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Education, Emotional Intelligence and Job Satisfaction

April 4 2021 - Education is regarded as a major life investment but formal educational attainment does not necessarily lead to greater job satisfaction in subsequent employment. This is the conclusion of new research from the University of Notre Dame.

Co-author Brittany Solomon commented:

"Our study shows people who have invested in formal education do not tend to be more satisfied in their jobs. We found that better-educated individuals do enjoy greater job-related resources including income, job autonomy and variety. But they also endure longer work hours and increased job pressure, intensity and urgency. On average, these demands are associated with increased stress and decreased job satisfaction, largely offsetting the positive gains associated with greater resources."

Further analysis by the team showed that:

  • women were more likely to experience increased negative association between education and job satisfaction
  • self-employed people experienced a reduced negative association

According to Brittany Solomon:

"Women still face workplace adversity that can undermine the positive returns on their educational investment. This dynamic is particularly important given the reversal of the gender gap in education, with more women completing higher education than men. We explored the notion that the education-job satisfaction link is negative and stronger for women and discovered that, compared to their highly educated male counterparts, highly educated women experience more stress at work and lower job satisfaction."

Compared with traditional occupations, self-employment offers considerable flexibility to:

  • organize a personal work schedule
  • choose work content
  • decide how to respond to job demands

Brittany Solomon added:

"We found that, compared to their wage-employed counterparts, those in self-employment seem to be more insulated from the adverse effects of education on job stress and satisfaction. We believe illuminating this boundary condition is notable for the educated and organizations that value and want to retain their educated employees."

There is no suggestion in the paper that higher education should be avoided in order to achieve higher job satisfaction. Instead, the researchers say that there should be realistic trade-offs between "good" and "bad" working conditions and associated stress and job satisfaction.

Brittany Solomon concluded:

"Balancing those conditions that lead to both stress and job satisfaction may help workers recalibrate their values and ultimately make decisions that suit their priorities. Leaders may also consider better ways to manage the greater demands encountered by their highly educated employees so that exploiting an organization's greatest human capital does not backfire. For example, by removing incentives for employees to take on excessive work hours, organizations can avoid inadvertently pressuring employees to incur stress that undermines job satisfaction.

"Many people pursue higher education to get a better job on paper, not realizing that this 'better job' isn't actually better due to the unanticipated effects of demands and stress over time. It's good for people to be realistic about the career paths they pursue and what they ultimately value."


Does Educational Attainment Promote Job Satisfaction? The Bittersweet Trade-offs Between Job Resources, Demands and Stress, forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology from Brittany Solomon (Hall), assistant professor of management, and Dean Shepherd, the Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship, both at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, along with Boris Nikolaev from Baylor University.

Emotional Intelligence

Job satisfaction seems to depend on a variety of psychological factors. Research from the University of Haifa reported in 2010 found that employees with high levels of emotional intelligence are more dedicated and satisfied at work. The study surveyed 809 employees and managers in two public sector organisations and two private companies, examining the influence of emotional intelligence on factors such as organizational politics, work attitudes, formal and informal behavior, feelings of justice, and burnout.

The study found that employees with high levels of emotional intelligence tended to rate the level of justice within their organizations as higher than their peers. They tended to be more satisfied with their jobs and more committed to their organizations. Factors such as burnout, intention to leave or negligent behavior were less prevalent. Employees with higher levels of emotional intelligence also perceived the impact of organizational politics as less severe and demonstrated better coping skills, using less aggressive forms of persuasion to influence supervisors.

Researcher Dr. Galit Meisler concluded:

"This study has shown that employees with a higher level of emotional intelligence are assets to their organization. I believe it will not be long before emotional intelligence is incorporated in employee screening and training processes and in employee assessment and promotion decisions."

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