From the top down: Why management influences employee satisfaction

It doesn't take a gaggle of European researchers to tell you that unhappy employees can affect work performance, but that's just what researchers at the Université François Rabelais in Tours in France did. Their recent study in the Journal of Business and Psychology, nevertheless, suggested broader implications in that the boss or the company may be to blame for employees' dissatisfaction and therefore non-productivity.

The researchers asked workers from various sized companies about their perceived support from the organization and their well-being, that is, how they generally felt. Not surprisingly, when supervisors were authoritative, over-controlling or coercive and when organizations were unsupportive, workers reported feeling worse. Conversely, they found that the more employees felt their supervisor or organization supported their autonomy, the more their needs were met and the more satisfied they were.

The researchers went on to say that well-being can account for more than a quarter of the differences observed in individuals' performance at work, according to a study press release yesterday.

"We have shown, for the first time, that the fulfilment and frustration of these needs plays a central role in the improvement or reduction of well-being at work," the authors wrote. "Therefore, to satisfy employees' needs, supervisors should provide subordinates with options rather than use threats and deadlines, a strategy which could improve their workforce's well-being," they concluded.

Granted, the researchers looked at French companies, but the study notes a valid point about the effects of top leadership's management style on the well-being and therefore productivity of the entire organization, a theory that certainly resonates with U.S. organizations. The top-down approach not only has implications on workers' productivity but on finances too if they are underperforming, as the authors suggested.

Even more, there's a direct relationship between staff satisfaction and patient satisfaction, according to David Musyj, president and CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital in Ontario, Canada. "They feed off each other," Musyj wrote in a Hospital Impact blog post. "Happy staff results in happy patients. Happier patients result in happier staff."

Seven years ago, Windsor Regional Hospital reported that an eye-opening 65 percent of its staff said they would not recommend the hospital as a place for friends and family to work. But last year, that figure changed to 86 percent of them saying they would recommend it.

Windsor changed the culture--although not overnight--to one that engaged the hospital staff, soliciting them for their ideas and empowering them to carry out changes. A volunteer committee made up of various front-line staff created a list of ideas, ranked them by priority, and developed a plan and budget to implement them (with discussions with administration and the board of directors). The hospital rewards the staff with a small token of appreciation, such as a gift card to a local restaurant, for coming up with a good idea. Even today, the CEO receives emails and ideas directly, Musyj said, noting that patient satisfaction scores are the highest they have even been.

Similarly, Florida's Cape Coral Hospital Chief Administrative Officer Scott Kashman recently asked physicians, employees and volunteers what their wishes were for the department, the hospital and the Lee Memorial Health System. Interestingly enough, some of the wishes were as simple as acknowledging one another by name; no more "hey you." They also said they hoped the organization could recognize team members for their contributions, which can be through leadership rounds, town halls, safety huddles, department meetings and personal letters.

The lesson of the week seems to be to engage staff and recognize them for their contributions to the organization. However, as Kashman indicated, there might not be a quick silver bullet.

"In no way should you provide a false hope that everything will be fixed and furnished," Kashman wrote in Hospital Impact. "What should be shared is the opportunity to see how everyone can contribute to the greater cause."

The important part is that we try. - Karen (@FierceHealth)