Job Satisfaction and Continuous Improvement

Job Satisfaction and Continuous Improvement

2019, Oct 17    

With this article I’d like to give Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches a (simplified) model, in order to understand how they influence job satisfaction. Additionally I’ll highlight how this influence can be used to perpetuate continuous improvement and what to watch out for.

Dissatisfaction is an engine for change. We all know that from our own experience. Whenever someone is dissatisfied, the fact alone hints to potentials for improvement. Be it of the individual, the team or the whole organisation. In our industry – be it Agile Coaching or management – we know that for a fact and use it on a daily basis to improve whole enterprises. On the other hand, I can recall quite a few times when this dissatisfaction of a team lead to frustration and stagnation of change.

Understanding Dissatisfaction via the Zurich Model

Over the years I accepted the power of dissatisfaction as a fact without questioning it. Lately, through my studies of occupational psychology, that attitude changed slightly: I think it is beneficial to understand how dissatisfaction comes to be, and how it sometimes can go wrong. As a matter of fact, whenever we refer to satisfaction or dissatisfaction of a team or employee in the context of agile coaching, we usually and unknowingly, refer to the job satisfaction of these people.

Now bear with me, when I deep-dive into some theoretical background – I promise there will be a useful conclusion.

Job satisfaction in general could be described as the general attitude towards work and especially the assessment of work done. In my studies I came across a very interesting model for job satisfaction, that helped me to understand how satisfaction and dissatisfaction come to be: the Zurich Model by Bruggemann et al.

In their model (Bruggeman 1975) the researchers describe how job satisfaction comes to be. The basic premise is, that satisfaction or dissatisfaction arises from a comparison of the expectations and real fulfilment of demands of a job or workplace1. In the original model they describe six types of satisfaction that can result2:

Simplified Zurich Model

A stable relation of expectation and reality leads to either (1) progressive satisfaction if the demands of the individual grow, or (2) stabilised satisfaction when it does not.

In case there is a divergence, the individual can lower their bar for their demand, leading to (3) resigning satisfaction. There’s also the chance that the affected human will start lying to themselves (You know, it’s not that bad…). This will lead to so called (4) pseudo satisfaction.

On the other hand, when they do not lower their bar, it depends on the options the individual has for changing their situation and context. In case there is no chance to adapt the circumstances, they will end up with (5) fixed dissatisfaction, staying locked. In case they can act on their dissatisfaction, we’ll end up with (6) constructive dissatisfaction.

Practical Application

So, how can we apply this theoretical knowledge in practice? I think it is obvious where we, as Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters, want our teams to end up: (1) progressive satisfaction or (6) constructive dissatisfaction. That’s the space where teams will grow.

The Zurich Model gives us some hints to what we should watch out for: lack of ability and authority to make decisions (control) will lead to (5) fixed dissatisfaction. That’s the space where you absolutely do not want to go, as demotivation and declining productivity are the certain result. Another not-so-good area would be (4) pseudo satisfaction, where a team will always justify the status quo.

In practice, this model can help you to understand where your teams currently are and what measures to take with them. For example:

  1. Are they increasing their demands on quality, results and working environment constantly? Then they are most likely in (1) progressive satisfaction. That’s some kind of flow state. Provide them with what they need for their growth as good as you can!
  2. Are they okay with things as they currently are? Now be careful:
  3. Are they sincere, at least for the moment? It could be (2) stable satisfaction. Try to change the environment a bit, in order to trigger a state of (6) constructive dissatisfaction to get them back to (1) progressive satisfaction.
  4. Just saying that, but not really meaning it? That can be an indicator for (4) pseudo satisfaction! Dare to challenge them. Make visible what they could achieve and what their standards once were. Try to reignite the spark in order to cause some dissatisfaction by getting them up raising their bar again.
  5. Is your team dissatisfied, but feels a lack of control? Enable them to get control of their context and circumstances and help them to change their situation. Again, in order to get them back into (6) constructive dissatisfaction.

A Real-Life Example

Over the course of this year I was working with a team of software developers, who seemed very reluctant to accept any support that my coaching team offered. While talking to them, as well as in workshop sessions, they usually claimed, that they don’t need any change or improvement. Especially, they did not need any support, because everything was running smoothly anyways.

Now, the interesting thing was, that I knew from observation of the environment of them - other teams, managers, and stakeholders - that they were indeed not exhibiting a top-notch performance.

In the next step, I actually singled out a few people of the team, who were open to talk to me in the past. What I found out was, that they were of course aware, that they could do better work, but actually did not see any way to improve, because they were limited by process and budgetary guidelines.

What I did then was to bring together the line management with this team and facilitate a conversation about the ideas of the team and how they could be realised. I showed them, that their management is open to discussion!

In this scenario, I was dealing with fixed dissatisfaction, that we could break up by extending the control over the situation and showing options for action. This enabled a state of constructive dissatisfaction where their needs could be addressed adequately.


A couple of key takeaways for the closing:

  1. Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters and leaders of agile teams play a vital role in people’s job satisfaction: We are constructive dissatisfiers!
  2. Act in order to understand job satisfaction within your teams.
  3. The Zurich Model helps you to understand how satisfaction comes to be.
  4. Cause dissatisfaction only with clear purpose: Achieve constructive dissatisfaction.
  5. Turning dissatisfaction and pseudo satisfaction into continuous improvement requires your influence: Challenge standards and give control to teams to influence their own situation.


Bruggemann, Agnes/Groskurth, Peter/Ulich, Eberhard (1975). Arbeitszufriedenheit. Bern: Huber.

Büssing, A. (1991). Struktur und Dynamik von Arbeitszufriedenheit: Konzeptuelle und methodische Überlegungen zu einer Untersuchung verschiedener Formen von Arbeitszufriedenheit.

Baumgartner, C., & Udris, I. (2005). Das „Zürcher Modell“ der Arbeitszufriedenheit – 30 Jahre „still going strong“. In L. Fischer (Hrsg.), Arbeitszufriedenheit (2. Aufl.). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Ferreira, Y. (2009). FEAT – Fragebogen zur Erhebung von Arbeitszufriedenheitstypen. Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie, 53


  1. Naturally, a change in the demands does not only result from experiences at the workplace, but are also influenced by events in your personal live and thus highly individualised. 

  2. Criticism of the simplicity of this model (e.g. Büssing 1991, Baumgartner 2005) and later research revealed that there are, of course, additional types that can result (see Ferreira 2009). For simplicity of this article I deliberately ignore later research.