Job performance refers to the level to which an employee successfully fulfills the factors included in the job description. For each job, the content of job performance may differ. Measures of job performance include quality and quantity of work performed by the employee, the accuracy and speed with which the job is performed, and the overall effectiveness of the person on the job.
In many companies, job performance determines whether a person is promoted, rewarded with pay raises, given additional responsibilities, or fired from the job. Therefore, most employers observe and track job performance. This is done by keeping track of data on topics such as the number of sales the employee closes, the number of clients the employee visits, the number of defects found in the employee’s output, or the number of customer complaints or compliments received about the person’s work. In some jobs, objective performance data may not be available, and instead supervisor, coworker, customer, and subordinate assessments of the quality and quantity of work performed by the person become the indicators of job performance. Job performance is one of the main outcomes studied in organizational behavior and is an important variable managers must assess when they are engaged in the Controlling role.
What Are the Major Predictors of Job Performance?
Under which conditions do people perform well, and what are the characteristics of high performers? These questions receive a lot of research attention. It seems that the most powerful influence over our job performance is our general mental ability also known as cognitive ability or intelligence, and often abbreviated as “g.” General mental ability can be divided into several components—reasoning abilities, verbal and numerical skills, and analytical skills—and it seems to be important across different situations. It seems that “g” starts influencing us early in our school days because it is strongly correlated with measures of academic success even in childhood.
In adult life, “g” is also correlated with different measures of job performance.
It seems that the influence of “g” on performance is important across different settings, but there is also variation. In jobs with high complexity, it is much more critical to have high general mental abilities. Examples of such jobs are manager, sales representative, engineer, and professions such as law and medicine. In jobs such as police officer and clerical worker, the importance of “g” for high performance is still important but weaker.
Perceptions of organizational justice and interpersonal relationships are factors determining our performance level. When we feel that we are being fairly treated by the company, that our manager is supportive and rewards high performance, and when we trust the people we work with, we tend to perform better. Why? It seems that when we believe we are treated well, we want to reciprocate. Therefore, we treat the company well by performing our job more effectively.
The stress we experience on the job also determines our performance level. When we are stressed, our mental energies are drained. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, we start concentrating on the stressor trying to cope with it. Because our attention and energies are diverted to dealing with stress, our performance suffers. Having role ambiguity and experiencing conflicting role demands are related to lower performance.
Stress that prevents us from doing our jobs does not have to be related to our experiences at work. For example, according to a survey conducted by Workplace Options, 45% of the respondents said that financial stress affects work performance. When people are in debt, worrying about their mortgage payments or college payments of their kids, their performance will suffer.
Our work attitudes, particularly job satisfaction, are also correlates of job performance but not to as great a degree as you might expect. Many studies have been devoted to understanding whether happy employees are more productive. Some studies show weak correlations between satisfaction and performance while others show higher correlations (what researchers would call “medium sized” correlations of .30).
The correlation between commitment and performance tends to be even weaker.
Even with a correlation of .30, though, the relationship may be lower than you may have expected. Why is this the case?
It seems that happy workers have an inclination to be more engaged at work. They may want to perform better. They may be more motivated. But there are also exceptions. Think about this: Because you want to perform, does this mean that you will actually perform better? Chances are your skill level in performing the job will matter. There are also some jobs where performance depends on factors beyond an employee’s control, such as the pace of the machine they are working on. Because of this reason, in professional jobs such as with engineers and researchers, we see a stronger link between work attitudes and performance, as opposed to manual jobs such as assembly-line workers.
Also, think about the alternative possibility: If you don’t like your job, does this mean that you will reduce your performance? Maybe up to a certain point, but there will be factors that prevent you from reducing your performance: such as the fear of getting fired, the desire to get a promotion so that you can get out of the job that you dislike so much, or your professional work ethic. As another example, among nurses, there seems to be a weak correlation between satisfaction and performance. Even when they are unhappy, nurses put a lot of effort into their work because they feel a moral obligation to help their patients. As a result, we should not expect a one-on-one relationship between satisfaction and performance. Still, the observed correlation between work attitudes and performance is important and has practical value.
Finally, job performance has a modest relationship with personality traits, particularly conscientiousness. People who are organized, reliable, dependable, and achievement-oriented seem to outperform others in various contexts.