(The Conference Board: New York) -- Americans of all ages and income brackets have the highest job satisfaction levels since the beginning of the Great Recession. However, the majority continue to be unhappy at work, according to a report released by The Conference Board.
The report, based on a fall 2011 survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Co., finds 47.2 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Though a slight improvement from 2010 and 2009—when the figure stood at 42.6 and 45.3 percent, respectively—job satisfaction remains below the 48.8 percent recorded in 2008. According to the report, 2005 was the last year in which the majority of Americans were happy at work (52.1%), but compared to the 1980s and 1990s, widespread dissatisfaction has been entrenched since the turn of the century.
“While we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, particularly as approximately 8 percent of U.S. citizens are unemployed, this trend may signal increased satisfaction with simply having a job rather than demonstrate increased engagement or happiness,” says Rebecca Ray, Ph. D., the senior vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. “The good news is that there are bright spots here, particularly regarding the internal initiatives and actions that chief human resources officers and their teams can drive through organizations and have large impacts.”
Though the overall numbers remain negative, there are many upward trends such as higher satisfaction with job security, wages, promotion policy, educational and job training, and bonus plans. Employees are reporting higher interest in their jobs, relationships with fellow employees, and the level of recognition and acknowledgment from supervisors. All these higher assessments reflect the many job aspects that were rated more favorably in 2011 than in 2010.
There has been a downward trend in overall job satisfaction for the past 25 years. Job satisfaction was more than 60 percent in 1987.
The largest decline in overall job satisfaction during the past 25 years has been among those age 65 and older, whose job satisfaction rate was 46.1 percent in 2011, down from 70.8 percent in 1987. Job satisfaction was highest among mature workers in 1987; this has reversed in the 2011 survey. Among younger workers (those age 25 and younger), 50.1 percent said they were satisfied with their jobs, up from 37 percent in 2010. And 50.1 percent of those aged 25 to 34 were satisfied with their jobs, up nearly five percentage points from the prior year.
Worker satisfaction rates by income levels are mixed. Year-to-year satisfaction rates dropped slightly among those earning an annual salary of $15,000–$25,000 as well as those earning $35,000–$50,000. However, those earning less than $15,000 annually, as well as those earning between $25,000 and $35,000 and more than $50,000, were more satisfied in 2011 than in 2010. Satisfaction among those earning more than $50,000 has risen six percentage points since 2009.
Additionally, workers have a mixed reaction to economic elements of their jobs. On the positive side, workers indicated their job security, wages, promotion policy, bonus plans, vacation policy, sick leave, health plans, pension and retirement, flex time, family leave, and education and job training were better in 2011 than in 2010. However, workers have become increasingly dissatisfied with their health care plans since 1987. Only 40 percent of employees are satisfied with their current health plan, down from 50 percent in 1987. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” the number of uninsured workers has risen from 31 million in 1987 to 49.9 million in 2010—a nearly 60-percent increase. Moreover, the average working contribution to health insurance has increased 131 percent since 2001, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Benefits 2011 Annual Survey.
“The number of dissatisfied workers poses a real challenge for companies working to create cultures of engaged employees,” adds Ray. “Widespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success.”
Workers are satisfied with their supervisors, the physical environment, and the quality of equipment, but U.S. workers are spending more time commuting to jobs with higher workloads. Only 32.5 percent of U.S. workers are satisfied with their workload and only 57.5 percent are satisfied with their commute to work.
In a bright spot, 55.2 percent of employees were satisfied with their supervisor, up from 49.1 in 2010 and 58 percent of workers were satisfied with their physical environment, up from 48 percent in the previous year. Similarly, 55 percent of workers were satisfied with the quality of their equipment, up nearly 11 percent from 2010, a sign that companies may be beginning to invest infrastructure.
The survey also reveals that there are regional differences in employee satisfaction. The West South Central region (consisting of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) registered 56.4-percent satisfaction, up 12 percentage points from the prior year. The Middle Atlantic region (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) had the lowest employee satisfaction with only 41.5 percent of workers satisfied.
Read this report, “Job Satisfaction: 2012 Edition.”