U.S. Workers Report Highest Job Satisfaction in More Than a Decade

Posted July 27, 2016

As recovery from the Great Recession strengthened job markets, employers began turning their attention to factors that attract and retain employees. Thanks to a relatively stable economy during the past several years, many organizations have been able to offer or reintroduce perks and incentives for workers that had been cut or reduced during the economic downturn from 2007 to 2009.

The strategies have clearly been successful — research published in 2016 from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found workers are now more satisfied with their jobs than at any time since 2005. What’s more, the percentage of satisfied employees has been trending upward since 2013.

“What a difference a few years — and an improved economy — make in how workers view their jobs,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs.

For SHRM’s annual Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey, 600 randomly selected full-time and part-time workers were polled in November and December of 2015 to find out how satisfied they were in their jobs. Overall, almost 90% of those surveyed expressed job satisfaction, 37% said they were very satisfied, and 5% noted they were somewhat satisfied.

The top 5 reasons employees are happy with their jobs, according to the SHRM survey:

Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was rated as very important by almost 70% of those surveyed. This aspect of job satisfaction also rated as the most important aspect of a job in last year’s SHRM research. “Employees consider culture and connection to be of utmost importance,” Esen noted. “Feeling appreciated for their time and efforts creates a bond between employees, management and their organization.”

● The second most important contributor to job satisfaction was overall compensation and pay, according to 63% of those polled. This financial aspect of job satisfaction moved up from the fourth position in 2014.

Overall benefits were ranked the third most important factor in job satisfaction, and 60% of surveyed employees said it was very important.

Job security moved to the fourth position on the list, up a notch from SHRM’s 2014 survey. Almost 60% of survey participants said feeling secure about their jobs was a very important reason they were satisfied with their positions.

● Two features of the workplace tied for the fifth leading job satisfaction contributor — opportunities to use skills and abilities and trust between employees and senior management. More than ½ of workers surveyed ranked these workplace features as very important. Employees indicated they appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate their talents and to fine-tune their expertise. The citing of trust between employees and senior management as equally important indicated employees valued interpersonal relationships and a workplace culture that fosters trust from leadership, according to the survey results.

In an analysis that accompanies the job satisfaction survey, SHRM researcher Christina Lee cautioned employers that Millennials should not be considered very different from employees in other age groups when it comes to what drives job satisfaction.

“Stop the stereotypes,” Lee wrote. “Although Millennials may have slightly different mindsets, on the whole they tend to place significance on several of the same aspects of job satisfaction that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers do. When designing training and development programs or benefits strategies, keep in mind other elements such as career level and life stage — not just age — to build an approach that is appropriate for various groups of employees.”

Despite the overall good news about job satisfaction, there are some potential red flags that HR leaders should note, according to the SHRM survey conclusions. Employees reported they have more flexibility to seek out employment opportunities that better fit their needs, and 45% of those surveyed reported that they would be likely or very likely to look for other jobs outside their current organization within the next year. That suggests companies may need to tailor retention and recruitment strategies around multiple elements and rewards programs to make them most effective. — Sherry Baker