Academic Research

Staff Satisfaction – A Literature Review

Janine Phanariotis

Staff satisfaction has been defined as the feelings a job evokes in an individual which are directly linked to feelings of achievement and provision of needs (Stephen, Timothy and Sanghi, as quoted by Rehman et al. 2016, 3). Webster’s Dictionary provides that morale relates to a state of mind reflecting confidence and motivation towards activities (Willis and Varner 2010). For the purposes of this article, the terms satisfaction, morale and motivation shall be used interchangeably.

Early theorists of motivation identified key factors which they believed directly impacted on the way individuals approach tasks and the feelings of satisfaction gleaned from them. Maslow’s theory posits that human beings are driven by a hierarchy of needs which link to motivation to achieve. It is only when the more basic needs have been fulfilled that we can move on to focussing on more advanced needs and motivational factors. The lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy relate to the basic human need for food and shelter, moving through emotional needs such as the need for human connection and a sense of belonging, to feelings of respect both from others and of oneself. It is only when these needs have been met that humans can move on to focus on the extension of themselves and their personal and professional commitment and development can be exercised. Herzberg went on to claim that humans are motivated by greater feelings of involvement and autonomy such as appreciation and opportunities to progress within an organisation (Gawel 1996). The Job Characteristics Model (JCM) supports these two views yet takes it further. JCM suggests that autonomy, task design, task complexity and feedback all contribute to staff satisfaction, morale and motivation (Iwu et al. 2018).

We have established that staff satisfaction and motivation are important to us on many levels, but there remains the question, why employers need their employees to be satisfied and motivated. Arnett, Leverie and Mclane (as quoted by Tsai 2008, 295) posit that employee satisfaction equates to high job performance and that employees will assert a greater effort to accomplish a task well if they feel a sense of job satisfaction. Employers are, therefore, obliged to ensure staff are satisfied in order for them to produce their highest quality work and greatest efforts. (Tsai 2008). Whilst it could be argued that teachers are driven by other factors, including a sense of vocation, they are not exempt from the motivational factors discussed here, and this sense of satisfaction directly impacts on the relationships teachers form with their students, potentially resulting in higher student achievement. (Andrews as quoted by Willis and Varner 2010, 2).

Once agreed that staff satisfaction produces higher quality work, the further question remains as to how we create a motivated and satisfied workforce. Research has shown that the key to improved staff morale is through strong rapport building and communication between organisational leaders and their workforce (Crum and Sherman 2008). Strasser (2014) asserts that there are several key elements to creating high workplace morale amongst teachers. These include providing them with the resources they need through manipulation of the system if necessary, respectful interactions which don’t insult their intelligence and, most importantly, transparent and regular communication.

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Stakeholder communication

As asserted above, it has been found that stakeholder communication in organisations links directly to the overall morale, motivation and satisfaction among employees. Heffes (2009) states that the way to maintain high workforce morale is through regular communication in any form. Regular updates and transparency in communications reduces angst and increases employee task application. Within the school setting, Buron and MacDonald-Mann (as quoted by Stewart-Banks et al. 2015, 5) postulate that regular and effectual communication from school leaders assists teachers in identifying their strong points and areas for development.

The communication pattern and form within a work environment is a key element in staff morale (Ahmad and Hassan 2017). For indicators of staff satisfaction to be positive, the manager must demonstrate sincerity in their interactions with employees (Heller as quoted by Ahmad and Hassan 2017, 4). Staff satisfaction increases when employees feel consulted and listened to (Brunges and Foley-Brinza 2014). In the reverse, it has been determined that poor communication is directly responsible for decreased morale in the work environment (Meinert 2014). Excessive directive communication in the case of school principals in Australian secondary schools was found to lower morale within teachers due to negative impact on the school working environment (De Nobile 2015). However, it has been demonstrated that transparent communication nurtures trust, positively impacting morale (Jiang & Luo, 2018; Rawlins, 2008 as quoted by Yue, Men and Ferguson 2019). This is due to the increased understanding of the employee’s role in the organisation and impact on outcomes (Sadia et al. 2017). This feeling of involvement and engagement through transparent communication has shown positive correlation with increased morale amongst teachers in middle schools in the USA (Turman 2018). School leaders who communicate regularly and in a positive way with their employees foster an environment where teachers feel valued and take greater responsibility for their impact on student achievement, increasing feelings of staff satisfaction (Rebore 2014; Steyn 2011 as quoted by Kheswa 2015). This links back to the views postulated by the early motivational theorists and supports Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in that teachers generally look to improve standards and impact of teaching when they have other needs met (Maslow 1943). The environment for communication is established by the leader and will have direct impact on the employees’ feelings of freedom to express views and opinions and, in turn, their feelings of self-efficacy and worth (Nordin et al. 2013). Therefore, we should look to the leadership style as a driving factor in communication and morale within the workplace.


Leadership and communication are inextricably linked when considering the influencing factors of staff satisfaction. We have established that communication is crucial to positive morale, yet leadership style has been shown to dictate the communication style of the organisation. Therefore, it is important for leaders to adopt and promote communication styles which have positive influence over organisational culture. Equally, leaders must create opportunities for communication of various styles to take place. Effective leaders will provide opportunities for employees to communicate with them in informal ways to allow for quality communication (Union Tactics 2017). Recognising the achievements of staff and creating effective forums in which to discuss these is the role of an effective leader. These should include both formal and informal platforms such as performance review meetings, meetings in which employees are empowered to make decisions, as well as social events (Morris et al. 2019). Regardless of the form the communication takes, whether formal or informal, it should always be open and honest (Carrison 2014). Employees value truthful communication and verbal reinforcement of their efforts (White 2015). Furthermore, research into the area has shown that one of the key drivers for teachers is the ability to have autonomy over their work and to participate in making key decisions. The effective leader will facilitate these to take place (Amzat and Idris 2011). Leaders seeking to ensure staff satisfaction must ensure that their employees have a voice (Bivona 2002). They can achieve this through creating a culture of organisational learning in which employees work in collaboration (Bettis-Outland 2012 as quoted by Liao et al. 2016, 591). In this type of environment leadership style influences the effectiveness of the collaborative work. Communication of the organisational vision will encourage teamwork and drive up moral (Rosing et al. 2011; Aragón-Correaa et al., 2007; Hsiao and Chang, 2011; Haase et al., 2015 as quoted by Liao et al. 2016, 591). Creating relationships and a rapport with employees is vital to the success of a leader and impacts directly on morale within the organisation. Rapport is created through communication and the two combined equate to a successful leadership style (Crum and Sherman 2008). However, in some instances, communication can become overly effective by creating a culture of collectivism against the leader and his decisions (Niemann 2008 as quoted by Kheswa 2015, 331)

Truly effective leadership is derived from the ability to identify a collective need and to inspire people to work together to meet said need (Falk 2002). It can be argued that these skills are inherent in leaders and are skills which cannot be learned (Bennis and Nanus 1986 as quoted by Tsai 2008, 297). Situational Leadership draws upon these theories and claims that effective leadership cannot be isolated from staff satisfaction and the most effective leaders are able to motivate a group to work effectually together. (Hersey and Blanchard 1977 as quoted by Tsai 2008, 300). Situational Leadership is a responsive style in which the leader judges the climate of the team and the needs of the business and adjusts his leadership style accordingly (St Thomas University 2020). This suggests that the situational leader requires a flexible approach to communication, employing a range of styles dependent upon the audience and circumstances. Consideration leadership promotes deeper trust between manager and employee than other approaches, whilst transactional leadership utilises reward systems to motivate (Tsai 2008). It is suggested that transformational leadership promotes the greatest degree of satisfaction and motivation due to its nature. This style of leadership serves to develop teams and nurture trust between leaders and team members. This arrangement provides team members with support and lessens feelings of isolation and vulnerability. Greater trust thereby results in higher morale (Xie et al. 2018). Munir et al. (2012) support this view, as results of their study showed a direct correlation between high staff morale and transformational leadership styles. Transformational leaders are required to communicate with their employees regularly and in a variety of forms, including both formal and informal to help inspire and motivate (Smith 2014), whereas a transactional leader can adopt a more formal approach to communication (Juneja 2015).

Given the findings that employee morale is linked to leadership style, we can ascertain that the satisfaction of teachers in their employment will be affected by the leadership capabilities and style of the school leader (Yi and Kim 2019). However, in their study of three secondary schools in Australia, Dinham et al. (1995) found that, whilst the leadership style of the school principal impacted on the satisfaction of the teachers, students and wider community, in turn, the leadership approaches of the school leaders had been influenced and shaped, in part, by the school culture and relationships. Thereby indicating that leadership may not be the sole influencing factor for staff satisfaction.

Other factors impacting staff satisfaction

As discussed, motivation and satisfaction are influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The intrinsic factors which motivate teachers have been found to be linked to the vocational pull they have towards the job. These have been associated with job fulfilment. Extrinsic factors such as remuneration and policy have been associated with workplace discontent (Huysman 2008 as quoted by Willis and Varner 2010, 3).

Additional to the extrinsic factors of pay and policy, teachers have shown to be influenced heavily by their physical surroundings. The nature and state of repair of the building in which they work and the aesthetics of the room in which they teach play a large part in their overall satisfaction (Earthman and Lemasters 2009). Moreover, the abundance or lack of resources and general teaching supplies available to enable a teacher to work effectively has been found to influence the feelings of high or low morale (Eboka 2017; Shulhan 2017). Intrinsic factors impacting the morale of teachers indicate that teachers respond well to involvement and responsibility. In his study Shulhan (2017) found that the most impactful and successful leadership styles in motivating and improving teacher performance were those which advocated for delegation of responsibilities and involvement in forming school policy. Additionally, teachers were found to be driven by expression of appreciation by school leaders and their support with issues such as discipline (Napier as quoted by Hourchard as quoted by Eboka 2017, 20). This is substantiated by White (2015). The findings from his study indicate that the majority of employees respond positively to expressions of appreciation from their superiors. Other studies find that a key motivational factor for teachers is autonomy, which provides them with control over what they do and how it is done. Thus, increasing commitment to the role and greater satisfaction gleaned from positive results (Amzat and Idris 2011). In her communications with school leaders, Strasser (2014) found that where efforts were made to provide teachers with autonomy and support in their decisions, teacher response and morale were positive. Above all Amzat and Idris (2011) and Eboka (2017) found that the key driver for teacher job satisfaction is the work itself.

Remote team

The option for employees to work remotely and more flexibly has been presented to organisations due to the accessibility of internet connections and applications which allow for personnel to work outside of a centralised location. With the dawning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, this model of working is set to soar (World Economic Forum 2016). The remote working model allows both the employer and employee increased flexibility and reduced costs. However, there are challenges attached to remote management and remote working which should be considered. Feelings of seclusion and exclusion can occur, which can lead to loss of faith in the organisation and workers’ self-efficacy. The success of remote working arrangements rests with the manager and his aptitude for leading and leadership style. Effective communication, therefore, becomes essential (Pollitt 2006). Further studies have shown that remote workers can concurrently feel elevated in their abilities to accomplish tasks successfully and as having greater independence, whilst feeling sequestered and lacking affiliation with the organisation (Ruiller et al. 2018).

One of the key issues encountered by remote workers is the lack of ad-hoc interaction. In the general office environment workers will bump into one another and strike up a conversation (Stewart 2015). This type of interaction is absent in the remote team and narrows the opportunities for the informal style of communication required by transformational and situational leadership styles (Union Tactics 2017). Communication can then lose effectiveness due to the lack of informality and visual cues (Reid 2016). In response to this, leaders should be proactive and consider adopting other means of maintaining these types of informal and spontaneous interactions (Chakravorty-Campbell 2016). In order to do this, leaders should be prepared to relinquish some of their overall control in an effort to create a peer support network, which enables workers to support each other and derive more intrinsic motivation from their work by taking greater ownership of their tasks. Effective leaders will empower their workforce and support them within the organisation by representing their interest with senior management. (Stewart 2016).

Stakeholder communication plan

The literature studied has indicated that effective and regular communication is a key success factor in staff satisfaction within the traditional work setting and remotely working teams. Project management theory and best practice extols the importance of a stakeholder communication plan. To ensure success in any project, stakeholder communication must be planned and monitored (Gray, Larson and Desai 2014). The communication plan outlines the stakeholders with whom communication should take place, the frequency of the interactions and the forms these should take (PRINCE2® 2014). For success in communication, it is essential to follow a well-structured process. (Oakland 2014).

Managers and school leaders must know who their key stakeholders are and assess their level of interest and influence over the project. They should then plan for the most effective ways and the frequency with which they will communicate (PMBOK 2017). Project communication, once planned, should be detailed in the project schedule. This along with the communication plan should be shared with all concerned parties. It is also essential that the communication plan and schedule be followed to ensure communication is timely and impactful. The right type of communication will help to form associations and manage expectancies of both the leader and the organisation, thus improving staff satisfaction (Bourne 2010).

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