Future Focus

Post-Recession Job Dissatisfaction

By Jennifer Schramm Jul 1, 2010

0710cover.gifAlthough job satisfaction levels among older employees remained mainly unchanged through the recession, levels declined for younger employees. That finding, in a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey report, could have implications for the earnings, career prospects and engagement of the emerging workforce. And those prospects, in turn, could increase management challenges for HR professionals.

The 2010 Employee Job Satisfaction survey report, scheduled for release as this issue went to press, reflects responses from employees in the Veterans generation, born before 1945; in the Baby Boomer generation, born from 1945 to 1964; and in later generations.

While workers in the two older age cohorts have traditionally been more satisfied with their jobs than younger workers, the difference has grown more pronounced. This year, 19 percent of workers in both Generation X, with birth dates from 1965 to 1980, and the subsequent Millennial generation, also called Generation Y, reported being dissatisfied with their jobs, up from 11 percent for both groups in 2008. This compares with almost no change in what were already relatively lower levels of job dissatisfaction among Baby Boomers and Veterans.

Some management and leadership experts are forecasting difficulties ahead in engaging younger-generation employees because of a dearth of opportunities. Unemployment levels during the recession hit young job seekers the hardest. Because many Baby Boomers and Veterans put off retiring to recoup losses in their retirement portfolios, the Generation X and Millennial groups may perceive their career development as grinding to a halt because of fewer positions opening up higher on the career ladder.

According to a SHRM poll on the hiring of 2010 graduates, released in May, only 28 percent of organizations reported hiring new college graduates this year, compared with 52 percent in 2007, the year the recession began. About 15 percent of people ages 20 to 24 in the U.S. labor force are unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And joblessness levels for young workers are even worse in many other countries. Although economic conditions have improved from the depth of the recession, robust hiring levels have yet to return.

Higher levels of unemployment among those just entering the labor market have resulted in higher levels of underemployment for these groups.

It will fall to HR professionals to manage the implications that diminished career opportunities for younger workers might have on their organizations, including a potential rise in generational conflict. Keeping younger workers engaged will mean finding opportunities for them to grow, learn new skills and use those skills on the job. Business leaders who make this effort will be rewarded with a more engaged and satisfied workforce and will be building a stronger pipeline of talent for the future.

The author is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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