U.S. Job Satisfaction High

Job satisfaction is at the highest level in decades – but workers still report being miserable in the American workplace.


Image Credit: JasonParis

Across all age and income demographics, Americans have the highest job satisfaction levels since the beginning of recession. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that the majority of U.S. workers continue to be unhappy at work, according to a report released today by The Conference Board.

Based on a Fall 2011 survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted by the Nielsen Company, the report found that 47.2 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs.  Though a slight improvement from 2010 and 2009 — when the figure stood at 42.6 and 45.3 percent, respectively — job satisfaction remains below the 48.8 percent recorded in 2008.

According to the report, 2005 was the last year in which a majority of Americans was happy at work (52.1%), but compared to the 1980s and ’90s, widespread dissatisfaction has been entrenched since the turn of the century.

“While we are seeing positive movement in the right direction, particularly as approximately 8 percent of U.S. citizens are unemployed, this trend may signal increased satisfaction with simply having a job rather than demonstrate increased engagement or happiness,” said Rebecca Ray, Ph. D., Senior Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “The good news is that there are bright spots here, particularly regarding the internal initiatives and actions that chief human resources officers and their teams can drive through organizations and have large impacts.”

Though the overall numbers remain negative, there are many key upward trends such as higher satisfaction with job security, wages, promotion policy, educational/job training, and bonus plan. Employees are reporting higher interest in their jobs, relationships with fellow employees, and the level of recognition and acknowledgment from supervisors. All these higher assessments reflect the over many job aspects that were rated more favorably in 2011 than in 2010.

Job Satisfaction More Positive for Younger Workers, More Negative for Older Workers

There has been a downward trend in overall job satisfaction for the past 25 years. Job satisfaction was over 60 percent in 1987. The largest decline in overall job satisfaction in the past 25 years has been among those 65 and over, whose job satisfaction rate was 46.1 percent in 2011, down from 70.8 percent in 1987.  Job satisfaction was highest among mature workers in 1987; this has reversed in the 2011 survey. Among younger workers (those aged 25 and under) 50.1 percent said they were satisfied with their jobs, up from 37 percent in 2010.  And 50.1 percent of those aged 25 to 34 were satisfied with their jobs, up nearly 5 percentage points from the prior year.

Workers Satisfied in Texas, Less Satisfied in New York

The survey also reveals that there are regional differences in employee satisfaction.  The West South Central region (consisting of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) registered 56.4 percent satisfaction, up 12 percentage points from the prior year.  The Middle Atlantic region (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) had the lowest employee satisfaction with only 41.5 percent of workers satisfied.

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