U.S. Workers More Satisfied? Just Barely.

Job Satisfaction Remains Under 50%, According to New Survey

Jun 18, 2014, 10:00 ET from The Conference Board

NEW YORK, June 18, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Americans have the highest job satisfaction levels since the beginning of the Great Recession, according to a report released today by The Conference Board. The majority, however, continue to be unhappy at work.

The report, based on a Fall 2013 survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Company, finds 47.7 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.  Though a slight improvement from 2012 and 2010 — when the figure stood at 47.3 and 42.6 percent (an all-time low), respectively — job satisfaction remains historically low, extending a trend seen since the turn of the century. While job satisfaction in the 1980s and '90s routinely neared 60 percent or higher, 2005 was the last year in which a majority of Americans was satisfied at work (52.1 percent).  

"The U.S. economy is growing at a disappointing rate, and this sluggish recovery is mirrored in American workers' tepid job satisfaction," said Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. "That said, as the direct effects of the recession wear off, workers are also seizing new opportunities in a tightening labor market — a fact reflected in rising quit rates. Employers able to improve job satisfaction could thus gain a significant competitive advantage in attracting and retaining capable employees."       

Identifying the Key Drivers of (Dis)satisfaction
The survey broke down satisfaction to its component elements. Respondents were asked their level of satisfaction on different aspects of their jobs — and which aspects were most important to them.

  • Despite stalled overall satisfaction and downward historical trend, satisfaction in some areas — notably, compensation, recognition, and career development — are near ten-year highs.
  • In general, employees are most satisfied with their work environment and related elements: colleagues, interest in work, commute to work, physical environment, and supervisor are all rated highly.
  • Workers are least satisfied with promotion policy, bonus plan, training programs, performance review, and recognition.
  • In terms of importance, communication channels, interest in work, recognition, and workload are ranked as most critical to overall satisfaction. Low priority is given to commute to work, health plan, retirement plan, sick day policy, and vacation policy.
  • Employers would be wise to concentrate on those components considered highly important with low current levels of satisfaction. These include growth potential, communication channels, recognition, performance review, and wages.  
  • Of all components, only pension/retirement, job security, workload, and commute to work remain below 2008 satisfaction levels.

"Based on macro trends — including a significantly tighter labor market, slowing productivity growth, and more business investment — worker satisfaction should be on the rise," said Gad Levanon, Director of Macroeconomic Research at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. "But job dissatisfaction may remain entrenched until we see improvements in worker compensation, which has grown abysmally in recent years despite historically high corporate profits."

The Rich Keep Getting (Relatively) Happier — and Other Demographic Trends
As in previous edition of the survey, significant disparities were found across various populations. Among the key findings:

  • High-income earners are more satisfied than lower-paid workersand the gap has been widening in recent years. The survey found 64.1 percent satisfaction among those making $125,000 and over. At 57.6 percent, workers making $75,000 to $100,000 are also significantly more satisfied than two years ago. Meanwhile, just 24.4 percent of those making under $15,000 and 32.0 percent making between $15,000 and $25,000 are satisfied. 
  • Men and women have broadly similar satisfaction levels, but diverge sharply in their priorities. Men place higher importance on compensation and interest in their work, while women value flexibility, workload, advancement, and people at work.
  • Workers aged 25 to 34 are the most satisfied, at 50.5 percent. Workers over 65 are also relatively satisfied (49.4 percent), suggesting those delaying retirement are reasonably content with working later in life. At 37.8 percent, satisfaction is lowest among workers under 25 — down significantly from the 2012 survey.
  • Only 44.0 percent of workers are satisfied in the East South Central region Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee — the lowest in the nation. At 54.3 percent satisfaction, New Englanders are the most satisfied workers.

Source:   Job Satisfaction: 2014 Edition  
              by Ben Cheng, Michelle Kan, Gad Levanon, and Rebecca Ray

For complete details of the report visit:

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