Industryweek 10807 Happy Office Workers 1

Are Workers Happier Than Ever?

April 19, 2016
The survey found the most important factors for employee satisfaction to be compensation and "respectful treatment of employees at all levels.”

Is it possible for workers to be generally content with their jobs but hate everything about work? Employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, yet workers report low satisfaction with their benefits, compensation, time off, and "respectful treatment of employees" at work, according to an annual survey of 600 employees by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Overall, employee satisfaction climbed to 88%. That's up from 82% in 2008 and up 11 percentage points from the same survey 10 years ago. The report attributed the large share of content workers to the improved economy.

"Not surprisingly, as the economy has remained relatively stable over the last couple of years, organizations may have found themselves being able to reintroduce incentives and perks that had been reduced or eliminated as a result of the Great Recession," reads the report.

As organizations eager to attract and retain workers obsess over engagement, perks keep getting nicer—for a segment of workers. Plus, with additional jobs out there, workers have more flexibility to leave positions they don't like.

The survey found the most important factors for employee satisfaction to be compensation and "respectful treatment of employees at all levels." A very small percentage of respondents said they were satisfied with those aspects of their work life—31% and 23%, respectively.

The economic recovery has had a confusing effect on wages. Average hourly earnings haven't budged much in the past five years, and only recently have U.S. workers started to see any wage growth. In the meantime, many companies have chosen to reward employees with bonuses, which can have a skewed effect. "When that approach is taken, that can be beneficial for top performers and individuals in key positions, but not across the board" said Evren Esen, director of survey programs at SHRM. Also, when it comes to pay, employees always want more money, Esen noted.

As for benefits, organizations cut a lot during the recession, and some are never coming back. "Organizations are still being fiscally conservative, so they're not investing full force in benefits as before," said Esen. Employers largely still offer health benefits, but as costs rise, more of the costs have shifted to workers via deductibles and health savings accounts.

The uptick in employee satisfaction might have more to do with perspective: Remember when things were worse? "There's a stabilization, so to speak," said Esen. "Employees who are staying in their jobs are feeling there are things that are improving. There is a sense of the economy improving as well."

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