The quality of healthcare jobs: Can intrinsic rewards compensate for low extrinsic rewards?

Jennifer Craft Morgan, Janette Dill, Arne L. Kalleberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Frontline healthcare worker jobs are among the fastest growing occupations in the USA. While many of these are 'bad jobs' with low pay and few benefits, the intrinsic nature of frontline work can also be very rewarding. This article examines the influence of extrinsic job characteristics (e.g. wages and benefits) versus intrinsic characteristics (e.g. meaningful tasks) on job satisfaction and intent to stay with one's current employer. This article uses a mixed-methods approach, drawing on survey data collected from frontline workers and organizations in a variety of healthcare settings, as well as interview and focus group data from frontline workers to contextualize and interpret the findings in the multi-level models. The results indicate that both intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics are significant predictors of job satisfaction, but only extrinsic characteristics help explain intent to stay with the employer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)802-822
Number of pages21
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The ‘National Evaluation of the Jobs to Careers: Transforming the Front Lines of Healthcare’ conducted by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with supplementary funds from the Hitachi Foundation. The primary research team from the Institute on Aging and the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill consisted of Jennifer Craft Morgan, Lead Principal Investigator; Thomas R. Konrad, Co-Principal Investigator; Melissa Mann, Study Coordinator; Ashley Rice, Data Manager; and Emmeline Chuang, Janette Dill, Brandy Farrar, Kendra Jason, Graduate Research Assistants.

Funding Information:
Healthcare organizations included in the sample have received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the Hitachi Foundation and the US Department of Labor as part of the Jobs to Careers initiative to build partnerships with educational institutions to help them create the systems changes needed to implement educational and training programmes aimed at frontline worker career advancement. We did not include data from organizations with fewer than five survey respondents.


  • frontline workers
  • healthcare
  • job satisfaction
  • low-wage work
  • mixed methods
  • organizational commitment


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