October 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB1

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Employee Satisfaction in Extension: A Texas Study

This article describes a study establishing seven dimensions that contribute to organizational effectiveness and employee satisfaction as a means of strengthening strategic planning efforts. A survey, administered to 1,720 Extension employees, received a 66% response. Findings suggest that balance between professional and personal life, a clear vision of the future, attention to training and development, and employee involvement are sources of opportunity to increase employee satisfaction and success in strategic planning and implementation. Assessing employee attitudes resulted in the initiation of an organizational renewal effort that was strongly linked to the long range planning process.

Barbara V. Boltes
Associate Professor
Extension Program Development Specialist
Internet address: b-boltes@tamu.edu

Lawrence A. Lippke
State Program Leader - Computer Technology

Elizabeth Gregory
Assistant Professor
Extension Communication Specialist

Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A & M University
College Station, Texas


To accomplish its vital mission, the Cooperative Extension System is constantly changing to meet the shifting needs and priorities of the people that demand its services. Specific program priorities, organizational structures and external relationships are captured in the seven base program strategic plans (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1994).

Grass roots involvement and identifying expressed needs are central to national, state, and local strategic planning efforts. Although the issue identification process is customer driven, it does little to uncover the internal factors that may accelerate our ability to be responsive and visionary. Just as it is in our best interests to be educationally relevant to Extension clientele, it is also necessary to be more organizationally relevant to Extension employees.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between dimensions that contribute to effective organizations and employee satisfaction as a means of strengthening strategic planning efforts.


An instrument was developed to identify potential barriers between the vision of a contemporary Extension organization and the day-to-day realities of getting the job done. The instrument measured the perceptions of Extension employees on seven dimensions that contribute to effective organizations. The dimensions were clientele satisfaction, strategic planning, focus on the future, faculty involvement, achieving balance between work and personal life, professional development, and diversity. First, the dimensions were identified through a literature review and verified by an expert panel. Next, survey questions defining each dimension were generated from current organizational literature. Items were also fashioned after a previous study that identified critical factors for quality management in the Cooperative Extension System (Boltes, 1992). Finally, a self- administered survey instrument was developed and pilot-tested with a representative group of Extension employees, and revised according to their suggestions.

Employees were provided with 50 pairs of statements describing characteristics of the seven dimensions of organizational effectiveness. Each pair of statements described the ends of a 7-point Likert-type scale. The statement on the low end of the scale described the characteristic as found in ineffective organizations, while the statement on the high end of the scale described that same characteristic as found in highly effective organizations (Table 1). Respondents were asked to assess where on the scale they felt Extension "currently" could be described, and where they thought it "optimally" should be. They recorded their current and optimal ratings on a computer scansheet. The differences between optimal and current ratings reflected the employee's level of satisfaction with the organization's performance on that dimension. The ratings and the gaps in the ratings were averaged across all characteristics within each dimension of organizational effectiveness.

Table 1

Example Question
Extension has limited                    Extension has numerous
opportunities for career                 opportunities for career
development for someone in               development for someone
my position.                             in my position.

                         Current Level

1         2         3         4         5         6         7

                         Optimal Level

1         2         3         4         5         6         7

The survey was mailed to 1,720 Texas Extension faculty and staff, excluding those involved in the pilot test and in developing the survey. Of the 1,720 surveys distributed, 1,139 were returned, for a response rate of 66%. In addition, over 60 pages of written comments were received from 256 employees. The survey respondents represented a balance of 44% males and 56% females. The percent of responses from females was particularly high because the survey also included support staff, of which a substantial percentage are female.

Of the employees who responded, 84% identified themselves as Caucasian, 7% as Hispanic, and 4% as African-American, while 5% chose not to answer the question. The respondents also reported their job types as follows: 27% as support staff, 50% as county Extension agents, 15% as specialists, and 8% as administrative staff.

In response to tenure groups, the largest percentage of respondents reported having 1-5 years of service. The remaining respondents were evenly distributed among the remaining tenure groups: less than one year, 6-10 years, 11-15 years, 16-20 years, and over 20 years.

Data Analysis

Reliability and validity of the survey instrument were addressed by designing questions based on the literature, pilot testing the questionnaire, surveying the entire population, and getting a high rate of response. Further, an outside researcher conducted a qualitative content analysis of the written comments to supplement the statistical analysis.

Factor analysis was used to establish construct validity of the scales. Six of the seven dimensions used to measure organizational effectiveness appeared to truly measure those ideas. The scale measuring the dimension "Focus on the Future" was not as meaningful as the other scales. Yet overall, the empirical utility of the survey instrument was remarkable, considering the exploratory nature of the scales.


Categories That Affect Organizational Effectiveness

In the Texas study, employees expressed the most dissatisfaction in the areas of achieving balance, strategic planning, professional development, and employee involvement (where dissatisfaction is defined as the difference between optimal and current ratings; Table 2).

Table 2
Optimal and Current Ratings of Seven Dimensions of
Organizational Effectiveness
Dimension Optimal Current Gap
Achieving Balance 5.70 3.35 2.35
Strategic Planning 5.79 4.05 1.74
Professional Development 5.61 3.93 1.67
Employee Involvement 5.54 3.88 1.66
Clientele Satisfaction 5.80 4.30 1.50
Diversity 5.72 4.51 1.21
Focus on the Future 5.43 4.39 1.04

Achieving Balance

More than 80% of respondents reported having some concern about the balance between their work and their personal lives. This concern was expressed by males and females in equal numbers. However, among job types, rural agents and specialists with less than five years of experience showed the highest dissatisfaction "gap." This finding substantiates the strategic issue of renewing the organization found in the framework document recently prepared for the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). Their recommendation suggests that Extension create new organization norms for balancing work, family, and personal time (Framing the Future, 1995).

Strategic Planning

As with balance, 80% of respondents in the Texas study reported that Extension does not have a clear vision of the organization's direction, while 75% suggested that organizational decisions are made without regard to achieving the strategic plan.

Specific program directions are well documented in national strategic plans for each base program and most state Extension organizations have a strategic planning process and subsequent documents. Yet these findings suggest that Texas employees would benefit by identifying and clarifying their vision for the organization. One recommendation for Extension leadership is to implement a communication strategy that describes the vision so that it is consistent and believable to all employees (Young & Post, 1993).

Professional Development

To sustain high performance, there should be a strong, compelling vision and set of priorities supported by high quality, timely training, and support (Boltes & Lippke, 1994). In the Texas study, a large number of faculty expressed concern about career development opportunities, and that training and development efforts do not reflect the future needs of the organization. More than 70% of respondents reported concerns about training, facilitation, and support for new faculty. These expressions of dissatisfaction regarding professional development have a powerful impact on overall strategic performance.

Employee Involvement

Respondents suggested that, in Texas, Extension relies on a top-down, paternalistic style of management. As symptoms of this management style, written comments expressed the lack of flexibility and creativity in plans-of-work, the inability to drop programs, and the additional time required in responding to "top-down opportunities" (Taylor-Powell, 1993). More than 75% of the respondents indicated that employee input should have more impact on organizational decisions. Agents and specialists with less than 5 years of service expressed the greatest dissatisfaction in this area.

This finding parallels the strategic issue of sharing leadership recommended in the strategic framework document. People support decisions they help make and Extension leaders are encouraged to share leadership by transferring decision making to groups and individuals at appropriate locations in the organization (Framing the Future, 1995).

Implications and Summary

This study investigated a set of dimensions that contribute to effective organizations and employee satisfaction as a means of strengthening strategic planning efforts. The study established reliable and valid scales on dimensions that affect organizational effectiveness in Extension and identify the gap between optimal and actual performance as perceived by employees. These dimensions helped to frame the internal factors that may limit Extension's ability to implement strategic plans effectively. The performance gaps identified provide some idea about those areas where greatest improvement is needed.

As a result of this study, other Extension organizations that wish to assess employee satisfaction in concert with strategic planning or organizational renewal efforts have access to a useful instrument as a basis for their work. Conducting the survey with other Extension populations would improve the instruments' empirical utility and strengthen the theoretical linkage between strategic planning and employee satisfaction.

In Texas, assessing employee attitudes at the onset of a strategic planning cycle resulted in the initiation of an organizational renewal effort that was strongly linked to the long range planning process. The recommendations for organizational renewal were strongly driven by the survey data rather than murky perceptions of employees wishes.

In Texas, balance between professional and personal life, a clear vision of the future, attention to training and development and employee involvement is a problem not only for Extension employees but also for the organization. Extension leadership has responded positively and view the areas of concern as sources of strategic advantage for the Texas Extension organization. If Texas Extension squarely addresses the specific dimensions identified and is able to sustain the commitment, they will likely accelerate their evolution to being more visionary and responsive both in the eyes of their clientele and their employees.


Boltes, B. (1992). Quality management factors and related performance measures in the Cooperative Extension System. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Oregon State University, Corvallis.

Boltes, B., & Lippke, L. (1994). Themes, visions and actions. Organizational initiatives series, discussion paper 2. (Available from Texas Agricultural Extension Service, College Station, TX)

Taylor-Powell, E. (1994, January). Employee and clientele satisfaction in the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. A qualitative analysis of written comments prepared for Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Unpublished manuscript.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, & Cooperative Extension System. (1994). Building the future: Strategic planning for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Author.

Framing the future: Strategic framework for a system of partnerships (A report prepared for ECOP and CSREES). (1995). Urbana: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

Young, M., & Post, J.D. (1993, Summer). How leading companies communicate with employees. Organizational Dynamics, 22(1), pp. 31-41.