The Chinese urban economy has undergone substantial transformation since the industrial reforms in 1984. This article seeks to understand the impact of economic reforms on the institutional settings of the workplace, as seen from the workers' perspective, and their subsequent influence on workers' well-being, as indicated by job satisfaction. Data were collected from a 1996 survey of 300 urban workers in Shanghai, who were engaged in six organizations, including two state enterprises, two joint ventures and two private enterprises. Findings show that despite the long hours and relatively low income, workers in private enterprises report the most optimistic outlook for themselves in the organization as well as for the future development of the organization, and the highest level of job satisfaction. After controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics of workers and types of economic ownership, expectations for the future development of the organization is found to be the most significant predictor for job satisfaction. Implications of the findings are discussed.