Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Last week, the Conference Board research group released its latest report on job satisfaction. The results are pretty grim; only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work, the lowest level ever recorded in more than 22 years of studying the issue. Experts say the drop in workers’ happiness can be partly blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s, which made it difficult for some people to find challenging and suitable jobs. But worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades.

Quoting Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at the Conference Board, who helped write the report, “It says something troubling about work in America. It is not about the business cycle or one grumpy generation,” she says.

The report cites several reasons for the decline, including:

  • Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting.
  • Incomes have not kept up with inflation.
  • The soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.

Of note to us, however, are comments from the one employee the Associated Press interviewed about the report. Nate Carrasco, 26, of Odesa, Texas, says he’s been pretty unhappy in most of his jobs, including his current one at an auto parts store. “There is no sense of teamwork in most places any more,” Carrasco gripes.

He continues: Carrasco said he wishes his bosses would take time to listen to workers’ ideas – and their difficulties on the job. “Most of the time they only listen to what their bosses are saying,” he says. “Bosses need to come down to the employee level more and see what actually goes on, versus what their paperwork tells them is happening in the stores.”

There are a couple of key lessons here. First, you may not have the flexibility to change what people are being paid, especially when times are tough. Second, you may not be able to give everyone the “interesting” jobs.

But improving collaboration, getting people engaged in what they are doing, creating opportunities for people to find ways to improve the products or processes they use and are making every day, are all within your control. Stop blaming the economy, or the markets, or the climate, or any other outside-your-control factor for the levels of satisfaction and engagement within your organization. It’s not your job to make people happy, but it is your job to get them engaged and involved. Do that, and you’ll soon find them more satisfied and more productive.