Workers More Satisfied Now Than in Past Five Years

Improved economy, Millennials’ influence, better work/life balance cited

By Dana Wilkie April 27, 2015

More U.S. workers feel good about their jobs today than at any other time since the recession kicked into high gear, according to the latest EmployeeJob Satisfaction and Engagement Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The survey, released April 28, 2015, at SHRM’s 2015 Talent Management Conference & Exposition in San Diego, showed that 86 percent of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their jobs in 2014, an improvement of 5 percentage points over the year before. The last time the SHRM survey recorded job satisfaction that high was in 2009.

“We’re moving away from a period of uncertainty,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, in a news statement.

SHRM researcher Christina Lee explained that an improved economy might give organizations the flexibility to add professional development opportunities, do more hiring, promote more employees , offer pay raises, offer more or better benefits, and focus on retaining workers.

Additionally: “An improved economy may give workers the confidence to seek out opportunities that they wouldn’t have before,” she told SHRM Online. “This might increase job satisfaction as workers find positions that better fit their needs, whether it is advancing their career, more pay” or other benefits.

The top contributor to job satisfaction cited was respectful treatment of all employees at all levels, rated as very important by nearly three-fourths of respondents.

“An example of respectful treatment … would be allowing all employees to voice their opinion, while being mindful of difference of opinions,” Lee said. “[This environment] embraces diversity and inclusiveness in a professional manner and treats employees as individuals. Disrespectful treatment might be something like one group of employees doing all the work and only senior employees enjoying the perks of the outcome. A lack of recognition of employees’ efforts, bullying, or belittling or humiliating employees for mistakes or failures would also be signs of disrespectful treatment.”

Trust between employees and senior management was rated the second top contributor to job satisfaction, at 64 percent.

Benefits were the third most important contributor to job satisfaction, with 63 percent of employees saying they were very important. Pay was the fourth top contributor to job satisfaction.

“Pay is important,” said Lee, noting, “but workplace culture might mean more. Corporate culture and workplace relationships are held in higher esteem by workers.”

When looking for a gratifying workplace culture, Esen said, “Generally speaking, most employees would probably say they’d enjoy a flexible work schedule, an organization that appreciates their employees and wants to invest in them, and the autonomy to make their own decisions.”

Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at employee recognition company Michael C. Fina, said one key element contributing to increased job satisfaction is the rise of Millennials in the workplace.

“Millennials are setting the tone for how management interacts with employees, and it’s one of compassion, openness and understanding, with the flexibility to pursue parallel careers,” he said. “Everyone wants to attract and retain them, so in adapting to offer the jobs and benefits they desire, many employers have created a better value proposition for everyone—a more flexible and understanding workplace.”

Himelstein said the increasing focus on “employee wellness” may make for happier workers.

“More and more, employers are making a better effort to be a positive influence, not only on their employees’ careers, but on their lives outside of work,” he said. “Things like PTO [paid time off], unlimited vacation days and weekly social events in the workplace are now available to a much wider spectrum of workers. A more mobile and social workforce has changed the definition of work—as in, ‘judge my effort, not my hours’—and career—as in, ‘career is whatever I say it is.’ ”

Liz Kelly, founder and CEO of employee-experience consultancy Brilliant Ink, said that in her 16 years in the HR business, she has had to justify to executives the importance of employee engagement by pointing out its correlations to profitability, turnover rates and customer satisfaction. In the last year, however, she said she’s noticed that this justification seems less necessary.

“Employers seem to inherently know that having engaged employees makes good business sense,” she said. “Some of this is likely the changing workforce; younger employees repeatedly indicate that meaningful work is of top importance to them, so employers are thinking more about the experience they’re creating to attract and keep these employees. Some of it is our hyperconnected world; technology makes it impossible for anything to exist in a vacuum, and more employers know that they’ll see the output of the employee experience they’re creating by dialogue on social media channels and in customers’ purchasing habits.”

The other qualities that respondents said were very important to work satisfaction were:

• Job security (59 percent).

• Relationship with immediate supervisor (58 percent).

• Opportunities to use skills and abilities (58 percent).

• Immediate supervisor’s respect for ideas (56 percent).

The survey also found that nearly 8 in 10 employees were satisfied with their relationships with co-workers, and just over three-quarters were satisfied with the contributions they made toward their organization’s business goals.

“Workers have shown an increased preference for understanding their role and how it aligns with the success of an organization,” Lee said. “What’s important to employees now is a collaborative environment that encourages feedback and interaction among co-workers and between employees and their supervisors.”

SHRM surveyed 600 randomly selected people in November 2014 who were employed in full- or part-time jobs. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM

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