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Creating a Supportive Workplace

Job attitudes and the Employee Engagement & Retention functional area

A man in an apron standing in front of a coffee shop.

In a world of increasing competition for talent, HR professionals may find it especially valuable to better understand job attitudes, which are key drivers of employee behavior. Related yet distinct job attitudes include job satisfaction, work engagement and perceived organizational support. Knowing how these factors differ can help HR professionals best utilize them to create a satisfied and engaged workforce, enhance business performance and profitability, and retain key employees.

Knowledge of job attitudes is an important part of the SHRM-defined technical competency of HR Expertise, specifically in the functional area of Employee Engagement & Retention. By assessing, interpreting and influencing the job attitudes of employees, HR professionals play an essential role in their organizations' success.

Frequently Assessed Job Attitudes

Job satisfaction and work engagement are the attitudes most familiar to HR professionals, and the most frequently assessed through academic and applied research. These job attitudes have been linked to enhanced employee and business performance and retention.

Job satisfaction is emotion-based and may change from day to day. It reflects an employee's positive or negative evaluation of the job and its characteristics.

Work engagement is a motivational concept, describing employees who feel energized, enthusiastic and invigorated about their jobs. Engaged employees will devote their personal resources—emotional, cognitive and physical—to carrying out work tasks.

A Less Familiar Job Attitude

Perceived organizational support has been extensively studied in academia but is mostly unknown to HR professionals. This job attitude reflects employees' beliefs about the extent to which their organization cares about and values them. Creating a supportive organization is a necessary foundation for, and motivator of, a satisfied and engaged workforce.

Supportive organizations have high-quality HR practices that meet their employees' needs (especially as to growth and development), supervisors who value their employees and treat them with respect, and fair policies and procedures. Employees in supportive organizations feel valued for their contributions and identify with organizational goals and believe that they will be rewarded for their performance.

Aligning Policies and Practices to Attitudes

HR professionals are in a unique position to affect job attitudes through the design and implementation of appropriate HR policies and practices because employees see HR as a voice of the organization. By carefully considering the employee outcomes or behaviors that such policies and practices are intended to influence, HR professionals with an in-depth understanding of the differences among job attitudes can better take advantage of them.

To enhance employee and business performance, for example, an HR intervention might focus on increasing work engagement. To improve employee retention, on the other hand, an HR initiative might instead focus on increasing organizational support and job satisfaction.

Numerous resources describe strategies for creating an engaged and satisfied workforce, but few resources provide practitioner-oriented guidance for building perceived organizational support. Accordingly, here are several research-based tips to help HR professionals create a supportive workplace:

  • Create a positive work environment. Increase the presence of enriching job characteristics, which signal to employees that the organization cares about their well-being. These include meaningful work tasks, the opportunity to work autonomously and occasions to participate in organizational decision-making.
  • Help employees grow and develop. Provide learning and growth opportunities relevant to employees' jobs, and ensure that they can put their newly developed knowledge and skills to use. This communicates to employees that the organization values their contributions.
  • Align benefits with employees' needs. Offer employees flexible benefits that they really need (e.g., telecommuting, supportive family policies), and that they view as being given voluntarily. Such offerings demonstrate the organization's concern for employees and will be appreciated. Required or commonly available benefits (e.g., health insurance, retirement plans) contribute little to the perception of organizational support.
  • Money isn't everything. Surprisingly, pay levels do not relate to perceived organizational support, job satisfaction or other job attitudes. Organizations cannot simply spend their way to a happy, supported and engaged workforce. Go off the beaten path to compete for talent.

Jim Kurtessis is manager of SHRM Certification.

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