Job Satisfaction Reaches a Record High

U.S. workers are more satisfied with their jobs than they've been in over a decade, according to SHRM research. Here’s why.

By Jen Schramm May 1, 2016
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It may seem surprising based on the conversations you overhear at the watercooler, but more U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs now than at any other time in well over a decade. In fact, 88 percent of employees were at least somewhat content in 2015, and 37 percent were “very satisfied,” according to the latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). That’s the highest overall satisfaction level since SHRM began fielding the survey in 2002.

What factors are driving all that contentment? Here are the top contributors:

  • Respectful treatment of employees at all levels.
  • Overall compensation/pay.
  • Overall benefits.
  • Job security.
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities.
  • Trust between employees and senior management.

Several of these factors ranked highly in past surveys as well. For instance, this was the second year in a row that respectful treatment topped the list. And compensation has been a leading job satisfaction factor since 2002. The good news for employees is that low levels of unemployment may push employers to move the needle on increasing wages. Job security has also been a perennial element driving satisfaction on the SHRM survey.

The findings are a useful reminder to HR professionals about what they need to get right in order to boost job satisfaction. Some things, such as respect for employees and trust in senior leaders, are cultural. Others, including compensation and benefits, are more tangible. In either case, HR can wield influence to affect positive change.

The best way to find out what’s crucial to your workers is by asking them directly, whether through job satisfaction surveys or by consistently soliciting their insights and feedback. Often, this type of information can dispel myths. For example, SHRM research indicates that there may be fewer generational differences in what people value most in a job than some consultants and pundits would have you believe.

While the survey results contain many positive findings, employers still have room for improvement. A large number of people reported being satisfied only “to a certain extent.”

The research also found that workers are only moderately engaged. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least engaged and 5 being the most, the average score was 3.8. This is similar to the results in prior years. As in the past, people in lower job levels appear to be less engaged than those higher up the ladder. So when it comes to bolstering engagement, it would seem that HR professionals have their work cut out for them.

The good news is that slightly more than 75 percent of employees reported being satisfied with the following leading engagement factors regarding their work conditions:

  • Relationships with co-workers.
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities.
  • Meaningfulness of their job.

So the next time you hear employees grumbling around the office, keep it in perspective. It may turn out that they are just sweating the small stuff and—believe it or not—are actually pretty happy underneath it all.

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.

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