behavior 82(1):1-9.

5.      Randolph, D. S., and S. P. Johnson. 2005. Predicting the effect of extrinsic and intrinsic job satisfaction factors on recruitment and retention of rehabilitation professionals. Journal of Healthcare Management 50(1):49.