Keys to Employee Satisfaction

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Americans of all ages and income brackets continue to grow increasingly unhappy at work—a long-term trend that should seriously concern employers, according to a report by The Conference Board.

The report, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for "The Conference Board by TNS," finds only 45% of those surveyed say that they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1% in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted.

The Bad News About Employee Satisfaction

While overall employee satisfaction has declined to 45%, the percentage of employees satisfied with their jobs is lowest in the under 25 age group with only 35.7% satisfied. Among employees in the age group 25-34, 47.2% are satisfied; employees in the age group 35-44 scored 43.4% on job satisfaction.

Employees in the 45-54 age range scored 46.8%; employees 55-64 scored 45.6% in employee satisfaction and, of those employees age 65 and over, 43.4% are satisfied.

Implications for Employers of Falling Employee Satisfaction

Employee satisfaction at work has decreased significantly in the past twenty years, as these figures indicate—and experts predict employee satisfaction will get worse in the next few years. A combination of events is creating a perfect storm affecting employee satisfaction.

A generation of employees who feel entitled to employee satisfaction has entered the workforce and several generations of employees for whom work never quite fulfilled their dreams, are leaving. And, many are leaving without adequate savings and retirement plans which will affect their satisfaction with the rest of the quality of life they experience.

This downward trend in job satisfaction raises concerns about the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity, retention, creativity, risk-taking, mentoring, and overall employee motivation and interest in work.

“These numbers do not bode well given the multi-generational dynamics of the labor force,” says Linda Barrington, managing director, Human Capital, at The Conference Board. “The newest federal statistics show that baby boomers will compose a quarter of the U.S. workforce in eight years, and since 1987 we’ve watched them increasingly losing faith in the workplace.”

Twenty years ago, 60% of Baby Boomers were satisfied with their jobs; today only 46% are. Barrington expresses concern about the growing lack of employee satisfaction because of its potential impact on knowledge transfer to and mentoring for the next generations of employees.

According to The Conference Board’s survey results announcement, “The drop in job satisfaction between 1987 and 2009 covers all categories in the survey, from interest in work (down 18.9 percentage points) to job security (down 17.5 percentage points) and crosses all four of the key drivers of employee engagement: job design, organizational health, managerial quality, and extrinsic rewards.”

What Employers Can Do About Employee Satisfaction

In this environment for employee satisfaction, it is vitally important to know which factors most affect employee satisfaction. You want to spend your time, money, and energy on programs, processes, and factors that will have a positive impact on employee satisfaction.

A 2009 survey, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) looked at 24 factors that are regularly thought to relate to employee satisfaction. The study found that employees identified these five factors as most important:

  • Job security
  • Benefits (especially health care) with the importance of retirement benefits rising with the age of the employee
  • Compensation
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities
  • Feeling safe in the work environment

The next five most important factors affecting employee satisfaction were:

  • The employee's relationship with his or her immediate supervisor
  • Management recognition of employee job performance
  • Communication between employees and senior management
  • The work itself
  • Autonomy and independence in their job

Factors that were not strongly connected to employee satisfaction included:

  • The organization’s commitment to a green workplace
  • Networking opportunities
  • Career development opportunities
  • Paid training and tuition reimbursement programs
  • The organization’s commitment to professional development

In contrast, Human Resources professionals ranked these ten factors as most important in employee satisfaction:

  • Job security
  • Relationship with their immediate supervisor
  • Benefits
  • Communication between employees and senior management
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities
  • Management recognition of employee job performance
  • Job-specific training
  • Feeling safe in the work environment
  • Compensation
  • Overall corporate culture

These are the consolidated results of the employee satisfaction surveys and their implications for the workplace. Most importantly, research data has been provided that defines the factors most important to employees as you continue to seek to provide a workplace that emphasizes employee satisfaction as a recruiting and retention tool. Use this data to your best advantage.