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Copyright 1985 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.

0021-9010/85/$00.75

Journal of Applied Psychology


1985, Vol. 70, No. 3, 469-t80

Stability in the Midst of Change: A Dispositional


Approach to Job Attitudes
Jerry Ross
Simon Fraser University

Barry M. Staw
University of California, Berkeley

Most recent debates on the determinants of job attitudes have concentrated on


situational theories, stressing external influences such as job design and social
information processing. In contrast, this research examines the dispositional
argument that job attitudes are rather consistent within individuals, showing
stability both over time and across situations. To test this notion, longitudinal
data on job satisfaction were analyzed from a national sample of over 5,000
middle-aged men. Results showed significant stability of attitudes over a 5-year
time period and significant cross-situational consistency when individuals changed
employers and/or occupations. Prior attitudes were also a stronger predictor of
subsequent job satisfaction than either changes in pay or the social status of one's
job. The implications of these results for developing dispositional theories of work
behavior are discussed, along with possible implications for popular situational
theories such as job design and social information processing.

In recent years almost all research on job


attitudes has been situationally based. Situational variables such as task characteristics,
supervision, pay, and working conditions have
been commonly isolated as determinants of
job attitudes (Locke, 1976), and perceptions
of these aspects of the work context are
frequently aggregated into indices of job satisfaction (e.g., Quinn & Sheppard, 1974;
Weiss, Dawis, England, & Lofquist, 1967).
Rarely, however, are job attitudes formulated
as having an endogenous source of variance,
one that is reflective of the ongoing state of
the person as opposed to being a product of
the situation.
The prevailing emphasis on situational determinants of job attitudes is probably best
exemplified in the recent controversy over
the effects of job design. In one camp have

We wish to thank Charles O'Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer


for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this
manuscript.
The data used in this study were obtained from the
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. The data were originally collected by the Center
for Human Resource Research, Ohio State University.
Neither the original collector of the data nor the Consortium bear any responsibility for the analysis or interpretation presented in this article.
Request for reprints should be sent to Barry M. Staw,
School of Business Administration, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720.

been job design researchers who have posited


that objective job characteristics are the major
determinants of work attitudes and behavior,
with improvements in job satisfaction coming
as a product of job enrichment and enlargement interventions (e.g., Hackman & Oldham, 1976, 1980, Lawler, 1982). In a second
camp have been researchers who have taken
a social information processing perspective,
arguing that job attitudes can be altered by
social influence and contextual cues (e.g.,
Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977, 1978, O'Reilly &
Caldwell, 1979; White & Mitchell, 1979).
Although these two approaches are generally
considered to be diametrically opposed, it
should be recognized that they both emphasize the role of situational forces on job
attitudes. Although job design researchers
often use individual characteristics as a moderating variable, neither the job design nor
the information processing perspectives recognize that work attitudes can be directly
affected by dispositional variables.
The confrontation between social information processing and more traditional job
design approaches has contributed to two
recent shifts in theories about how people
react to work environments. The first change
has been greater emphasis on subjective factors that can condition work attitudes, leading
to a more malleable model of job satisfaction.
The second shift has been a greater emphasis

469

470

BARRY M. STAW AND JERRY ROSS

on situational rather than personal determinants of job attitudes. Need-based theories of


job attitudes have come under severe criticism
(Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977), and, as a result,
the field's approach to job satisfaction has
moved from models positing some interaction
of the person and environment toward greater
situational determinism.
The research reported here takes a dispositional rather than situational approach to
job satisfaction. We will argue that in criticizing need-based theories the field may have
underestimated the contribution of dispositional determinants. Though need theories
may be an inappropriate explanation of job
attitudes, many other as yet unspecified individual characteristics may indeed account
for a substantial portion of the variance in
job satisfaction. In accordance with the assumptions of social information processing,
job characteristics may well be subjective and
perceptually malleable, but the shaping of
job attitudes may come as much from personal or dispositional sources as from situational influences.

Dispositional Approach
The dispositional approach involves the
measurement of personal characteristics and
the assumption that such measures can aid
in explaining individual attitudes and behavior. Although distinctions are sometimes made
between the concepts of personal dispositions,
traits, personality, and individual characteristics, these terms are used almost interchangeably in the literature. Each of these
terms is based on a set of common assumptions: that it is possible to characterize people
on certain dimensions, that these dimensions
have some stability over time, and that these
dimensions are useful in predicting individual
behavior across situations.
Dispositional concepts have been criticized
on many grounds, but the most telling has
been MischeFs (1968) argument that personality scales or traits have accounted for little
variance in human action across situations.
Recently, however, several counterarguments
have been made in defense of personality
determinants of behavior. Bern and Allen
(1974) have noted that the behavior of some

but not all individuals is consistent across


situations. Block (1977) has noted that indepth assessments of personality by trained
specialists are much more predictive than the
paper-and-pencil measures of traits that are
commonly used. McGowan and Gormly
(1976) and Aries, Gold, and Weigel (1983)
have noted that personality traits are more
predictive of multiple instances of behavior
than behavior in a single situation. Monson,
Hesley, and Chernick (1982) have noted that
personality is more predictive of behavior in
ambiguous situations than in settings where
role demands are so strong that behavior is
externally determined regardless of personal
dispositions. And, finally, Funder and Ozer
(1983) have argued that the statistical magnitude of many of the most famous situational
effects (e.g., forced compliance, bystander
intervention, and obedience) is no greater
than that achieved by the more heavily criticized dispositional research.
The dispositional approach to predicting
attitudes and behavior has also been unpopular in organizational research. Aside from
its use in personnel selection (Dunnette,
1976), the assessment of personality traits
and other individual characteristics has usually been relegated to the back of questionnaires designed principally to demonstrate
situational relationships. Weiss and Adler
(1984) have argued that personality effects
have not explained a great deal of variance
in organizational psychology because they
have seldom been the focus of research or
the product of serious theorizing. Off-theshelf measures of personality have typically
been included in cross-sectional surveys and
experiments so as to explain some additional
variance in situational behavior. But, seldom
have situational variables been specifically
chosen or manipulated so as to develop the
construct validity of personality dimensions.
Nor have there been many longitudinal studies
devoted to understanding when and under
what conditions individual dispositions will
best explain attitudes or behavior. As noted
by Weiss and Adler, because we have put our
theoretical energies and research skills into
demonstrating the influence of situational
factors, it is little wonder that situational
explanations have appeared so much more
robust than dispositional effects.

STABILITY OF JOB

A Dispositional Approach to Job Attitudes


A dispositional formulation of job attitudes
could take many forms. Research could be
directed toward the study of transitory moods
and how they affect individual reactions to
job characteristics; toward stable individual
characteristics and how they may influence
job attitudes over time; or toward the interaction of individual and job characteristics.
Although the crucial aspect of dispositional
approaches is the search for coherence rather
than consistency in individual responses over
time (Magnuson & Endler, 1977, Terborg,
1981; Schneider, 1983), this article will investigate one of the most parsimonious of the
dispositional approaches. We will hypothesize
that there are stable individual characteristics
that predispose people to respond positively
or negatively to job contexts. We will also
hypothesize that the predisposition to like or
dislike jobs can be as important a determinant
of job attitudes as the content of the work
itself.
The hypothesis that individuals may have
stable predispositions toward jobs can be
drawn from a number of theoretical formulations. One rather radical possibility is that
job attitudes may reflect a biologically based
trait that predisposes individuals to see positive or negative content in their lives (cf.
Buss, Plomin, & Willerman, 1975; Thomas,
Chess, & Birch, 1970). Differences in individual temperament (Buss & Plomin, 1975),
ranging from clinical depression to a very
positive disposition, could influence the information individuals input, recall, and interpret within various social situations, including work. Alternatively, job attitudes
could reflect a socialized or learned response
to a broad class of situations. Individuals
may have come to associate work positively
or negatively (e.g., due to family or early job
experiences), and this affective orientation
may influence the way individuals react subsequently to a variety of job contexts.
The purpose of this article is not to choose
among various underlying causes of personal
dispositions but to explore the more general
implications of a dispositional approach to
job attitudes. The possibility that individuals
have a positive or negative predisposition
toward work implies that there may be much

ATTITUDES

471

more continuity to job attitudes than we have


previously recognized. Such continuity does
not of course deny the role of situational
influence, because it would be naive to assume
that individuals are unaffected by strong external stimuli, either from others or the job
itself, in forming attitudes about work. However, it may be just as naive to believe that
individuals enter job contexts as blank slates,
ready to be influenced by the slightest set of
external cues. Thus, although individual attitudes may be determined by both dispositional and situational variables, we would
argue that recent research has emphasized
only half of this equation.
The possibility that there is a dispositional
source of job satisfaction is at least indirectly
consistent with three findings from the job
attitude literature. First, research has shown
substantial individual variation in the way
jobs are perceived, even if formal job descriptions and tasks are relatively constant
(O'Reilly, Parlette, & Bloom, 1980). The implication of this finding is that there is probably enough ambiguity in most job situations
to allow individuals to interpret the context
in ways that fit their own dispositions. Second,
field experiments on job redesign have had
only mixed success in producing long-term
changes in work responses. Oldham and
Hackman (1980) have argued that changes
in job characteristics are often not large
enough to have an effect on individuals and
that competing organizational forces may
mask such effects over time. However, a dispositional explanation of these same data
would argue that there is consistency in individual job attitudes and that, in spite of
changes in the job context, individuals may
have a tendency to return to their own attitudinal equilibriums (cf. Landy, 1978).
The third source of data bearing on the
dispositional approach comes from a recent
study by Pulakos and Schmitt (1983). This
research demonstrated that preemployment
expectations were a significant predictor of
subsequent job satisfaction. The results
showed that high school students who expected jobs to be psychologically rewarding
tended to be more satisfied when they were
subsequently employed (9 and 29 months
later) than those who were originally more
negative in their expectations. Thus, it appears

472

BARRY M. STAW AND JERRY ROSS

at least possible that job satisfaction is as


much a function of individual dispositions as
organizational or job characteristics (cf. Blood,
1969; Schneider, 1976).
Research on Consistency in Attitudes
If there are dispositional characteristics
that affect job attitudes, we would expect
some consistency in attitudes over time.
However, to date, there has been little research
on the consistency of job attitudes. So far,
the strongest evidence for attitudinal consistency, though not from the work context,
comes from a recent study by Epstein (1979).
Epstein found that the emotional experiences
of individuals were highly consistent when
aggregated over a large number of measurements, with the self-report of "happy" experiences reaching a correlation of .92 between
even and odd days in his sample. Epstein
argued that some persona] reactions to situations (e.g., feeling tired or impulsive) are
less stable than others (e.g., happiness) but
that much of the problem with demonstrating
temporal consistency has to do with inadequate measurement. Epstein noted that consistency can be increased dramatically with
an increase in the number of observations as
well as data aggregation. Of course, as noted
by other personality theorists, consistency
might also be expected to be high when the
situation has remained constant or when the
context is ambiguous enough to allow personal dispositions to be manifested.
Schneider and Dachler (1978) have provided some recent evidence for consistency
in attitudes about work. In a longitudinal
study two JDI measurements of satisfaction
were gathered over a 16-month time period.
The results showed a strong temporal consistency in satisfaction scores (averaging .56 for
managers and .58 for nonmanagers) and a
tendency for the JDI to retain its internal
factor structure over time. In discussing these
results, Schneider and Dachler were uncertain
whether satisfaction was best conceived as a
dispositional variable in which stability coefficients should be high, or whether satisfaction
is a dynamic variable for which stability
coefficients should be low.
As we noted, most organizational research
has at least implicitly assumed job satisfaction

to be a dynamic variable that is reflective of


situational change. Therefore, as an early test
of the dispositional perspective it would be
useful to demonstrate whether there is simple
consistency in attitudes over time. Without
temporal stability, dispositional researchers
would be forced to search for more subtle
patterns of attitude change (e.g., due to life
stage) or to examine how attitudes interact
with contextual changes in a way that is
coherent over time (Schneider, 1983; Terborg,
1981). As a second test of the dispositional
perspective, it is important to examine
whether there is some consistency in attitudes
across situations. Without cross-situational
consistency, the dispositional argument remains subordinate to the usual contextual
approach that emphasizes the environmental
determination of attitudes. Finally, it is important to investigate whether attitudinal
consistency is as strong a force as the effect
of common situational changes. If situational
changes are a stronger predictor of job attitudes than the consistency of work affect,
then the dispositional explanation may be
inherently weaker than the situational approach. Thus, the three basic hypotheses to
be tested in this study are as follows:
Hypothesis 1: There will be a strong and
significant relationship in individual attitudes
over time.
Hypothesis 2: There will be a strong and
significant relationship in individual attitudes
across situations.
Hypothesis 3: Prior individual attitudes
will be as strong a predictor of subsequent
attitudes as important situational changes.
Method
Sample
To assess the consistency of attitudes over time, longitudinal data are needed on both job attitudes and on
situational variables. One of the best available data sets
for these tests of consistency is the Longitudinal Survey
of Mature Men collected by the Center for Human
Resource Research at Ohio State University (Center for
Human Resource Research, 1977). This survey comprises
a national random sample of over 5,000 men aged 45 to
59. Data were collected over multiple waves, with the
majority of the sample assessed on job satisfaction during
1966, 1969, and 1971.
The National Longitudinal Survey was designed primarily to test labor market and economic behavior
hypotheses. Its measurement of job attitudes was much

473

STABILITY OF JOB ATTITUDES

less sophisticated than, for example, the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (Weiss et al., 1967) or the Michigan
measure of facet satisfaction (Quinn & Slaincs, 1979).
However, the chief advantage of using the National
Longitudinal Survey is its documentation of changes in
the job situation. The National Longitudinal Survey
documents objective changes in employer, occupation,
job status and pay, whereas most surveys rely primarily
on perceptions of the job situation (e.g., job challenge)
that may be confounded with job attitudes.

Job Attitudes
Job attitudes were assessed by a one-item global satisfaction measure with four levels of possible response
(ranging from highly satisfied to highly dissatisfied). This
attitudinal measure violates Block's (1977) argument for
reliable, multimethod measurement of individual dispositions and will no doubt attenuate tests for consistency.
Also, in light of Weiss and Adler's (1984) recommendations for research designed around personality constructs,
it should be noted that the assessment of job attitudes
was a minor aspect of the Longitudinal Survey. The
Survey contained multiple and sophisticated measures of
labor market behavior but did not focus greatly on
attitudinal issues. Because of these methodological shortcomings, this study's assessments of attitudinal consistency
are likely to comprise very conservative tests of the
dispositional approach. Greater consistency would no
doubt be found in longitudinal research devoted primarily
to individual attitudes and emotional responses.

Situational Variables
To test for attitudinal consistency across situations,
changes in the situation need to be documented in a way
that is independent of the measurement of satisfaction.
Situational theories of both job design and social information processing would argue that there are many
potential sources of environmental influence on an individual's attitudes. Therefore, a strong test of the dispositional approach would be to examine attitudinal consistency when people have made large-scale changes in their
work lives. One major change would be to switch employers, moving to an entirely new organization. Rather
than simply changing a small proportion of the job
content (as in field experiments in which a few aspects
of the job are altered), a change of employer usually
brings a new supervisor, different physical surroundings,
and an altered set of working procedures. Another sweeping change in the work situation would likely come from
the individual changing his or her occupation. Although
a change in employer might involve many situational
changes, it could be argued that the nature of the work
task might remain stable across organizations. In contrast,
a change in occupation would usually involve an entirely
different set of work tasks. Thus, a very conservative test
of the dispositional perspective would examine attitudinal
consistency across changes in both employer and occupation.
The National Longitudinal Survey documented changes
in both employer and occupation. Those working in the
same occupation and for the same employer were assumed
to have undergone the least situational change. Respon-

dents with new occupations and new employers were


assumed to have experienced the most situational change.
Finally, those having undergone only an occupational or
employer change were assumed to have experienced an
intermediate level of situational change.
Although changes in employer and occupation are
rather clearcut operationalizations of environmental
change, these changes do not tell us whether the new
conditions were experienced by individuals as either an
improvement or decline in the quality of their work lives.
As a result, employer and occupational changes cannot,
by themselves, be used for comparing the relative strength
of situational versus dispositional determinants of satisfaction. More appropriate for such comparative tests
were data on two common situational antecedents of job
satisfactionrates of pay and job status.
As noted by Lawler (1981), pay is a wide-ranging
reward that serves many individual needs. Because of its
common association with levels of responsibility, one's
pay rate is likely to serve as a proxy for many qualities
of the work (e.g., authority and task complexity) as well
as being a simple index of compensation received. Similarly, occupational status reflects the social consensus of
the value of a job and is close conceptually to the social
information or perceptual cues about the favorability of
a job. Although two jobs may be similar in pay or
responsibility, they may be awarded different status by
society and therefore be differentially rewarding to individuals holding these jobs.
Data on both pay rates and job status were available
in the National Longitudinal Survey. Pay rate was coded
by hourly rate (or its equivalent for those employed on a
salary basis), whereas status was assessed using the Duncan
occupational index for the job held by the individual. In
order to compare the strength of the dispositional and
situational perspectives, the effects of changes in both
pay and job status were compared to prior attitudes as
predictors of subsequent job satisfaction. If attitudinal
consistency were as great as the effects of pay and job
status, the case for dispositional effects would be strengthened.

Results
Table 1 shows the intercorrelation of the
satisfaction measures from 1966, 1969, and
1971. There was significant consistency between these measures (for all correlations,
p< .001), but the magnitude of these relationships varied among the time intervals
involved. As one would expect, the consistency in attitudes over the 5-year period
(1966-1971) was exceeded by the consistency
in attitudes for the 3-year interval (19661969), which in turn was exceeded by consistency over the 2-year period (1969-1971).
Also, as noted by Epstein (1979), consistency
was improved by the aggregation of measurement. When the 1966 and 1969 satisfaction
data were combined into a single attitudinal

474

BARRY M. STAW AND JERRY ROSS

Table 1
Correlations of Satisfaction Over Time:
Total Sample

Year
1 1966 Satisfaction
n
2 1969 Satisfaction

1
1966
Satisfaction

1.00
4,549

2
1969
Satisfaction

.32
3,702
1.00
3,807

3 1971 Satisfaction

n
Index of 1966 &
1969
Satisfaction

3
1971
Satisfaction

.29
3,350

.42
3,275
1.00
3,446

.44
3,200

n
Note. All correlations are significant at p < .001.

index, this measure was a stronger predictor


of 1971 attitudes than either of the two
individual assessments by themselves.
To control for any effects of attrition, the
correlations in Table 1 were also run using a
constant sample of those who responded to
all three waves of the National Longitudinal
Survey. The constant sample consisted of
3,200 males, and for this group the correlations of items were virtually the same as
those reported in Table 2. The only differences
were an increase in the correlation between
1966 and 1969 satisfaction to .34 and an
increase in the relationship between 1966
and 1971 satisfaction to .30.
Table 2 shows the intercorrelation of attitudes under conditions of situational change.
Examining the 1969-1971 relationships, it
can be seen that the temporal consistency of
attitudes was highest when the individual
remained with the same employer and occupation. Changing occupation or employer
resulted in some decrease in consistency,
though the intercorrelations were still substantial. A similar pattern of relationships
was shown in the 1966-1971 satisfaction
data. The highest correlation between attitudes over the 5-year period was found when
employer and occupation remained constant,
whereas the lowest consistency occurred when
both employer and occupation changed.
When only the employer or occupation had
changed, an intermediate level of consistency
was shown in the data. Using a Fisher's Z

transformation, all correlation coefficients


were shown to be significantly different (at
least p < .05), with the exception of .31 and
.33 in the correlation of 1969 and 1971
satisfaction data.
Table 2 also shows that it is possible to
improve the temporal consistency of job attitudes by aggregating measures. When satisfaction measures were combined for 1966
and 1969, the correlation with 1971 job
attitude was .48 when employer and occupation remained the same and .34 when both
employer and occupation changed. Though
not shown in the table, data were also analyzed using the procedures recommended by
Monson et al. (1982). They argued that a
measure derived from multiple situations
would be a better predictor of individual
responses across situations than an indicator
derived from a single context. Therefore, the
index of 1966 and 1969 satisfaction was
constructed in two ways. First, the 19661969 index was formed using cases where
individuals changed occupations over this
3-year period. Secondly, the 1966-1969 index
was formed using cases where men remained
in the same occupation over this 3-year peTable 2
Correlations of Satisfaction Over Time When
Employer and Occupation Are Changed
Occupation
Employer
1969 Satisfaction with
1971 Satisfaction
Same

n
Changed

n
1966 Satisfaction with
1971 Satisfaction
Same

n
Changed

Same

Changed

.47
2156

.36
891

.37
.23

.24
274
.19

1232

1121

1711

Index of 1966 & 1969


Satisfaction with 1971
Satisfaction
Same
.48

2114
Changed
.39

.31
171
.33
735

868

Note. All correlations are significant at p < .001.

.37
164
.34
714

475

STABILITY OF JOB ATTITUDES

Table 3

Regressions Predicting 1971 Job Satisfaction


Multiple R

SE

Total sample
1966 Satisfaction
Change in Pay
Change in Status

.276
.281
.282

.272
.000590
-.000195

.01932
.00023
.00012

197.84**
6.55*
2.48

Subsample with same


occupation and
same employer
(n = 1190)
1966 Satisfaction
Change in Pay

.355
.357

.352
.000378

.02700
.00030

171.47**
1.59

Subsample with same


occupation and
different employer
(n = 593)
1966 Satisfaction
Change in Pay

.254
.257

.256
.000642

.03953
.00059

41.92"
1.19

Subsample with different


occupation and
same employer
( = 207)
1966 Satisfaction
Change in Pay
Change in Status

.224
.224
.224

.228
.000133
.000532

.06985
.00089
.00431

10.68**
0.02
0.02

Subsample with different


occupation and
different employer
( - 377)
1966 Satisfaction
Change in Pay
Change in Status

.140
.185
.186

.132
.00125
.000087

.04644
.00052
.00023

8.10**
5.84*
0.14

Predictor

Note. Total sample N = 2,367. * p < .05. ** p < .01.

riod. Both of these indices were correlated


with 1971 satisfaction. As expected, the heterogeneous index was more strongly related
to 1971 satisfaction (r = .40, n = 435)
than was the homogeneous index (r = .25,
n = 279).
Table 3 shows the results of regressions
predicting 1971 job attitudes. Data for the
total sample showed that satisfaction in 1966
was the strongest and most significant predictor of 1971 job attitudes. Neither changes in
pay nor changes in job status accounted for
nearly as much variance as prior job attitude.
This result was obtained no matter whether
pay and job status were entered first into the
regression equation using the hierarchical
method or by the standard regression procedure in which stronger predictors are entered
first. In line with the analyses in Table 2,

regressions were also computed for individuals


with no change in either employer or occupation, when there was either employer or
occupation change, and when individuals had
experienced both kinds of situational change.
Results showed that change in pay only accounted for a significant amount of variance
when both the individual's employer and
occupation were changed. Under other conditions, prior satisfaction was the only predictor of subsequent attitudes. Counter to
expectations, job status was not a significant
predictor even for the Subsample of individuals who had undergone both occupational
and employer changes.
Discussion
The data on job satisfaction from the National Longitudinal Survey proved useful for

476

BARRY M. STAW AND JERRY ROSS

testing consistency in attitudes over time and


across situations. The first hypothesis, that
there is a strong and significant relationship
in attitudes over time, was at least partially
confirmed by the data. All temporal relationships were significant, even though the magnitude of the correlations was not extremely
high. Aggregating measures did improve the
relationships, however, as did using a subsample of respondents who had not experienced
changes in occupation or employer.
The second major hypothesis, that there
would be a strong and significant relationship
in attitudes across situations, was also partially
confirmed. The correlations of attitudes over
time were all statistically significant under
conditions of maximum situational change,
and these relationships were improved through
the aggregation of measurement. Job and
occupational changes did reduce attitudinal
consistency, however. As one might expect,
the greater the situational changes the
lower was attitudinal consistency. Having experienced either employer or occupational
changes served to reduce attitudinal consistency, while having experienced both types
of situational changes reduced consistency
further. Therefore, although the consistency
in attitudes across situations provided support
for the dispositional view of attitudes, the
attenuation of relationships under situational
change also provided evidence for contextual
effects.
The third hypothesis, that prior attitudes
will be as strong a predictor of subsequent
attitudes as situational changes, was supported
by the regression results. Using changes in
pay and job status as situational determinants,
the regression analyses showed that neither
of these variables was as good a predictor of
job satisfaction as the prior level of attitude.
Changes in pay did predict some variance
when both employer and occupation were
changed, but the strength of its relationship
with satisfaction was considerably less than
that represented by prior job attitudes.
In interpreting the tests of Hypotheses 2
and 3, there was an interesting overall difference in the data from Tables 2 and 3. On the
one hand, job and occupational changes appeared to attenuate attitudinal consistency,
while, on the other hand, changes in pay and
job status had rather weak effects on attitudes.

We would interpret this pattern of results as


showing that pay and status are only two of
the myriad possible changes brought about
by changes in employer and occupation. Untapped dimensions of job and occupational
changes may therefore have stronger effects
than pay and status changes. Also, it is possible that employer and occupational changes
might have reduced attitudinal consistency,
without themselves acting as sources of explained variance. Employer and occupational
changes were multifaced and complex alterations that could have gone in several directions, without a net positive or negative effect
on individual attitudes.
Limitations of the Data
A possible limitation of the data was response set. Individuals could have responded
to the question of job satisfaction in a particular way (e.g., leniently or stringently) and
then continued to respond in the same manner at a later point in time. Although this
problem can often be avoided by using scales
with multiple items, each with different directions in wording or response format, such
strategies were not possible when using the
National Longitudinal Survey data. We can,
however, address two arguments to the response-set alternative.
First, there may be conceptual overlap
between some forms of response set and the
basic notion that job attitudes are consistent.
If leniency or stringency, for example, are
used to explain the consistency of reported
attitudes, this means that people who are
stringent are likely to answer questions about
their jobs in a critical manner and such
stringency is likely to persist over time.
Therefore, one must posit that stringency in
evaluating questions about job satisfaction is
very different from stringency in evaluating
actual job contexts in order for this particular
form of response set to be a strong alternative
explanation.
A second argument is derived from the
patterning of longitudinal data shown in Table
2. Although many forms of response set (e.g.,
tendency to mark one side of scales, acquiescence, social desirability) can explain simple
consistency in measures of individual satisfaction over time, none with which we are

STABILITY OF JOB ATTITUDES

familiar could easily explain the patterning


of the present findings. As expected, changes
in employer and occupation weakened the
consistency of job attitudes, and this patterning would not have been predicted from a
response set bias.
In addition to response set, another possible
critique of the National Longitudinal Survey
data pertains to the amount of variance
explained. Although never is more than 25%
of the variance explained in our analyses of
attitudinal consistency, it could be argued
that this is in line with other (more popular)
situational effects (see Funder & Ozer, 1983
for an interesting statistical transformation of
experimental findings using F levels of significance to correlational results). Also, it is
reasonable to assume that the consistency
effects found in this study may be close to
the minimum one might expect in future
research. Better indices of job attitudes should
bring stronger results, as found in the small
amount of aggregation that was allowed by
this data set.
A final critique of the results concerns
external validity. For this study we used the
Longitudinal Survey of Mature Men, because
it comprised the most complete data set
available for testing our hypotheses and has
been used in previous organizational research
(Pfeffer & Ross, 1982). It is, however, possible
that our results are limited by this sample. If
mature males (aged 45 to 59) are more fixed
in their job attitudes than either younger or
female employees, generalizations about dispositional versus situational influence may be
limited by the composition of the workforce.
Although a national sample improves our
ability to generalize, the results of this study
need to be replicated among other major
segments of the population.

477

have predicted strong attitudinal changes from


changes in job status, because status certainly
implies what others in the society think of
one's position. Job redesign would likewise
have predicted changes in job attitudes as a
consequence of greater pay and status, since
these two measures would likely serve as
proxies for improvements in responsibility
and job challenge. Of course, using data
previously collected for another purpose, we
could not test whether situational effects operationalized exactly as prescribed by job
design and social information processing theories might have had larger effects. Also, we
did not test for the effects of perceived adequacy of pay and job status. One might
hypothesize that changes in these variables,
like the perceptional measures of task characteristics (e.g., Hackman & Oldham, 1976),
would covary highly with job satisfaction.
However, because job perceptions may be
inherently confounded with job satisfaction
(Roberts & Glick, 1981), covariation among
perceived variables would not imply that
changes in objective job situations would
actually lead to attitudinal effects.
The strongest evidence for situational effects
was the attenuation of attitudinal consistency
across situations. The data clearly showed
that both the passage of time and the presence
of major changes in the work context can
weaken attitudinal consistency. Still, it is difficult to conclude from the present data that
situational effects will supersede attitudinal
consistency in most contexts. Rarely are situational forces so great as to entail an entire
change of employer as well as the occupation
in which one works, yet attitudinal consistency was demonstrated under these disparate
conditions.
In Search of Individual Characteristics

Situational Versus Dispositional

Effects

Despite possible limitations of the data,


we believe our results show a much stronger
case for dispositional effects than has been
presented for many years in organizational
psychology. In addition, our results did not
show nearly as strong situational effects as
one would predict from either the social
information processing or job design perspectives. Social information processing would

The finding of cross-situational consistency


in work attitudes means that there may be
potentially explainable dispositional influences on job attitudes. This possibility is also
underscored by a finding that was not part
of our original research design. Further analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey
showed that the consistency of job attitudes
was as great as the consistency of items from
a well-known personality scale. During the

478

BARRY M. STAW AND JERRY ROSS

1969 and 1971 administrations of the Survey,


Rotter's (1966) Locus of Control (I/E) Scale
was included in the battery of primarily
economic data. The median consistency for
the 11 items comprising the I/E scale was
.27, with the relationship between scores on
the 1969 and 1971 items ranging from .19 to
.39. Over the same period of time, as shown
in the data of Table 1, the job satisfaction
measure correlated .42 between the 1969 and
1971 administrations. Thus, job satisfaction
was at least as stable over time as one of the
most widely used personality measures,
thereby indicating that there may well be a
dispositional source of variance in job attitudes.
The specific form of a dispositional explanation of job attitudes remains a topic for
future research. As we noted, a basic predisposition toward positive or negative affect
may be the result of physiological differences
(e.g., clinical depression) or the product of
long-term socialization. Along with these two
general explanations, there could also be specific differences in the way individuals critically assess new environments, differences in
the way individuals rationalize objectively
difficult circumstances, and differential skills
in constructing or shaping roles to suit one's
personal interests. Any of these individual
characteristics could account for either the
consistency of individuals in receiving objectively positive or negative outcomes from
different jobs or the consistency of individuals'
subjective responses to varied job contexts.
Although we cannot now determine the
determinants of attitudinal consistency, the
above speculations may indicate the kinds of
hypotheses that could evolve from a dispositional approach to job attitudes. The important point is not which mechanism might
logically account for the present data (the list
would no doubt be large) but the likelihood
that a dispositional perspective can be theoretically rich as well as empirically predictive.
As Weiss and Aldler (1984) noted, we need
to design research that develops and tests
personality theories of work behavior, rather
than using individual characteristics as "addon" variables that are unconnected conceptually to major hypotheses.
We also need to further develop interactional theories of job attitudes. Although this

research has pitted dispositional versus situational explanations of job satisfaction, it is


obvious that a more detailed accounting must
also include the interaction of person and
situation (Schneider, 1983). Future research
may find, for example, that particular job
characteristics increase satisfaction among
positively predisposed individuals but do
nothing for the more negatively inclined.
Likewise, certain settings may arouse hostility
in negatively predisposed individuals but have
no effect on more positive individuals. Other
more complex forms of interaction might
also imply that the job and supervision faced
by people in organizations is somehow affected
by or tailored to the disposition of the individual (cf. Graen, 1976). These and other
interactional hypotheses (e.g., Terborg, 1981)"
deserve testing.
Practical Implications
The finding of consistency in attitudes over
time and across job situations has several
practical implications. The most straightforward implication is that many situational
changes such as job redesign and organizational development may not affect individuals
as they are intended. Many situational interventions may be prone to failure because
they must contend with attitudinal consistency
or a tendency for individuals to revert back
to their basic dispositions. A more optimistic
interpretation would be that organizational
interventions need to be stronger and more
pervasive, so that they can overwhelm these
forces for stability.
In terms of personnel selection, there could
also be differing implications of attitudinal
consistency. One conclusion from our data is
that it may be easier for organizations to
improve the job attitudes of its employees by
simply selecting individuals for membership
who have positive dispositions than by trying
to build positive attitudes through situational
changes. The legal implications of selecting
individuals on the basis of attitudinal dispositions would certainly be complex, since the
linkage of positive attitudes to role performance is less than clear. Although job dissatisfaction is associated with absenteeism and
turnover, it is virtually unknown whether
such behaviors are a result of temporary

STABILITY OF JOB ATTITUDES

dissatisfaction or an ongoing negative disposition. Likewise, although unhappy individuals


may be difficult to work with, little is known
of the linkage between such dispositions and
the quality of job performance. Quite possibly,
there may be appropriate roles for both negative and positive individuals, especially since
research has shown depressives to be more
realistic in their judgments than others (e.g.,
Alloy & Abramson, 1979). Thus, one could
argue that individuals and organizational roles
should be matched, depending on the degree
of critical thinking versus energy and enthusiasm required for performance in each particular job. Alternatively, one might argue
that a mixture of positively and negatively
disposed individuals may be most effective
for many work groups, because group functions (from being a source of social support
to being a devil's advocate) may be best
fulfilled by a wide variety of individuals.
These are but a few of the useful questions
that can be derived from a dispositional view
of job attitudes.
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Schneider, B., & Dachler, P. H. (1978). A note on the

Received March 19, 1984


Revision received December 7, 1984

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