Employee Job Satisfaction Is Highest In Over A Decade

Ever since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, we’ve been hearing about how bad American workers have it – lost jobs, stagnant wages, benefit cutbacks and persistent economic insecurity. No doubt those trends are true and have affected millions of families.

Likewise, the Labor Department reported last Friday that total worker compensation, which includes wages and benefits, climbed only 1.9% over the last 12 months, the smallest gain in two years.

Yet a new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that American workers are actually feeling pretty good about their job situations. In fact, job satisfaction is at its highest level in over a decade, according to the annual report released in April.

In the annual Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey conducted in late 2015, SHRM found that 88% of employees said they were satisfied overall with their job (37% reported being “very satisfied,” and 51% were “somewhat satisfied”). That’s the highest level in more than 10 years.

The report attributes the uptick in employee satisfaction to the improved economy. “Organizations have found themselves being able to reintroduce incentives and perks that had been reduced or eliminated as a result of the Great Recession,” it concluded.


The percentages in the chart above represent workers who said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their current jobs. As the economy stabilized after the recession, employers began to focus again on factors that impact retention. The result: more workers are apparently happier with their jobs.

According to the latest survey, employees found the confidence to seek out more compatible positions if they were ready to move on to new challenges. Instead of sticking it out at a miserable job, employees can increasingly find work that they enjoy doing without worrying as much about taking a financial hit. In other words, workers are now more confident that they can quit their jobs to get a better one.

Among the other findings in the latest SHRM survey were:

  • 77% of respondents were satisfied with their relationships with
    co-workers and opportunities to use skills and abilities.

  • 89% were confident they could meet their work goals.

  • 70% felt encouraged to take action when they saw a problem or
    opportunity in their organization.

Workers pointed out some specific factors that determine whether or not they’re satisfied with their jobs. Being treated respectfully topped the list, with two-thirds (66%) of employees saying that was very important to them, compared to 63% who said compensation was important to their job satisfaction. Compensation climbed to second on the list from fourth last year. Benefits and job security were also top concerns.

Interestingly, the above list of satisfaction priorities was fairly consistent across all age levels including Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers. That’s not surprising since just about everyone wants to be respected by their superiors, compensated adequately for their contributions, have benefits and some level of job security.

Yet even as job satisfaction overall has risen to the highest level in more than a decade, that doesn’t mean workers are not looking for better opportunities. At the depths of the Great Recession, most workers were fearful of quitting their jobs because they might not be able to find another one.

The latest SHRM survey found that 45% of employees say they’re likely or very likely to look for a new job elsewhere within the next year. So while overall job satisfaction is at the highest level in a decade, that doesn’t suggest workers aren’t looking for better opportunities.

What will be interesting to watch is what happens with wage growth, which has been lagging for decades. Most employers are well aware that many of their good employees are looking for better paying opportunities elsewhere. It remains to be seen if they will step up pay to keep them.

Unrelated, tomorrow morning we get the unemployment rate report for April from the Labor Department. It is expected to come in unchanged from the March rate at 5.0%. Unless it is a big surprise, I would not expect a lot of market reaction to it.

Finally, there is new speculation that the Fed will hike short-term interest rates by another 0.25% at the June 14-15 meeting of the Fed Open Market Committee. I will have more to say about that in my E-Letter on Tuesday of next week.

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