SHRM: Job Security Is No Longer Top Driver of Satisfaction

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR October 3, 2012

Given the economic factors at play from 2001 to 2011, it’s hardly surprising that employees ranked job security as the most important factor for job satisfaction. This is no longer the case, however, according to new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research.

According to the SHRM 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement surveypublished Oct. 3, 2012, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” now holds the top spot on the list of job satisfaction drivers (63 percent), placing job security (61 percent) in second place for the first time since 2007, when compensation/pay topped the list.

Notably, the percentage of employees who consider the opportunity to use their skills and abilities very important for job satisfaction has increased steadily since SHRM began measuring the statistic in 2004.

Still, fluctuations in the factors that contribute to satisfaction, as well as overall satisfaction levels, tend to shift over time.

“In the 10 years that SHRM has been conducting its job satisfaction survey, there has been a noticeable fluctuation in employees’ overall satisfaction with their jobs,” the report notes. For example, the 2012 overall job satisfaction rate of 81 percent is down five percentage points from its peak of 86 percent in 2009, and four percentage points above its low of 77 percent in 2002.

The other three aspects of job satisfaction that made the top five include:

  • Compensation/pay (60 percent).
  • Communication between employees and senior management (57 percent).
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor (54 percent).

The extent to which employees value each of these three factors varies over time, and their position in the top five—or even the top 10—list has varied as well. In other years employees ranked factors such as flexibility and safety as very important.

Job Satisfaction and the Relationship to Engagement

In addition to capturing key aspects for job satisfaction, SHRM researchers measured the gap between the importance of each aspect and respondents’ satisfaction levels with them. The gap was largest for compensation/pay, at 38 percentage points, followed by communication between employees and senior management, at 35 percentage points. The importance/satisfaction gap for job security was 31 percentage points.

In addition to examining 35 aspects of employee job satisfaction, SHRM researchers explored 34 aspects of employee engagement. This distinction is an important one, the report notes, because job satisfaction focuses on how employees feel about key elements of their jobs while employee engagement looks at employees’ commitment and connection to their work and the factors that motivate them to work harder.

The report notes, however, that negative results for either measure can have a direct business impact: “Low engagement and job satisfaction can contribute to multiple organizational problems and have been associated with increased levels of turnover and absenteeism, adding potential costs to the organization in terms of low performance and decreased productivity.”

2012 Employee Engagement Findings

On average, the 2012 research reveals that employees were only moderately engaged (3.6, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is highly disengaged, 3 is moderately engaged and 5 is highly engaged)—figures that have not changed since 2011, the first year SHRM started gathering these data.

As for what topped the engagement portion of the survey:

  • 83 percent of employees were determined to accomplish their work goals and confident they could meet them.
  • 79 percent of employees were satisfied with their relationships with co-workers.
  • 75 percent of employees were satisfied with opportunities to use their skills and abilities at work.
  • 72 percent of employees were satisfied with how their work contributed to their organization’s business goals.
  • 71 percent of employees said they frequently felt they were putting all their effort into their work—an addition to the top five list of engagement factors in 2012.
  • Tied for fifth place: 71 percent of employees said they were satisfied with their relationship with their immediate supervisor. By comparison, the relationship with the immediate supervisor was ranked fourth in importance in 2011.

Recommendations for Employers

The report includes commentary from several experts, as well as a few key recommendations for employers to do the following:

  • Develop existing employees. Frequently, employees have skills and abilities beyond the position for which they were hired, the report notes. HR professionals can help their organizations identify such skills and prepare employees to fill higher-level positions, thus opening up positions that require lower skill levels, which might be easier to fill.
  • Communicate about total rewards. Research shows that compensation/pay is very important to employees, yet satisfaction levels are low. HR professionals can share information about the organization’s compensation philosophy, help employees understand how their compensation/pay is determined and communicate frequently to employees what their total rewards package includes.
  • Build a bridge between employees and senior management. Two of the top five contributors to employee job satisfaction were their relationship with immediate supervisor and communication between employees and senior management. Employers can train line managers regularly and involve them in strategy meetings and activities, so they better understand the organization’s vision and share it with their direct reports. Line managers can be encouraged to listen to and push employee feedback up to senior management.

In total, 600 employed individuals randomly selected from an outside survey research organization’s web-enabled employee panel completed the online 2012 Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey.

Detailed statistics comparing findings over time, as well as by race, gender, generation and other factors, where statistically significant, are included in the report’s appendix.

Industry-specific data and customized reports can be ordered through SHRM’s Research Department.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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