As many of us prepare to celebrate the U.S. worker with barbecues, shopping, and trips to the beach, The Conference Board wants us to know that there's a bit more reason to celebrate: Americans' overall job satisfaction has increased for the seventh straight year, and we're now at the point where a majority of us are actually happy at work.
In fact, among the 1,500 employed people surveyed by The Conference Board, 51% said they were satisfied with their jobs.
Not coincidentally, that upward climb began not too long after the end of the Great Recession, and those years have delivered modest increases in wages and job security. More recently, low unemployment has forced some companies to boost pay and improve working conditions for traditionally lower-paid workers.
"In 2019, we forecast unemployment to dip close to 3.5%, a low rate not seen since the 1960s," said Conference Board Chief Economist for North America Gad Levanon in a press release. "As a result, we can expect employers to continue reducing educational requirements in the hiring process, leading to fewer workers feeling overqualified in their jobs, which further raises their job satisfaction."
What's working (and what's not)
The study had respondents rank their job satisfaction based on 23 components. One of the aspects in which the largest percentage expressed satisfaction was social -- 62.4% gave a thumbs up to "people at work," and an impressive 57.5% were happy with their supervisors. On the logistical and technical fronts, 60.6% were satisfied with their commute, 59.6% with the degree of interest they found in their work, and 55.9% with their jobs' physical environment.
The job aspects where the fewest employees expressed satisfaction were workload (36.1%), educational/job training programs (32.6%), the performance review process (32.5%), bonus plan (27%), and promotion policy (26.3%).
"To attract and retain the most productive employees in today's labor market, companies must make a bigger commitment to addressing the factors within their control," said Conference Board Executive Vice President Rebecca L. Ray in the press release. "...As workers continue to voluntarily leave their jobs at a record rate, the need to prioritize components relating to their professional development could not come at a more pressing time."
Fix what's broken
Keeping employees happy cuts down on turnover, which saves companies money. There's no single formula to estimate the cost of having to fill a job vacancy, but trade publication Employee Benefit News figures it runs about 33% of the annual salary for the position.
In reality, the costs of large numbers of workers jumping ship are higher, and they're not just felt in direct dollars and cents. Employees take experience, institutional knowledge, and other intangibles with them when they leave. Those are hard to replace, and in particular, a degradation of institutional memory can really injure a business.
Most important, it's avoidable damage, because the things that employees are least satisfied with are issues that for the most part can be easily addressed. Companies that make the attempt to do so are likely to find it significantly cheaper than endlessly hiring new workers. And ultimately, those businesses should be stronger for it.