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iconSit up and take notice: Check out the Conference Board's study data on Americans' job satisfaction by region.

Vote along with the study

'Job satisfaction': Oxymoron?

October 24, 2000
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. EDT (1821 GMT)

In this story:

Talking turkey

On the fringe

At the shop

Baleful boomers

As the scenery slides by

Income and opinion

Putting the study to work


(CNN) -- "Oh, no, we don't feel that way at all here at the Conference Board. We're all happy, overpaid and don't work much."

Lynn Franco has an infectious laugh.

Not satisfied with your work? In today's tight labor market, why do so many workers stay in unsatisfying jobs? "I think that's because just having the ability to see that you can leave at any moment makes a person feel empowered. But we see that other factors come into play. The interest in the work, the people you work with -- that kind of thing may help compensate for wages."
Lynn Franco, Conference Board

As director of the consumer research center for the Conference Board in New York, Franco has released a new study that suggests there may have been sharp declines in many areas of job satisfaction in the American work force since 1995.

The study -- which surveyed 5,000 United States households as part of Franco's consumer-research program -- found that only 50.7 percent of respondents overall said they're satisfied with their current jobs. And that's a downward change of 13.5 percent from 1995, when 58.6 percent of those asked said they were satisfied.

Formed in 1916 amid labor unrest, the Conference Board was put together by business leaders as a nonprofit, nonpartisan resource to industry. As you read our story, you'll see a series of Quick Votes in which we invite you to weigh in on some of the issues the organization's study has addressed.

Some of the survey's results may come as a surprise to observers who'd expect job satisfaction to run high at a time of low unemployment. You might think that knowing you can leave your job with a good chance of finding something else you like would mean you've been choosy -- and have landed in a satisfying position.

And yet, many are staying put: A large quantity of job openings may not mean people are moving to higher-quality work experiences.

graphic Do you feel you have more or less job security today than you had five years ago?

More job security now.
No change in five years.
Less job security now.
View Results

"I think that's because just having the ability to see that you can leave at any moment makes a person feel empowered. But we see that other factors come into play. The interest in the work, the people you work with -- that kind of thing may help compensate for wages.

"So a person may think, 'While I may get paid a little more at that other company, I feel like these other aspects tilt the scale to staying.'"

Franco cites the quickening pace of work life today and the new demands it places on careerists as factors in the falling figures on job satisfaction. "We've noticed that with the 24-7 electronic-technological boom over the last several years, things have really accelerated. The pace of change, the learning curve on the job -- we're seeing some of that stress spill over and have a negative effect on employee attitudes."

The Conference Board's study breaks out a series of aspects of work life under some major headings.

graphic graphic

Talking turkey

Under economic issues, the study asked respondents about job security. In 1995, 48.6 percent said they were satisfied with their job security. This year, with the job market tight, 50.2 percent of respondents said they're satisfied with their job security. That 3.3-percent increase gave the study one of its two up-ticks.

The other upturn was in respondents' feelings about their pension plans: 40.8 percent of those asked said they're satisfied with their plans, a 2.5-percent rise over the 39.8 percent who said that in 1995.

Wages aren't as satisfying, in the study's findings. The number of respondents saying they're satisfied went down by 9.4 percent -- dropping from a rating of 39.3 in 1995 to 35.6 this year.

"I think what we're seeing here," Franco says, "is that wages, overall, have always been seen as being at the low end of the totem pole. People are never quite satisfied with their wages. We don't find many folks who say they're overpaid."

Also under the heading of economic aspects of work, companies' promotion policies got few cheers from respondents. In 1995, just 23.4 percent of those asked said they were satisfied with their workplace promotion policies. This year, that figure had dropped to 22.2 percent, a 5.1-percent slide.

The 1995 study didn't ask about bonus plans and job training, but the 2000 study did -- and found only 20.5 percent of respondents saying they're satisfied with their companies' bonus plans and 28.2 percent saying they're satisfied with job training and education where they work.


On the fringe

"Especially in this tight labor market," Franco says, "we see that the sole focus of those retaining and acquiring new employees can't be built just around economic factors.

"There are a lot of fringe and soft side issues here that can boost employee morale and also help bring in new employees. That economic focus that may have existed several years ago as the sole way of bringing in new folks and keeping your current ones content is no longer where a company's focus should be."

graphic Are you satisfied with your company's vacation policy?

Yep. I've got what I need vacation-wise.
I have no burning response either way.
Take me to Tahiti, then ask. I'm not satisfied.
View Results

The Gallup Organization surveyed job satisfaction in 1989, 1997 and 1999. See how the responses looked in that study.

Under fringe benefits, the study asked about vacation policies, sick leave, health and pension plans, flexible-time plans and family-leave policies.

When asked in 1995, 56.3 percent of study respondents told researchers they were satisfied with their companies' vacation policies. This year, 50.7 percent said the same thing. That's a drop of 9.9 percent. of Respondents to the study Vacation policies, Franco says, are often key to worker satisfaction.


At the shop

Under the category of work environment, there was only a 3.8-percent drop in respondents' satisfaction in the past five years with their supervisors -- 53.5 percent this year said they're satisfied with their bosses.

"One of the good perks is vacation policies," Franco says, "it's high up on the list. And interesting work -- there has to be a good match between the employees and the jobs they're doing. That really helps in terms of retention and attraction.

"And then the overall work environment is important, both the people they work with and the physical conditions."

Satisfaction with the physical environment at work fell 10.8 percent to a rating of 48.6 from 1995 in the study's data. And respondents' satisfaction with the quality of work equipment went down 7.2 percent, to a 47.9 rating.


Baleful boomers

Grouped by age, the baby-boomer respondents -- 45 to 54 years old -- appear to be the least happy. While 57.3 percent of them said they were satisfied with their jobs five years ago, 46.5 percent of them said that this year. That's an 18.8-percent drop.

graphic Are you satisfied with your commute to and from work?

Yes, my commute is fine.
I'm not driven to answer either way.
No, I'm unsatisfied with my commute.
View Results

graphic Are your co-workers a satisfying part of your work?

Yes, my co-workers are a plus.
I could take them or leave them.
No, I'm not too fond of my co-workers.
View Results

Next is the group right behind them, aged 35 to 44, with job-satisfaction ratings sliding from 60.9 percent in 1995 to 51.2 percent this year. The drop there works out to 15.9 percent.

Generation X workers, age 25-34, seem the most satisfied, their overall rating dropping only from 58.1 percent to 55.6 percent in five years, a 4.3 percent decline.


As the scenery slides by

In a somewhat controversial finding, the Conference Board study's respondents said they like their commutes better than their jobs.

At a time when complaints about long, nerve-wracking commutes seem to be everywhere you turn, it might come as a surprise that 58.2 percent of those asked said they're satisfied with their commute -- while only 50.7 percent said they like the job they're commuting to and from.

Under the heading "interest in work," study respondents gave a 57.5 satisfaction rating to their interest in their work. That's a decline of 11.5 percent from 1995, when 65 percent of those asked said they were satisfied with the interest level of their work.

And how about who's sitting near you? This year, 59 percent of study respondents told the Conference Board they're satisfied with their co-workers. By comparison to some other study features, that represents a relatively moderate slide of 8.4 percent from 1995, when 64.4 percent of those asked rated their co-workers as a satisfying aspect of their job.


Income and opinion

Money may not be everything, but the Conference Board study does tend to show the lowest satisfaction levels occurring among those respondents who make the least.

graphic Are you satisfied with your wages?

Yeah, more would be nice but I'm OK with what I make.
I've got no strong feeling either way on the bucks.
Show me more money. I'm not satisfied with my pay.
View Results

•  The largest decline in job satisfaction was found among respondents who earn $50,000 or more. But despite a satisfaction rating that dropped from 66.5 percent to 55.1 percent, respondents in this income bracket were the most satisfied overall.

•  The second largest decline in satisfaction in five years was in household workers earning $15,000 to $25,000 and $25,000 to $35,000. Those two groups stand at a satisfaction level of about 45 percent.

•  The smallest loss in job satisfaction occurred among those respondents making less than $15,000 -- but they had less distance to drop. Satisfaction in the low-income group in the survey dropped from 45.4 percent to 39.9 percent in five years .


Putting the study to work

Income level -- and the perceived logic of its connection to satisfaction ratings -- may not be easily negotiable.

But Franco says the Conference Board sees its study results as something that may help companies reassess their own workers' satisfaction levels and perhaps find some non-wage areas for relatively easy adjustments.

"Flex time, we're hearing a lot about," she says. "And we found that coming in at only a 38 favorable rating.

"And family leave. We put that in the questionnaire for the first time this year and that rated kind of low, only a 36 favorable rating."

"Interesting work -- there has to be a good match between the employees and the jobs they're doing. That really helps in terms of retention and attraction."
Lynn Franco, Conference Board

The indications are that despite the rather high-profile status of such workplace benefits as family leave and flexible time, employees aren't perceiving themselves as being well-served in these areas.

"So these issues can bear some looking at," Franco says. "There may be some modifications that employers can make in some of these areas that will be cost-effective, for both parties concerned."

The study was conducted for the Conference Board by NFO Research Inc., an NFO Worldwide member-company of the Interpublic Group of Companies.



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The Conference Board
The Interpublic Group of Companies, NFO Worldwide The Gallup Organization

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