Buoyed by a rapidly tightening labor market, job satisfaction among American workers rose slightly for the fourth consecutive year in 2014, and now stands at the highest level since 2008, according to a report released by The Conference Board. Nevertheless, satisfaction remains stubbornly low in historical terms, with the majority still not satisfied at work.
Based on a Fall 2014 survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Company, “Job Satisfaction: 2015 Edition” found 48.3 percent of Americans satisfied with their jobs, up from 47.7 percent in 2013 and 42.6 percent in 2010 (an all-time low). As unemployment plummeted over recent years—from 9.1 percent in April 2011 to 5.1 percent in August 2015—job satisfaction has risen in kind, reflecting heightened competition for talent and the perception of expanded opportunities for turnover and advancement. In fact, absent workers’ sense of growing job availability, overall satisfaction would have actually fallen slightly since 2012. This negative underlying trend mirrors the long-term picture: While job satisfaction topped 60 percent in the late 1980s and stood at 58.6 percent in 1995, a majority of Americans hasn’t been satisfied at work since 2005.
“The past year has seen a definitive shift to a ‘seller’s market’ in talent as the effects of an aging, slow-growing labor force begin to take hold,” says Rebecca Ray, executive vice president, knowledge organization and human capital, at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. “For workers, this has meant higher satisfaction in the form of increased job security and improved career-development prospects. But recovery from the Great Recession remains incomplete for many groups across the demographic spectrum. Looking ahead, more substantial gains in job satisfaction—to levels closer to those of the 1980s and 1990s—will depend on a sustained resurgence in wage growth and continued competitive pressures on employers.”
Sunny Days on the West Coast, Pain Remains for Youngest Workers
The report includes detailed results broken down by demographics and the component elements of satisfaction. Among the key findings:
- Age. Job satisfaction is highest among employees aged 35 to 44, at 50.3 percent. Young workers were by far the hardest hit by the Great Recession; they struggled to find work that, once found, was likely to be less than satisfying. As a result, only 34.1 percent of workers under 25 were satisfied in 2014, compared to 44.3 percent in the pre-recession (2005–7) years. Workers nearing retirement—aged 55 to 64—also remain substantially less satisfied compared to the pre-recession years.
- Income. Satisfaction among workers making over $125,000 stood at 61.6 percent in 2014, the highest of any group. More surprisingly, those making under $15,000 were, at 41.8 percent satisfaction, not the least satisfied group: Only 36.3 percent of those earning $15,000–25,000 and 41.2 percent of those earning $35,000–50,000 were satisfied in 2014.
- Census Region. At 54.3 percent, the Pacific states—Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—had the highest job satisfaction rate in 2014. Following closely behind were the Mountain states (Ariz., Colo., Idaho, Mont., Nev., N.M., Utah, Wy.), at 53.8 percent, and the Middle Atlantic (NJ, NY, PA), at 53.7 percent. Only 45.6 percent of workers were satisfied in the South Atlantic states (Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Md., N.C., S.C., Va., W.V.), 2014’s least satisfied region.
- Components of Satisfaction. Employers have clear room to improve on several aspects of employee development. In 2014, only 25.4 percent of workers were satisfied with their companies’ promotion policy, with satisfaction on the performance review process (30.5 percent) and future growth potential (33.3 percent) nearly as poor. By contrast, a strong majority—over 55 percent—of workers was satisfied with their coworkers, commutes, supervisors, and office environments
For complete details of the report, visit www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=3022.