Moving the Needle on Job Satisfaction

More employees are satisfied at work, but often not with what matters most.

By Jen Schramm May 1, 2015
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Workers are feeling better about their jobs than they have in years, but that doesn’t mean employers can rest on their laurels. With unemployment down and more HR professionals having difficulty recruiting candidates for strategic positions, organizations need to step up their game in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Last year, 86 percent of employees said they were at least fairly satisfied with their current job, an increase of 5 percentage points from 2013 and the biggest jump since 2002—the year the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) began fielding its annual Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey.

Improved economic conditions may be helping employees feel more secure in their jobs—a key to job satisfaction, especially during bad economic times. But today it’s not job security that employees value most, according to the results of SHRM’s latest job satisfaction survey, which were released in April. Instead, “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” and “trust between employees and senior management” were most important.

Unfortunately, however, employees aren’t very satisfied in those areas, and they’re even less satisfied in other areas that have traditionally been important to them. For example, they appear to be the least satisfied with the ability to advance in their career. Only about 1 in 5 employees are very satisfied with their job-specific training (22 percent), their career development options (21 percent) and career advancement opportunities in their organizations (20 percent).

Dissatisfaction with training and career development is likely a residual effect of the recession, which led many organizations to slash their budgets for these programs. In many cases, the cuts were supposed to be temporary, but they remained in place due to the length and depth of the economic downturn. As a result, many employees spent a good chunk of their prime career years effectively at a standstill.

With the job market picking up steam, many of those who had been playing it safe by accepting limited career progression in exchange for job security will want to make up for lost time—which may lead to increased turnover and the loss of high-potential employees. Organizational leaders can alleviate this by showing a renewed commitment to the career development of their employees.

Of course, each organization is unique. HR professionals must be proactive about discerning which job satisfaction factors matter most to their employees. Often, the best way to begin is by focusing on a limited number of priority issues. Involving employees in finding solutions and giving them the chance to make suggestions are important ways to address areas where job satisfaction is low. The recession and ensuing slow jobs recovery may have made some organizations forget about the importance of keeping their employees happy. But complacency just isn’t an option anymore.

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

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