OUCH! Survey reveals that nearly one out of every two employees is unhappy at work

Do you enjoy your job? If you answered “yes,” consider yourself lucky – and in a very narrow majority. According to a survey of 5,000 households by the Conference Board research group, only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work – the lowest number ever recorded by the organization in its 22 years of studying the issue.

“It says something troubling about work in America. It is not about the business cycle or one grumpy generation,” says Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at the Conference Board. USA Today

What is it about, then? What’s causing such discontent for so many Americans? While some of the malaise can be blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s (and the difficulty in finding rewarding and suitable jobs), there’s something more at play here. Worker dissatisfaction has been increasing for more than two decades for additional, non-recession reasons, the biggest being:

=> Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting
(Only 51% of workers currently find their jobs satisfying, compared to nearly 70% in 1987)
=> Incomes have not kept up with inflation
(Average household incomes, adjusted for inflation, have been dropping since 2000)
=> The soaring cost of health insurance has cut into worker’s
take-home pay

(The average employee contribution for single-coverage medical care benefits rose from $48 a month to $76 a month between 1999 and 2006)

Continuing the nearly 50/50 split of satisfied/dissatisfied workers, here are some of the other key findings of the survey:

=> 43% of workers feel secure in their jobs
=> 56% of workers like their coworkers
=> 56% of workers are satisfied with their commute to work
=> 51% of workers are satisfied with their boss

Add it all up and you have a trend that is not only troubling for employers, but also for the nation. Economists worry that long-term job dissatisfaction could squash innovation and damage America’s competitiveness and productivity.

When dissatisfaction hits home (or work)

Which brings us to another point: How concerned should you be about employee satisfaction in your organization – and what can you do to help reverse these numbers within your own four walls?

Obviously, this is no easy task, and a bit of a moving target. While you can’t control the recession or rising health care costs – or please all of the people all of the time, for that matter – you can take positive steps to ensure your employees are engaged and motivated. It’s a brand-new year, the perfect time to take a good, hard look at what’s working (and not) with your most valuable resource – your employees.

In a previous post on this very subject, we talked about how employee engagement is a key factor in determining the long-term success of a business, with studies indicating that engaged employees perform at much higher levels than disengaged employees. At the same time, we're assuming that engaged, high-performing employees are happier, more satisfied employees.

Great, but how do you know if your employees are committed to their work? Ask them!

This earlier post suggests you start a conversation with employees to find out how they are handling the recession and their jobs, even going so far as to conduct an informal employee survey. Not to state the obvious, but this won’t work if managers and supervisors only inquire about their employees’ well-being at review time. They have to sit down with their employees on a regular basis and give them the attention they deserve.

If you go the route of a written survey, here are some of the statements you can ask employees to rate, which will provide a clear snapshot of where you stand in building satisfied employees:

1. Management is providing good leadership and guidance during difficult economic conditions.
2. My job is mentally stimulating
3. I understand how my work contributes to the company’s performance.
4. There are future opportunities for growth at my company.
5. My company affords me the opportunity to develop my skills.
6. I receive recognition and reward for my contributions.
7. There is open and honest communication between employees and managers.
8. I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization.
9. I know how I fit into the organization’s future plans.
10. Considering the value I bring to the organization, I feel I am paid fairly.

Once you’ve asked the tough questions, you’ll want to spend time with upper management and other decision-makers to review the results and figure out ways to fill in the gaps. From training and mentoring employees - to recognizing and rewarding your workforce for their contributions – make 2010 a year for turning those frowns upside down! Your employees will be happier, and your business will be more successful as a result.

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