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Study examines relationship between education, job satisfaction

| Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New research from Mendoza College of Business professors Brittany Solomon and Dean Shepherd shows surprising findings on the relationship between education and job satisfaction and sheds light on some of the factors that influence job satisfaction in relation to education level.

A commonly held belief is that pursuing higher education will lead to high job satisfaction and overall happiness. Solomon and Shepherd found a different result.  

“It’s not that the highly educated can’t attain higher job satisfaction, but higher education doesn’t ensure it,” Solomon wrote in an email.

The study found there is no relationship between being highly educated and having higher job satisfaction. It identified both positive and negative factors that contribute to satisfaction, or the lack thereof, for the highly educated. While people in this position may enjoy the benefits of more resources — such as greater income and job variety — the jobs in question tend to have longer hours and high demands that contribute to stress rather than satisfaction. These factors play a key role in developing a sense of satisfaction in one’s job and are necessary for discerning the right career or role. 

“It’s important for people to clarify for themselves what they value and what will make them happy when they go to work on a day-to-day basis,” Solomon said. “This means taking into consideration both the perks (such as income and autonomy) as well as the demands and stress.”

In addition to the contrasting demands and resources, there are other influences that can determine job satisfaction. Particularly, the study noted that “being female exacerbates, and being self-employed attenuates, the negative association between education and job satisfaction.”

Solomon and Shepherd also described the commonly held perception of an “ideal worker,” and how this idea can be taxing for employees. The professors describe the ideal worker as someone who works long hours and puts their job above all else, according to Solomon and Shepherd. Recognizing that this feeds into the draining work environments that decrease job satisfaction, Solomon and Shepherd suggest redefining what it means to be an ideal worker. 

“The new ‘ideal worker’ is someone who values all aspects of their life and understands the importance of boundaries (e.g., on their time) so that, ultimately, they are more productive and more satisfied in the workplace,” Solomon wrote. 

Solomon said shifting the outlook on what it means to be a good worker is not the only takeaway people should have from the study. She said there are important ideas for college students to consider as they discern their majors and career paths, emphasizing that academic and career pursuits are more than resume builders. 

“It’s important for them to be true to themselves, rather than pursuing paths based on what their parents want, what they thought they wanted to do in high school or what sounds impressive when someone asks,” Solomon wrote. 

While Solomon and Shepherd’s study might raise concerns for those seeking higher education, Solomon said postsecondary schooling can still have great value if students honestly consider their field of study.

“Pursuing higher education and graduate degrees [is] certainly valuable if you’re realistic about what the costs and benefits are of the program, as well as your job prospects,” she wrote. 

Additionally, Solomon said workplaces have the potential to be better environments for employees by fostering a less intense and stressful atmosphere. When asked if she believed employers would take such studies into account, Solomon said she was confident in the positive benefits of reducing factors that diminish job satisfaction.

“Other researchers have demonstrated that recovery from work is important, and an emphasis on results rather than time spent in the office/working has also been shown to generate higher quality work and job performance evaluations,” she wrote.

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About Siobhan Loughney

Siobhan is a freshman majoring in Economics. She comes from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, but lives in Welsh Family Hall at Notre Dame.

Contact Siobhan