Two Faces of the Satisfaction Mirror: A Study of Work Environment, Job Satisfaction, and Customer Satisfaction in Dutch Municipalities

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  • http://rop.sagepub.com/Administration

    Review of Public Personnel

    http://rop.sagepub.com/content/31/2/171The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0734371X11408569

    May 2011 2011 31: 171 originally published online 16Review of Public Personnel Administration

    Brenda Vermeeren, Ben Kuipers and Bram SteijnSatisfaction, and Customer Satisfaction in Dutch Municipalities

    Two Faces of the Satisfaction Mirror: A Study of Work Environment, Job

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  • Review of Public Personnel Administration31(2) 171 189

    2011 SAGE PublicationsReprints and permission: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav

    DOI: 10.1177/0734371X11408569http://roppa.sagepub.com

    ROP408569 ROPpa31210.1177/0734371X11408569Vermeeren et al.Review of Public Personnel Administration

    1Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

    Corresponding Author:Brenda Vermeeren, MSc, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Room M7-13, P. O. Box 1738, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 3000 DREmail: vermeeren@fsw.eur.nl

    Two Faces of the Satisfaction Mirror: A Study of Work Environment, Job Satisfaction, and Customer Satisfaction in Dutch Municipalities

    Brenda Vermeeren1, Ben Kuipers1,and Bram Steijn1

    AbstractDuring the past three decades, the performance of public organizations has become more and more of an issue. However, academic research on public administration pays relatively little attention to how organizational performance is related to work environment and human resources within organizations. In this research, work environment characteristics, job satisfaction, and customer satisfaction are studied by comparing customer satisfaction data with data on the well-being of front-office employees in 35 Dutch municipalities. The authors test their hypotheses using structural equation modeling. Contrary to what was expected, the findings indicate that the effect of job satisfaction on customer satisfaction is twofold. In organizations in which employees are more satisfied with their jobs, customers are more satisfied with the empathy of the employees, but the waiting times for services tend to increase concomitantly. In addition, findings indicate that the work environment characteristics influence job satisfaction. These results have some implications for human resource management (HRM).

    Keywordsjob satisfaction, customer satisfaction, HRM, organizational performance, municipalities

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    Introduction

    With the rise of new public management, the public sector is confronted with a growing demand to show its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, resulting in an increased interest in the quality of public performance (Boyne & Chen, 2006; Osborne & Gaebler, 1992). These interests exist at both national and local levels. In recent years, it has become common to view municipalities as public service providers that act as a front-office for the entire government. Due to this, municipalities are forced to meet the requirements and wishes of their customers as much as possible. In effect, performance outcomes such as customer satisfaction have become increasingly important. With respect to public service delivery in municipalities, individual employee behavior can affect customer satisfaction, since service delivery often takes place during contact moments between employees and cus-tomers (Guest, 1997; Schneider & Bowen, 1993). The job performance of dissatisfied employees is likely to be inferior to that of satisfied employees. It is often stated in the literature that a happy worker is a productive worker. Empirical research confirms this happy productive worker hypothesis (for an overview see Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001) and shows a positive relationship between employee and customer satisfaction (Heskett, Sasser, & Schlesinger, 1997; see for an overview also Gelade & Young, 2005).

    Despite the aforementioned finding of a positive relationship between employee sat-isfaction and employee performance, the existing research has some limitations. A first limitation is that previous research has paid little attention to the relationship between job satisfaction and performance at the organizational level of analysis, focusing instead on an individual-level analysis (Judge et al., 2001; Ostroff, 1992; Taris & Schreurs, 2009). In this context, in the literature it is stated that organizational performance cannot be seen as the sum of the individual performances (Ostroff, 1992; Taris & Schreurs, 2009). It is thus unclear to what extent organizations with dissatisfied employees perform worse than organizations with satisfied employees. The limited availability of performance data at the organizational level is one important explanation for this limitation. A second limita-tion deals with the fact that the relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction has to this point mainly been demonstrated by asking external customers about their satisfaction with service delivery. This external focus disregards the role of the employee as an internal customer of services provided within the organization. To increase organizational performance, it is likely important not only to meet the needs of customers but also to meet the needs of employees (Schneider & Bowen, 1993). Few researchers have explored complete models that focus on both these faces of the satisfaction mirror. However, focusing on the complete mediating relationship between the characteristics of the work environment, job satisfaction, and customer satisfaction might provide important information that can be used by human resource management (HRM) to positively influ-ence organizational performance (Paauwe & Richardson, 1997; Steijn, 2004). A third limitation is that previous studies focus mainly on the private sector. However, the position of the customer is somewhat different in the public sector and especially within munici-palities (Davis, 2006; Fountain, 2001; Heintzman & Marson, 2005), since government agencies have a monopoly on delivering public services; customers cannot choose where to purchase government-provided goods, such as passports (Pollitt, 2003; Rainey, 1997).

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  • Vermeeren et al. 173

    The aim of this study is to meet these limitations within the present research. We first examine the relationship between job satisfaction and customer satisfaction at the organizational level of analysis. The availability of data on the performance of public organizations enables us to determine the extent to which organizations with less satis-fied employees perform worse than organizations with satisfied employees. This infor-mation may help public organizations to improve their performance. Second, we examine the relationship between the characteristics of the work environment and job satisfaction at the organizational level of analysis. More insight into the determinants of job satis-faction could provide important practical information for HRM, based on the assumption that if organizations care for their employees their employees will care for customers. To meet these aims, we compare data on the well-being of front-office employees in 35 Dutch municipalities with corresponding customer satisfaction data. Our main research questions are as follows:

    Research Question 1: To what extent is customer satisfaction in Dutch munici-palities influenced by job satisfaction?

    Research Question 2: To what extent is job satisfaction in Dutch municipalities influenced by work environment characteristics?

    We answer these questions in four stages. First, we discuss what the existing litera-ture has to say about these relationships. This discussion leads to two hypotheses, which are detailed below. Second, we discuss our research design and methods and explain the measurement of the variables in the study. Third, we test our hypotheses using structural equation modeling and we present our findings. Fourth, we discuss the impli-cations of our findings for theory and practice.

    Theoretical FrameworkThe External Satisfaction Mirror

    The well-known adage that a happy worker is a productive worker was mentioned in the introduction to this article. The literature generally assumes that higher job satisfac-tion is associated with higher individual and organizational performance (Hackman & Oldham, 1975; Judge et al., 2001; Taris & Schreurs, 2009). In line with this assumption, previous research showed a positive association between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction (e.g., Koys, 2001; Taris & Schreurs, 2009). It is in this context that Heskett et al. (1997) introduced the satisfaction mirror, the positive relationship between front-line service provider job satisfaction and overall customer satisfaction in service environments. Public service delivery takes place during moments of contact between employees and customers (Guest, 1997; Schneider & Bowen, 1993). This interaction is called the transaction moment of the transactional fit (Van Wijk, 2007). The transactional fit is expressed in the degree of overall customer satisfaction, which refers to how customers assess the process of public service delivery. Customers

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  • 174 Review of Public Personnel Administration 31(2)

    perceptions of the service process depend heavily on how service is delivered by front-office employees (Hsieh & Guy, 2009). In this research, the assumption is that if employ-ees are satisfied with their jobs, they are likely to behave toward customers in ways that yield positive service experiences. This proposed relationship brings us to our first hypothesis:

    Hypothesis 1: In organizations in which employees are more satisfied with their jobs, customers tend to be more satisfied with public service provision.

    The Internal Satisfaction MirrorThe previous section discussed the external satisfaction mirror. Here, citizens and com-panies are external customers, since they are not members of the service-providing organization. However, employees providing external services to customers can be considered internal customers of the services provided within the organization. To increase organizational performance, it is likely important not only to meet the needs of customers but also to meet the needs of employees (Schneider & Bowen, 1993) based on the assumption that if organizations care for their employees their employees will care for customers. Figure 1 visualizes the relationships implied by both satisfaction mirrors.

    Workenvironment

    characteristics

    CustomersatisfactionJob satisfaction 12

    Internalsatisfactionmirror

    Externalsatisfactionmirror

    Figure 1. Conceptual model

    To understand the internal satisfaction mirror, more insight into job satisfaction and its determinants is needed. Hackman and Oldham (1980) developed the famous job characteristics model in which they identified several key factors in the work envi-ronment that determine job satisfaction. An important element in this model is that job satisfaction is determined not only by objective characteristics of the work environ-ment but also by the needs and work values of employees. As early as the 1960s, Fishbein (1963) stressed the importance of employees perceptions. He explained that individ-ual attitudes would be shaped by employee beliefs about the object. In other words, when developing explanations for job satisfaction, employee perceptions about the work environment should be taken into account. A second reason to focus on employees perceptions of the work environment is based on the idea that the objective presence

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  • Vermeeren et al. 175

    of certain work environment characteristics does not necessarily say anything about the quality of their implementation (Guest, 1997; Steijn, 2004).

    Previous research has mainly examined the relationship between the characteristics of the work environment and job satisfaction at an individual level of analysis. Inspired by the personenvironment-fit approach (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005), this research assumes that a fit between a person and his or her environment is important for fostering positive attitudes and behaviors. A further refinement of the personenvironment-fit approach is the attractionselectionattrition (ASA) model (Schneider, 1987; Schneider, Goldstein, & Smith, 1995). The attraction process in this model refers to the idea that peoples preferences for an organization are based on an implicit estimate of the fit between their personal characteristics and the attributes of the potential work organization. Selection refers to organizations and candidates choosing one another on the basis of the extent to which they fulfill each others needs. Finally, the attrition process refers to the idea that people will leave an organization if the fit is not good. The theory is that over time, as a result of the attraction, selection, and attrition process, people within an organization will become more homogeneous in their attitudes. This theory calls for an examination of the relationship between job sat...

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