How to Improve Workplace Satisfaction for Employees

a group of co-workers celebrating
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Before you can improve employee satisfaction and employee engagement, you need to know what to improve. The annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey identifies the factors that are important in employee job satisfaction and employee engagement as perceived by employees.

The survey’s purpose is to assist employers to develop the right programs and practices when they seek to have an impact on these two factors that are critical to employee morale and motivation. Understanding employee preferences provide guidance for the knowledgeable allocation of resources.

Otherwise, employers can spend thousands of dollars on programs and practices that their employees actually don't want. And, here's a secret you need to know aside from these official survey results which provide guidance.

You will learn the most about what will engage and satisfy your employees by asking them what they want the most. Then, as you can, reasonably accommodate and provide what they are seeking. Your workplace will flourish when employees meet their needs.

The Employee Satisfaction Survey

The survey explored 35 aspects of employee job satisfaction, divided into four topic areas—career development, relationship with management, compensation, and benefits, and work environment. Added in 2011, the survey also explored employee engagement.

Satisfaction Survey Results

According to this study, 

  • 88% of U.S. employees report that they are overall satisfied with their current job. This is the highest level of satisfaction reported in the past 10 years.
  • The U.S. has a problem with employee engagement. U.S. employees reported that they were moderately engaged averaging 3.8 on a 5 point scale where 5 is highly engaged and 1 is unengaged.
  • "2016’s leading job satisfaction contributors include respectful treatment of all employees at all levels, compensation/pay, benefits and job security."

Findings by the Gallup organization about disengaged employees were highlighted in the Wall Street Journal. Gallup found 19% of 1,000 people who were interviewed felt "actively disengaged at work".

These workers complain that they don't have the tools they need to do their jobs. They don't know what is expected of them. Their bosses don't listen to them.

Top 10 Contributors to Employee Job Satisfaction

Employees identified these factors as their top 10 most important contributors to their job satisfaction.

  • Respectful treatment of employees ranked first (67%) on the list of job satisfaction aspects that contribute to overall employee satisfaction.
  • Compensation and pay ranked second (63%).
  • Overall benefits were third (60%).
  • Job security which ranked first for employees during earlier surveys had sunk to fourth (58%) possibly because economic times have improved.
  • Trust between employees and senior management (55%) tied with:
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities in your work (55%).
  • Financial stability of the organization (53%) remains important to employee satisfaction and is tied with:
  • The employee's relationship with his or her immediate supervisor (53%).
  • Feeling safe in your work environment (50%) as manifested in feeling physically safe, with employers taking measures to prevent violence in the workplace and acts of terrorism.
  • Immediate supervisor’s respect for your ideas (49%).

Ranked 11-20 on the survey: the work itself (it is interesting, challenging, exciting, etc.) (48%), management’s recognition of employee job performance (feedback, incentives, rewards) (48%), communication between employees and senior management (48%), career advancement opportunities within the organization (47%), autonomy and independence to make decisions (46%), management’s communication of organization’s goals and strategies (45%), overall corporate culture (e.g., organization’s  reputation, work ethics, values, working conditions)  (44%), teamwork within department/business unit (43%), meaningfulness of the job (understanding how your job contributes to organization’s mission) (42%) and job-specific training (42%).

Generational Results

While Baby Boomers, Gen-X, and Millennials scored similarly in many areas related to engagement, they also exhibited some differences. According to the SHRM report,

"they value a few other aspects of their jobs differently. Millennials (88%) placed greater importance on career development opportunities than Baby Boomers did (76%), for example, and members of Generation X (89%) more frequently cited organization’s commitment to professional development as a contributor to job satisfaction compared with Baby Boomers (79%)."

Workers in all three generations placed a high value on compensation and benefits related factors. Millennials placed more importance on job-specific training, career development opportunities, and career advancement as contributing to their job satisfaction compared with older generations.

This is not surprising given the stage of their careers, but employers need to notice that differences exist now that Millennials are the majority of workers.

Employee Engagement Conditions

Employee engagement, according to the SHRM report, is more likely to occur when certain conditions exist. Employers can maximize employee engagement via improving these factors.

The percentages indicate the overall satisfaction of employees with the listed condition of engagement. The items are listed in order from the employee survey results: most satisfied to least satisfied with the condition in their organization.

  • Relationships with co-workers: 77%
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities: 77%
  • Meaningfulness of job: 76%
  • The work itself: 74%
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor: 74%
  • Organization’s financial stability: 72%
  • Contribution of work to organization’s business goals: 72%
  • Autonomy and independence: 71%
  • Variety of work: 69%
  • Overall corporate culture: 69%
  • Communication between employees and senior management: 64%
  • Organization’s commitment to corporate social responsibility: 63%
  • Management’s recognition of employee job performance: 63%
  • Job-specific training: 61%
  • Organization’s commitment to professional development: 59%
  • Networking: 58%
  • Career development opportunities: 57%
  • Career advancement opportunities: 42%

With the percentages noted in both the satisfaction portion of the survey results and the engagement aspects of the survey, employers have some work to do to fully satisfy and, especially, engage employees. Are you up for the challenge?

Note that four aspects of employee career and professional development fall in the bottom seven for employee satisfaction:

Members of SHRM can download the whole report at no cost.