Positivist claim that any knowledge that is not empirical is unscientific, and thus invalid


Positivist claim that any knowledge that is not empirical is unscientific, and thus invalid. Most of the physical and natural sciences have adopted positivism as their method of acquiring knowledge. However this research philosophy has not been fully accepted in the field of social sciences. Social scientists argue that “positivistic method strips context from meanings in the process of developing quantified measures of phenomena” (Gephert 1999, p. 1). Social scientist claims that they would want an inclusive research method that does not exclude the qualitative meaning from the data collected. For instance, modern psychologist can not understand how positivism can ignore the unobservable issues like emotions and thoughts or the happenings in the inside of the human mind. Viewed from a social science perspective, positivism registers more weaknesses in the realm that it tends to generalise outcomes from samples taken from specific social groups. This is not to forget that it is not always that positivism methods yield consistent results. In such a situation a more advanced approach is needed to explain the inconsistency. In addition, the fact that positivism relies on testing existing theories rather than introducing new ones is a challenge to the field of discovery.

Beside the above shortcoming, the greatest challenge to positivism comes from the alternative research philosophies, mainly the constructivism/intepretist. This research philosophy is more common with the social science world, where the researchers believe that the subject matter in social science is different from that studied in natural science (Hatch and Cunliffe 2006). Constructionists believe that past experiences and memories influence the way people perceive their external world. According to this philosophy, researchers cannot rule out bias because both they and the researched subject make interpretations based on their prior experiences. In their research methods, constructivism prefers qualitative techniques such as observation, description and questioning (Eriksson and Kovalainen 2008). The main distinction between constructivist and positivist is that the former believe in multiple realities while the latter believe that there is only one stable reality. According to constructivist, knowledge is relative to the knower, and thus, various researchers can arrive at different conclusions. Due to the concept of relative knowledge, constructivism research philosophy holds that it is not possible to know the reality, although researchers should strive towards that goal (Greener 2008).

In social science, as well as in management and organisation research, constructivism has become common on the basis that it addresses timely social, political and economic issues which positivism had hitherto ignored. However, constructivism is challenged for its epistemological relativism. Its assertion that it is not possible to know the reality undermines the noble goal of research, that of pursuing the truth. Constructivism is not concerned with ontological reality but on constructed reality.

In the case of the research at hand – employee satisfaction- a constructionist research philosophy is the best to carry out the study. Since the primary aims of an employee satisfaction is to determine employee’s response to the various motivations and rewards measures existing in an organisation, a constructivist approach offer the best design. This kind of research is at best subjective, since it seeks to measure employees feeling and thoughts. As opposed to a positivist approach which would focus on testing existing theories through quantitative techniques, a constructionist approach will focus on building new knowledge by the use of qualitative techniques, mainly questionnaires and interviews. A study on employee satisfaction is deductive rather than inductive. This kind of approach will also enable the study unearth the different factors that affect the employee’s interpretation of the existing motivation and reward framework such salary, promotion and career advancement. The constructivism emphasises on language and communication will come in handy in understanding the employees feeling towards the organisation. Qualitative approaches are more preferred since they allow the employees to be free to discuss their feeling towards a company and what they would wish the organisation to do for them.

Constructivism research philosophy will find basis in most of the employee’s satisfaction theories. The Maslow Hierarchy of needs theory argues that employee satisfaction is a general attitude that is determined by such factors as self actualisation, esteem needs, belongingness and love needs, safety needs and the biological and physical needs (Maslow 1943, p.370; Weihrich and Koontz 1999, p. 468). Such attitudes can only be understood through a qualitative study other than quantitative approach. Satisfaction in this case is the contentment that employees feel after an organisation meets their need (Robbins 1998, p.170). Again, the constructivism approach fits well with Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation (Loiseau 2011). According to Herzberg’s theory, employee satisfaction can only be understood through looking at the “the two dimensions of employee satisfaction”: motivational and hygiene (Spector 1997). These two theories acknowledge that the factors that lead to employee satisfaction, or dissatisfaction thereof, are relative and not stable meaning that a qualitative approach is best suited to understand them.


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