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Motivation and Satisfaction of Software Engineers
Work factors for building and sustaining a more productive environment.
This week I read Motivation and Satisfaction of Software Engineers (IEEE), a paper by César França, Fabio Q. B. da Silva, and Helen Sharp. This study looked to expose what drives the motivation and satisfaction of software engineers.
My summary of the paper
Prior research has said that motivation may have the single largest impact on developer productivity, yet it is frequently undermined and problematic to manage. “Every organization knows that motivation is important, but only a few organizations do anything about it,” likely in part due to varying definitions of the term.
Here, researchers conducted a multiple case study at four organizations, collecting and analyzing data from interviews, diary studies, and document analyses over the course of 11 months. The goal was to put forward a better understanding of what both motivation and job satisfaction are, how the two are connected, and the outcomes they have.
Here are some of the takeaways from the study:
The behaviors that characterize motivation and job satisfaction
During the study, participants were asked to describe the terms motivation and job satisfaction. Focus and Engagement were found to be the most strongly evident descriptors of motivation: Focus is interpreted as the expressed level of attention and Engagement refers to the expressed level of effort (both applied to a task). Job satisfaction was consistently described in terms of mood, and more specifically Happiness.
This matches a finding from França’s prior work suggesting that “motivated software engineers are engaged and focused, while satisfied ones are happy.” Motivation and satisfaction are related but distinct concepts.
Workplace factors that influence work motivation and job satisfaction
Researchers synthesized the workplace factors connected to high levels of work motivation and job satisfaction, which can be seen in Table 15 below.
Two workplace factors were mapped to Focus and six workplace factors were mapped to Engagement. For job satisfaction, Happiness was most influenced by accomplishment, or “when they are able to produce results as good as, or better than, those planned,” and when they are recognized for their work.
Outcomes of motivation and satisfaction: performance and professionalism
Work motivation was found to influence the individual and collective performance of the software engineers. Job satisfaction influences their professionalism, or “the practices that sustain reliability and integrity of the person at the workplace.”
A theory of work motivation and job satisfaction
Researchers used the findings to generate a theory of motivation and satisfaction for software engineers, which has a few key points:
Job satisfaction is expressed in terms of happiness, while work motivation is a combination of engagement and focus. The latter is consistent with other theories on motivation suggesting that human motivation is generally concerned with factors or events that energize or sustain (engagement).
Motivation moderates the relationship between an individual’s latent performance and actual performance within a work episode. In other words, an individuals’ performance capacity is influenced by many things, including their knowledge, experience, processes, and tools. The difference between their latent performance and their actual performance is their motivation.
Creativity, Work Variety, Work Challenge, Useful Knowledge, and Social Impact are conditions for engagement for software engineers, moderated by individual characteristics and perceived engagement of coworkers.
Well-defined work and balanced cognitive workload are the conditions for focus for software engineers, moderated by individual characteristics.
Actual performance influences the software engineer’s appraisal of the workplace factors, and this relationship is moderated by available feedback and individual characteristics. (Recognition and feedback help build an individual’s self-perception of actual performance, which in turn influences job satisfaction.)
I recently spoke with a platform engineering leader who mentioned that ‘time saved’ isn’t the only outcome to share when advocating for their work. Increased satisfaction is shown to drive productivity and lead to higher code quality, and in this study, we also see evidence that motivation may drive performance. Both can be pointed to as outcomes for certain projects.
I see so much still yet to be explored as far as research that helps us understand and manage satisfaction and motivation, but this study provides a helpful starting point for understanding how organizations can influence both.
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