Why Are Fewer and Fewer U.S. Employees Satisfied With Their Jobs?

This month's column yielded many hypotheses to explain why U.S. employees' job satisfaction is at a 23-year low, says HBS professor Jim Heskett. Readers also offered antidotes to job malaise. (Online forum now closed. New forum begins May 5.)
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

Are there too many "hostages" in the work force? Before turning to responses to this month's column, let me note that this marks the tenth anniversary of "What Do You Think?" I want to thank all of you for sharing your views on the 120 different topics that we've covered together during that time, especially several of you who have responded to more than half of the topics (and to C. J. Cullinane who has offered views on nearly every one).

This month's column yielded many hypotheses to explain why U.S. employees' job satisfaction is at a 23-year low. Charles Wegrzyn cited (1) "incredible pressure from the economic side," (2) "incredible instability," and (3) a resulting "dog-eat-dog attitude." Dennis Hopwood said, "In the end, it's all about making the numbers." Akhil Aggarwal mentioned "Lack of personalized focus on employees and more on business and profitability." Phil Clark posited that knowledge work that deals with intangible results and hard-to-pinpoint accomplishments "just isn't as satisfying" as work used to be. John Alexander said, "When workers see senior management face no responsibility for poor performance and continue to get highly paid, it's no wonder there is widespread dissatisfaction." E. Shields stated that it may be the result of disappointed expectations: "People believe that their work should allow them to use their special talents in the way that they most want to. This is a beautiful dream, but I believe it sets people up to be unhappy."

Several antidotes to general job dissatisfaction were offered. C. J. Cullinane suggested "spending a bit more time" providing reassurance to employees that the "organization will not only survive but will grow" as well as providing "pertinent training or cross-training." Kamil Gupta described a situation in which camaraderie resulted from everyone agreeing to take a pay cut, with leaders accepting the largest cut. Other creative responses involved "green" sustainability. Narasimhan Gopalan cited "special programs to engage the employees to contribute towards green initiatives at different levels." David Cawlfield stressed the need for "employees (to) identify with the value of the (green) initiatives (that may seem to take precedence over their own needs)." Mark Isaac pointed out that "Succession plans, open communication, and knowing that the company cares, create a learning environment."

Gerald Nanninga's reference to findings of the biennial Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson suggested one additional reason for low job satisfaction among those surveyed in The Conference Board survey. More than half, Nanninga reports, said "there were no career advancement opportunities in their current roles," but "81 percent of respondents said they are not actively looking for another job." As Joyce Dias puts it, "People give up what they enjoy doing most in order to submit to the unnatural process of doing something— anything in order to earn their living." Combine this with research that cites a high correlation between job satisfaction and control over one's work and you come up with a possible conclusion that many employees regard themselves as "hostages" to jobs that offer no career advancement. This triggers the question, "Are there too many 'hostages' in the work force?" What do you think?

Original Article

Two items caught my eye this month. I'm wondering whether they have anything to do with one another. The first is a news release from The Conference Board reporting that its most recent periodic poll showed that only 45 percent of workers in the U.S. were satisfied with their jobs, the lowest level in the 23-year history of the poll—this in an era in which we are told that jobs are being enhanced by information technology.

The second is an article by Jeffrey Pfeffer pointing out the prevalence of "green" initiatives by business organizations. Invariably these initiatives are associated with saving the external environment. Pfeffer asks why, in the face of the evidence of its importance, do so few of these initiatives involve the sustainability of workers in these same organizations? Citing Wal-Mart and BP, he maintains that the same organizations that are lauded for their efforts to sustain the external environment are, at the same time, exercising cost-cutting efforts (such as low wages, poor benefits, no health insurance for many employees in the case of Wal-Mart, fines for safety violations in the case of BP) in dealing with their employees.

Pfeffer cites a large body of epidemiological and public health research that suggests that an organization's practices have profound effects on the health of its employees. A large body of research offers evidence of the following: (1) Organizations implementing health and wellness programs for their employees realize significant cost savings through reduced disability expenses, (2) Health insurance affects health status positively, (3) Layoffs are harmful to everything from mental and physical well-being to work behavior, (4) Work schedules and length of hours affect physical well-being and family relationships, both of which can have positive or negative effects on productivity, (5) Job design that allows employees to have control over their work is conducive to lower stress levels and better health outcomes (for example, the higher one rises in an organization, the lower the risk of cardiovascular problems), and (6) Policies that promote inequality in income and education can, by extension, lead to poor health outcomes.

Much of the research that does explore the impact of organizational practice focuses on outcomes such as cost and profitability. For example, satisfied, engaged employees have been found to be more productive, a finding that essentially treats them as means to an end. Why is that? Among other things, Pfeffer speculates that one reason is that we assume correctly that polar bears can't do much to affect their own well-being. Humans, on the other hand, can take steps to improve theirs. As a result, to varying degrees around the world, we adopt a "laissez faire" attitude toward issues of human sustainability. Does this help explain the findings of The Conference Board?

Has concern about the sustainability of our environment taken precedent over issues associated with sustaining organizations? Or are we just revisiting age-old issues with new vocabulary? Would more than 1.3 million Wal-Mart employees worldwide see this issue the same way as those who assume what's good for them? Why are fewer and fewer employees satisfied with their jobs, in spite of the adoption of information technology that should make them more interesting? What kinds of responses, if any, are called for? What do you think?

To read more:

The Conference Board, "U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades," January 5, 2010.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Building Sustainable Organizations: The Human Factor," Academy of Management Perspectives, February, 2010, pp. 34-45.

    • CJ Cullinane
    Although I realize that many jobs are not 'fun' (that is why they call it work) the present environment seems to make them a little tougher. The fear of lay-offs, the additional work caused by smaller staffs, and the emphasis on profitability in tough economic times all add up to a highly stressed out workforce. I think this added stress leads to discontentment and lower expectations.

    When there is the hope of advancement and some job security we all perform better. How many bosses and companies can give their employees these things? To 'sustain' and reassure an employee during these times is tough. I believe most bosses and leaders are most likely worrying about their own advancement and security.

    I also believe that this is when a true leader/CEO tries a little harder to motivate and grow their employees. By spending a bit more time talking to employees (one on one, word gets around), having some pertinent training or cross-training, and reassuring the workforce that the organization will not only survive but will grow will help to sustain the workforce.

    In good times most companies do not spend much time on sustaining a workforce but in economic times like this I feel it is not only essential but will lead to increased profitability and growth.

    • Theresa Noble
    • RN
    I actually believe that it is not a 'laissez faire" attitude at all, but rather a downright hostile one that currently prevails. The rhetoric from the right that reverberates through the media today is far beyond the old "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" language of the past.

    First the deck is stacked against a worker in terms of limited wages, barriers to collective bargining, a transfer of taxation from income to wages since the 80's, dramatic reductions in finacial aid that impede advancement, and on and on .... Then folks are told they are responsible for their own destiny, and a culture of blame prevails.
    • Anonymous
    Sustainability has been around for 20 years or more ... Polaroid used to call it "environnmental marketing."

    The cost of having an organized approach to "sustainability" is a rounding error in comparison with the cost to institute a corporate wellness program, and the free advertising (at least Polaroid called it what it was) from au courant topics like "sustainability" pays for itself.

    Wal-Mart in particular couldn't care less about the environment, unless the calculation included their employees.

    People are overworked, stretched thin, the US is fading as an economic power, the division between the haves and the have-nots is widening. The fact that 55% of people are happy in their jobs is in fact surprising.

    Hope you follow this vein ... my comments or not. Rich social implications.
    • Joyce Dias
    • Team Coach, Success by Heart
    I have long been aware of the strong sense of malaise among the working people of the world having experienced it first hand while employed.

    Keen observation of my colleagues revealed that it was because people give up what they enjoy doing most in order to submit to the unnatural process of doing something- anything in order to earn their living.

    Marcus Buckingham's book and Gallup polls have also revealed the disturbing reality that approximately 70% of working people surveyed admitted that they were less than happy by their work and were not playing to their strengths.

    This I believe is the clue to why so many people feel de-humanized and dissatisfied in the workplace.
    • Anonymous
    Employee dissatisfaction is correlated with the organizational policies (if not the direct result of the policies). The organizations are trying to extract more work from the employees while reducing benefits like health insurance. Removal of health insurance stems from the organizations' belief that it is a cost item.

    However, my personal opinion is that the benefit from health cover is not quantified or even studied properly. There are two things to consider. One, how much does it cost to the organization to provide health cover? Second, against the cost of health cover, how much difference does it generate to the organization? As the article says, the employees are "more satisfied" if they have benefits like health cover. What is the difference between the work output between a satisfied employee and a dissatisfied employee? How much more revenue would the organization earn if it had all employees satisfied with health cover in comparison to the employees NOT covered?

    If these figures are available, I believe, the companies can make more informed decisions regarding continuing health cover.
    • Maurits Bruel
    • Managing Partner, De Geluksfabriek
    I would like to comment on two things: the question raised and the issue of employee job satisfaction. The question about the precedence of environment over organizational sustainability probably has a marketing background. I would suggest that marketing a company with some wonderful environmental footage increases sales, whereas marketing it as a wonderful employer does not. (I am only talking about marketing campaign effectiveness here, not business success overall)

    The employee engagement drop issue is quite a complex question, many books have been written about it, including my own. the model we developed and which was extremely successful in the Netherlands makes a distinction between main categories of motivational drivers of people, both of which have not been addressed well in the vast majority of companies. The distinction between these two helps look at and hopefully solve the problem in a different way.

    The first driver category contains drivers related to the need to feel one contributes to something which is bigger than oneself This may include drivers related to sustainability, but in general people are proud of their organization if they feel it is a community with a clear set of goals and values that match their own. Strong attachment like this create loyalty and engagement, but the problem is loyalty has been too one-sided in many cases (thus not sustainable). Also, most companies have become far more opportunistic and have been using their mission and values as communication tools, changing them to suit fads.

    The second driver category follows from the need of every individual to be treated as such, to get the best possible match between personal competencies and ambitions and the characteristics of the demands and rewards of their jobs. This is where IT has not delivered yet: IT systems ave mostly been used to standardize and control more, in stead of creating the flexibility needed to make the best use of individual's competencies and help them reach their personal ambitions and the organization's goals.

    *obviously, from the individual's point of view, the two categories merge in the question: do I want/like this job? And people must weigh community related aspects with individual ones. From an organizational point of view however, the two categories require a fundamentally different approach: a community is based on the commonalities, values and a mission that can not be altered to suit the individual's needs, whereas adapting to the diversity present in the workforce is absolutely needed to satisfy the other category of drivers.
    • Anonymous
    From where would the mentors come and the money to hire them to role model "sustaining employees" in the current work market?
    • Anonymous
    I'm not sure what the overall happiness index says, but i would imagine that it too has been declining. I will submit that American culture is leading to more unhappy people. Couple Americans' complacency in learning new skills with the rising skill levels in developing countries and there you go, less bargaining power and therefore less satisfaction with their jobs.
    • Charles Wegrzyn
    I think it is a lot of everything at work that is causing this dissatisfaction. First there is a dog-eat-dog attitude out there and a sense of helplessness. The dogs at the top (CEO, VCs, etc) are seen as out for themselves and nothing more.

    Second, there is incredible pressure from the economic side - from shrinking staffs and the accompanying extra work to "off-shore" of much of the work. So one wonders if they can be replaced/outsourced so easily why should they work hard?

    Third there is incredible instability in where the world and economies are heading. All sorts of business models are falling by the side - from publishing to tv - everything is in flux. So what can you count on.

    Fourth, we have issues with the environment. Couple that with a political system that doesn't appear to work very well (both here and around the world), and you can see a sort of fatalism at work. It feels like we can't even save our planet, so why should we try hard?

    Now if you look at the past you can see that times like this have happen before. We had the industrial revolution. We had the turn of the 1900s with changes in politics and science. We have lived and survived through them all. And we will again. But there will be heads that fall....
    • Anonymous
    The truth is that it a simple matter of money. For a very long time HR gurus have preached the gospel of touchy-feely over the quantifiable salary and bonus.

    Where I currently work the company became so arrogant and blind to reality that they believed that a plan to end all yearly cost of living increases was a good idea and instead provided millions the year it was announced to support a sports stadium. This was to retain and attract the best workers in the company's home town. The reality is it drove off the best and brightest young workers with no long term ties to the city and created a feeling of simmering anger among those remaining.

    The truth is where employees make lots of money they ignore the long hours and overlook the conditions they work in... but when you start cutting the money either through salary freezes or by shifting the burden of benefits to the employees you impact the satisfaction of employees. Do that 20 years ago and it will slowly manifest itself into the employees' morale... Do it in the information age where people can easily find out salaries in other companies and you get near instant decline in morale.

    The simple solution is to reduce the HR departments to fielding question of employees and making sure that salaries and benefits remain at the market levels. The reality is employees are no longer blind to what they are worth and should not be treated as they are if you want to maintain their job satisfaction.
    • CP
    In respect to the employment satisfaction numbers, if you look at the reduction in labor force compared to productivity numbers there was no corollary drop. Typically these numbers fall in rhythm with each other. However in this recession they did not. Massive layoffs occurred yet productivity remained steady. This means that employers either figured out how to squeeze blood from the turnip or were already operating with a top heavy organization of under performing employees.

    Now that they have consolidated positions, increased hours and stripped basic benefits I'd expect employees to be dissatisfied with their job. I agree with some of the other comments. The sustainability push is a marketing ploy. The only reason you'd want to have an employee sustainability plan would be if you were trying to market your company to potential employees and since many companies are not hiring there is little reason to invest in that plan.
    • Dennis Hopwood
    • Recovering Corprate HR Executive
    Studs Terkel said it best many years ago in his oral history, entitled Working. "Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short for a sort of life, rather than a Monday-to-Friday sort of dying." Unfortunately, few of our organizations recognize, and even fewer enable, the powerful linkage between true engagement and potential productivity. In the end, it's all too often about making the numbers, and the workforce is treated as merely the means to the end. We can do better.
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    Job satisfaction has many components, many have been addressed in the comments above. I will focus more generally. Work today just isn't as satisfying. At the end of the day, when you go home do you really feel you have accomlished something? Most do not. You are either part of a process or have just been monitoring something on the computer. You may be detailed to death with steps in your work process that accomplishes nothing of the job, but provides "information for reports or computer needed data". there seems to be to much "make work" non-productive overhead. Ever been to a "soap opera meeting'? You know, the meeting that sounds like a meeting from a week, month or year ago.

    All this leads to a feeling that you really do not accomplished something in total. Even those with physical jobs often complain that they could have done it easier or quicker, but are now forced to do it one way to meet
    rules, bosses preferences, or company policies. What I find facinating is the number of people who seek something physical to do to relax or gain a sense of accomplishment. If work does not feel worthwhile and you do not feel you have actually closed or accomplished a task...it just feels like endless work.

    Work is a social event. The only reason work exists is so people can gain the income to live and flourish. Yet, many companies treat workers as machine parts. Heaven help us if we promote the social aspects of work. Profits are necessary to keep companies alive and working, but when the company only focuses on the bottom line...often well in excess of what is needed for all to be comfortable...they have lost sight of the social impact of work. When that occurs the employees are the first to realize that no one really cares about them and thus disengages. Not necessarily quits, just decides to perform at a level to keep employed. I call it the employee tax. If any company thinks that taking care of employees is expensive, the odds are they are already employing 25% to 50% more people to accomplish the same work that could be accomplished by fewer happy and engaged employees.

    As noted above, the final nail in the coffin of work satisfaction is the inability to seem to get ahead. People will work hard to improve their way of life, if they can see progress made. That is far more difficult to find today. Many hold multiple jobs just to make ends meet. After a while people just run out of energy. Women miss to much of their children's lives and fathers miss the joy of being a father. When two people HAVE to work to make ends meet and daycare is the cost of a house payment, it is no wonder satisfaction suffers.

    Every generation has wrestled with many of the same issues. Unfortunately, I do not see the same resilience and opportunity in our economy to change the circumstances as in the past. Maybe we just need to have a more "Eastern" viewpoint that life runs in circles and not a straight line. Opportunities will come around again.
    • Anonymous
    I seem to recall a recent report that US productivity increased in the face of wide-spread unemployment. If that was coupled with (as commenter #10 points out) low to no raise/bonus and in the face of increasing health insurance premiums, workers are probably feeling trapped.
    • Anonymous
    I think it's not just fear of layoffs, but that employees can no longer guage the success of a business with potential layoff decisions. Companies now use layoffs as a lever to improve short-term financial gain (the Wall St factor). So, ABC company posts pretty good results in a quarter but couples that with a layoff 3 mos earlier. Worrying about their employees in many cases is perceived as a lower priority.
    • Anonymous
    Anywhere you look these days, companies blame poor economic conditions to extract more from their employees. Today they reduce health benefits, tomorrow they reduce your bonus or completely eliminate it, even though it was part of your initial employment agreement. What is the value proposition these days - be glad you have a job! Such tactics pay off only in the short-term. Companies that take such path should not be surprised that their best people will leave when the economy turns around.
    • Bobby Martin
    • Project Manager, Aerospace
    I concur with the comments as outlined from the epidemiological and public health research, specifically items (1 - 4), and (6). I also concur with item number (5) up to the parenthetical text, "(for example, the higher one rises in an organization, the lower the risk of cardiovascular problems)" (para. 3).

    In non-learning organizations, or organizations wherein we as senior managers place a greater emphasis on profit maximization rather than "leading", caring for, and growing our people, I believe the opposite to be true. In these organizations the stress levels are higher because as one moves upward within number-oriented organization, the greater the potential for cardiovascular problems to develop.

    I believe this can be attributed to spending one's work-day chart chasing, firefighting, and taking the job home to complete the actual work that was neglected in the pursuit of updating the PowerPoint slides. If we as senior managers focused our attention more on leading our people and providing more antonymous working environments, there would be less time spent chasing the numbers and we just might discover that our most valuable assets happen to be those people whom we had written off as liabilities.
    • Anonymous
    What were the measures for satisfaction? Are we really measuring satisfaction based on reasonable definitions, or have we raised the bar for companies to meet over the last few decades?

    I think today's employees expect much more of their organizations than in years past. Yet, part of that demand has grown out of a decline by companies to provide the "basics." We could not imagine 75 years ago that a company would not provide retirement benefits. Now, it is the norm that employees must plan for their own retirement. We could not fathom 75 years ago that a company would lay an employee off after more than 20 years of service. Now, employees understand that seniority is no ticket to continued employment. We could not imagine 75 years ago that a person with a college degree would actually struggle to get a job. Now, it is common to see graduates stay unemployed for extended periods of time or even have to "settle" for positions that they could have taken without the benefit of a degree.

    In short, I believe a lot has contributed to the shift we see in dissatisfaction among the American workforce. Companies have focused on green initiatives because they understand the economic implications of marketing such initiatives. It is all about sales and profits. If I see I care about the environment, the American consumer will see me in a positive light. At the same time, a lot of the other issues (workforce discrimination, health care coverage, etc.) are not widely publicized or given attention by the media. But have some kind of chemical spill at your plant and you will be frontpage news for weeks, even months.
    • John Alexander
    • Interpro Inc
    When workers see senior management face no responsibility for poor performance and continue to get highly paid, it's no wonder there is widespread dissatisfaction. Footnoted.org provides many examples in the "read them and weep" category.

    Here is an excerpt from Barry Ritholtz's blog posting that addresses this topic (http://www.ritholtz.com/blog):

    While there was a temporary drop in exec comp caused by the market crash, we still have structural compensation issues that need to be addressed. For too long, we have been vastly overpaying CEOs of public firms for mediocre performance. Even worse, we have institutionalized this trend in recent decades. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from shareholders to corporate execs.

    In Europe, pay scales have been increasing modestly -- but nowhere near the level of shameless theft here in the States.

    Some 50 years ago, the highest paid executive (usually the CEO) made 30 times what the firm's lowest paid employee did. This has changed over time, shifting upward in the 1980s. It has radically shifted the hi/lo pay ratio at American companies. Since 1999, as the average US paycheck has remained flat, C-level execs compensation has exploded. Just before the credit crisis crushed stock prices, the highest to lowest ratio was near 400 to 1.

    Executives of public companies have been making a killing. Even worse, it's for mediocre performance.
    • E. Shields
    • Librarian
    Two additional factors I have not yet seen raised: 1) US workers are putting in more time on the job than they used to while benefits are declining and 2) As long as we believe work should be about personal fulfillment, we will probably be disappointed.

    I have seen studies that show that US workers are putting in ever more time on the job, coupled with longer and more frustrating commutes. For those whose workdays are extended electronically, the pressure to be available never seems to end. At the same time, the benefits that seemed standard for people whose working lives ended in the 1980s (pensions, health benefits) are not guaranteed for an ever larger part of the workforce. Many of us who will retire within 5 - 15 years are just now realizing how much less comfortable we will be than our parents are.

    Once, a job was what you had to do to support yourself and your family. Career advising tried to match what you were good at with jobs, and if you were really lucky, you would even like what you were doing. In the last 20 years, we have started to believe that work should be fulfilling beyond just rewarding service with pay. Now, many people believe that their work should allow them to use their special talents in the way that they most want to. This is a beautiful dream, but I believe it sets people up to be unhappy. We may need more realism about what we can expect from jobs, as well as some boundaries around what employers should expect from workers and new norms about what is expected in return. (I would like to see health benefits detached from employment but that's another discussion).
    • Anonymous
    Without having time to check the survey, I'm aware that surveys won't necessarily tell the truth of the situation.

    Everyone, except the wealthy top 20-30%, have experienced reduced buying power. With wages that are not, even when increasing, keeping up with inflation's toll, leave most line "workers," even supervisors between a rock and a hard place fiscally.

    Add the above situation with such unreasonable, or un-bendable, policies and attitude of management towards those under them (such as "they can't be trusted") one can easily see why people in general are not satisfied with, not just the the work, but with management.

    It's very possible people are satisfied with "their" work, but they can't buy into the stupid things big business seems to do to screw up a good thing...all, so the CEOs and Directors can have great big salaries and bonuses.

    In fact, from what I've seen over many years with many different organizations and businesses, lots of policies relate to covering for management's inability to manage people, rather than promoting responsibility and trust.
    • Anonymous
    Several decades ago, CEOs actually felt an obligation to take of their employees, as part of the social contract for the service and dedication which the employees showed their companies, service and dedication which also allows CEOs to earn substantial paychecks. Sadly, that social contract is in many instances broken and ignored by many CEOs today.

    Take the case of United Airlines pilots. These dedicated guys and gals had their pensions destroyed and their salaries cut in half in bankruptcy court, while their CEO and executives continune to make multi millions of dollars. The first officers in many instances are making under $100,000 a year for the responsibility of keeping thousands of people safe in the air every month. Where is the fairness in this - it takes years for the pilots to prepare to become eligible for positions with commercial airlines, and many hours annually to train and stay current with flight procedures and regulations. It is only a testament to their strength of character and total dedication to their profession and their passengers that they stay on the job.

    The total decline of noblesse oblige and the governnment acquiescing to poor treatment of professional employees should be addressed at length by academia as well as the public and Congress.
    • Anonymous
    In much the same fashion as #17, the body of research that produced numbers 1 - 4 and 6 rings true, but strikes me as the 'studies' that discover that water is wet. Duh!
    I would hazard a guess that more and more individuals are unhappy with their positions because life sucks the fulfillment out of anything that is named 'work' anymore.
    Case in point - government employment. It requires nearly inhuman effort to commute to work daily, provide 10 hours of labor and listen to/read about the myriad of material that decries the abilities of state workers, the portions of your 'benefit' package that the Legislature wants to take away from you, the percentage of your pay that the Legislature wants to take back, the amount of health insurance the Legislature wants you to pay and so on and so forth.

    Case in point, in the private sector, it requires near inhuman effort to commute to work every day while worrying about whether or not the job will be there in a week, a month, or when it will all fall apart. Was the owner able to get the loan from the bank? Is there enough work to stave off another layoff?

    Couple that with news about how banks and brokerages are providing improbably large 'bonuses' to employees who are too valuable to the company to risk losing them to another competitor. While other individuals in the country drove the economy of the world to hell, people who work every day - without benefit of bonuses or raises for the past four years or more, if ever - are considered 'lucky' if they are able to hang on to their job. Not because they aren't doing a good job, simply because the company may not be able to last much longer, due to the detritus of the aforementioned financial meltdown.

    The segment of the economy that caused the problem has recovered - not to the point that they are assisting the entire economy. No, but they have recovered to the point that they can provide exorbitant bonuses to individuals who should have been handed their walking papers.

    It is the entire weight of everything that is pressing down upon the individual workers. It is too evident that workers are so much chattel. That has never been more obvious at any other point in my life.

    Finding out that 'only' 45 per cent of the workforce are "satisfied with their jobs" is like finding out that the sun rises in the east.

    I firmly believe that people, much like me, are at least somewhat "satisfied with their jobs," but find themselves a lot less-than-satisfied with the conditions of their labor. I believe that what I do is very important and necessary but I do not believe that the establishment shares my belief.
    • Anonymous
    Why do fewer and fewer Americans report dissatisfaction with their jobs? First, technology has done nothing but add to our workloads. Second, our healthcare coverage continues to have a stronger inverse relationship with price as each year passes. Third, our vacation allotment seems to be the smallest in the world, while American productivity is falling. Finally, when it serves the company, they will boot you out with a week's pay for every year you've "served," unaffordable COBRA option, and 90 days to cash out your stock options. I wonder why I'm not as productive as I could be - I'm too busy worrying about being fired or if I'm saving enough to cover any out-of-pocket portions of likely doctor or dentist bills.
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures, Inc.
    Another contributing factor I did not see mentioned is the ongoing decline in traditional religion as a force in society. Traditional religion gave us two important elements regarding work.

    First, there was the belief in a glorious afterlife, which makes the current drudgery more endurable. Second, traditional religions claimed that working hard (even under awful conditions) was a noble, spiritual endeavor.

    Take away the religious influence and suddenly the world of work looks a lot worse.
    • Anonymous

    There may be some validity that people may be expecting that work to be more fulfilling than reality will allow - that isn't the whole story.

    Management books are filled with how to motivate employees by recognition and respect. I am doing roughly the same job over the last dozen years. In years past I loved my job and would work long hours to please my management - and I was rewarded and felt like I was contributing to the company. Now the same company makes me feel that management slaps a veneer of caring on top of deep distrust and distain for those "down below." My days are filled with endless process that just takes away from the bottom line all to support management up above making every decision. My pay is decreased, my benefits cut, my ability to make decisions for those that work for me is cut way down, my work hours increased just to keep from getting laid off. So why would I feel less pleased with my work?
    • Anonymous
    I think it's companies trying to do more with less - 55-60 hour work weeks are the norm in my company, and people get quite snappy after sustaining that for any length of time.
    • Anonymous
    In the relatively short twenty years that I have held professional employment, I have seen the following trends, all designed to reduce the idea of "permanent" employment or as the simplest possible reaction to increased costs:

    Elimination/conversion of defined benefit plans.

    A complete focus on cost; irrespective of value-even though these examples primarily affect customers, not employees. (outsourcing to cheaper countries irrespective of language, geographical and cultural boundaries-"customer service" numbers that will provide an endless array of options designed to prohibit or discourage contact with an informed, capable agent).

    Introduction & Increase in employee contributions to employer provided health insurance as the first or only reaction to cost increases.

    Reduction (in part due to more restrictive federal tax provisions) in employer provided tuition/education reimbursement plans.

    Inattention to training and procedural documentation. (unless a part of the SOX 404 certification)

    Increase in rigid formal evaluations designed to provide absolute objective quantitative "gotcha" certainty to intrinsically subjective and qualitative personal characteristics.

    Use of company communication resources to enforce political agendas (hints: diversity is often more about thinly veiled political agendas designed to curry favor with external activists than promotion of merit-based equal opportunity. Spousal benefits are reduced as "domestic partner" benefits are introduced. Corporations introduce "green initiatives" that are often poorly concealed or transparent attempts to save money while currying favor with hyperactive regulators and eco-activists.

    The workplace has become more dishonest, arbitrary and impersonal, even as the spin from "human resources" strenuously asserts the exact opposite.

    The result has been to replace employment relationship with a mutually usurious and disngenious relationship. Employers pretend to care about employees and their "careers" while actually treating them like fixed assets, employees pretend to care about the employer while using their present position as a springboard to another position.

    You really shouldn't be surprised about the reduction in employee satisfaction.
    • Anonymous
    Maybe someone should study the correlation between the proliferation of information technology -- e-mail, blackberries, cell phones and the like -- and the increasing unhappiness of workers with their jobs -- especially at the white collar level.
    • Anonymous
    Firstly, I believe professor Heskett's two observations are not significantly co-related, job interest and "green" initiatives.

    Secondly, I believe fewer US employees are less satisfied with their jobs because the recent economic turmoil across the world and in particular the USA has all but destroyed the illusion of hope that life, purpose and meaning can be found in a career or job.

    US employees, after being battered by economic woes and job losses over the past several months and have woken up to the reality that jobs are unstable and life cannot be securely built on them.

    Where the sands of life start shifting, people look for stability and foundations that are not volatile. The American worker has begun to evaluate, introspect and seek real meaning for his or her efforts of creativity, energy and time. Jobs are being constantly evaluated for their contribution to one's purpose and life, not primarily gain or job security because it is now known deeply, that this can go in a blink. Where this is need for meaning is not being met, dissatisfaction sets in, although the employee may choose to remain in such a job because it offers economic protection.

    I submit technology improvements have little to do with the workers persuasion.

    As a possible solution, companies/employers should begin to re-examine their own core values to see if what they offer in a job provides meaning for their employees.
    • Anonymous
    Not unlike its more romantic counterpart, all successful "engagements" are based on mutual appreciation and respect. Unfortunately, most employees feel neither from their companies. The majority of employer-employee relationships are one-sided, dysfunctional, co-dependent messes, and trust on both sides is usually lacking.

    The company controls all the important levers in the relationship (money, information). It even has the final say about where the relationship is headed, including whether or not the employee will one day find their "partner" has decided to leave them high and dry, despite their best efforts to please a demanding and sometimes irrational mate.

    Given these circumstances, why would anyone allow themselves to engage any more deeply than what's required to get the job done? To do so would only serve to make an employee more vulnerable to pain and disappointment.

    The employer-employee dynamic, even at it's best, is pure quid pro quo. Companies shouldn't ask why employees don't seem engaged -- they should ask what they can do to become a better, more dependable, and consistent partner that is worthy of engagement.
    • Anonymous
    The lack of 5-6 weeks vacation, on top of the sick leave, and lack of unions that truly make sure there are no ways for a corporation to demand anything from the workforce is probably the reason. In Europe that's what we got. Personally I'm a fan of the vacation but not of the unions...
    • Anonymous
    The text makes it seem that it's Walmart workers, that is, lower paid workers, who are or should be most unhappy. But in many small towns in the U.S. a Walmart job is considered a good job - healthcare or no - and employees there will say so.

    On the other hand, I encounter many American white collar workers with full benefits who are unhappy with their jobs.
    What strikes me about American management practices in this regard is that the "resources" part of "human resources" is indeed addressed; it's the "human" part that isn't and that makes this resource completely different from "natural resources" in green initiatives.
    • PY
    It would be interesting to know what the employee satisfaction rating is in other parts of the world to compare with the US figure of 55%. There is something writ large in US society which may be being replicated to a lesser degree in other countries and that is Materialism. Where the yardstick of measure for self-worth, well-being and happiness is dollar net-worth, there is a built-in trigger for dissatifaction, and as was commented in another post, it's surprising the 45% figure for dissatisfaction isn't higher, given the current economic times. If materialism lies at one end of the spectrum from spirituality, then the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of materialism and perhaps needs to swing the other way in order for people to begin to feel more satisfaction.

    Satisfaction is as much a state of mind as anything and even though the pay raise, the promotion or the dream job may be out of our grasp, we still, at an individual and personal choice level, hold the key to our own satisfaction. There's a whole seam of academic research into 'happiness psychology' that may bear this out.
    • Anonymous
    Environmental sustainability has for many people and organizations taken a backseat to economic woes (think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). Some nations, organizations and individuals are more capable of taking the time to recycle or buy a new hybrid to drive.

    Indeed the employer-employee paradigm or social contract has changed in that loyalty on either side no longer exists and rightly so. Too many from my mother's generation toiled for years only to get a gold watch or sometimes a pink slip.

    Fewer and fewer employees are satisfied with their jobs especially if they are higher educated - they expect challenge, engagement, fair treatment, not just working to pay a mortgage.

    IT has made work interesting and also challenging but for employees everywhere they expect ongoing learning and career development opportunities. Such is not the case with many organizations, especially in this economy. Employers need to bite the bullet and realize that investments (yes, not "cost centers") in career development and green technologies, will not go away and will only become more critical in retaining skilled talent needed to innovate, so organizations can survive and thrive in this economy or any other.
    • Tom Dolembo
    • consultant, Disaster Planning Assoc.
    45% seems high for satisfaction, but then I live in Michigan in an area that has over 16% unemployment. The net cultural affect of this catastrophic recession is yet to be felt. Many highly qualified and otherwise productive people have been arbitrarily cast aside, literally, pensions ruined, careers truncated, homes lost and given no safety net or even compassionate help whatsoever.

    After denial comes anger, and to assume that we should only be concerned for the mood of those employed is myopic. The above comments do harbor a fair warning that CEO's and those responsible for this debacle have not tasted gall, as they have served up in quantities to employees they have kept and shed with vigor. It is hard to believe that the memories of this period will fade once the recession ends. The Great Depression resonated in legislation and fierce cultural disputes for generations after.

    The 45% number does imfer an enormous base of disaffection and even larger base of blind angry folks now struggling to survive. If I were training future CEO's, I'd offer a class in the history of populist uprisings. The Boomer middle class, the basis for every modern cultural revolution, is disenfranchised, disinherited, rendered temporarily helpless, are very upset, vote and have had a psychic trauma of historic proportions. Maybe we'll all just go back to work, eat and purchase again, and let bygones be bygones. But don't bet on it.
    • Anonymous
    As many others have observed, so much has changed in the 30 years I've held various lower to middle management positions in both public and private U.S.-based organizations. And yes, the lack of job security (outsourcing/offshoring to countries with well-educated but far cheaper labor), reduction/increased out-of-pocket costs in our employer-provided benefits, elimination of a defined benefit pension, increased focus in process/procedure over creativity and results, ever-increasing disparity between how C-levels have their performance evaluated and compensated compared to everyone else, and of course the expectation that we're available 24x7, tethered wirelessly via our smartphones and laptops/netbooks to the company network are our current reality and none of these things are exactly conducive to job satisfaction.
    • Beverley Hamilton
    • Founder, One Step Further
    This answer may seem simplistic to many but here goes.
    There are 2 accountabilities here:

    1. Of individuals to find ways to be happy at work.

    2. Of organisations to engage and enable people to be happy at work

    Individuals need to:

    Identify what they enjoy and are good at/could become good at and get or create a job that encompasses those 2 things.

    Take accountability for their situation and find anything to make their day better each and every day - or get another job (I hear many people saying that's easier said than done and that's true but possible - just read Man's search for Meaning by Victor Frankl and then revisit your perspective)

    Organisations need to:
    Start with something like the Gallup Q12 and transform their organisation to deliver the best outcomes from the Q12 for their organisation based on their business purpose, vision and values.

    Repeat and improve until those people that work for them are happy and engaged or are supported to find other employment where they can contribute and be happy.
    • Brandon Soule
    • Director
    Workers in the US suffer from the same insecurities as the whole country does: 1. economic and 2. competitive.

    1. We over-spend and under-save. In a fundamental sense we are no longer free, because we owe part of ourselves to the local bank or the bank of China.

    2. We over-indulge and under-educate. Our very future is eroded by coddling our children and avoiding subjects like math, science, and engineering while other countries excel.

    A worker who is secure in their finances and their competitive position has the freedom to pursue happiness. And thus goes our country.
    • Wayne Brewer
    It's interesting to think of current trends that seem long term (23 yr study cited) in a larger historical, cyclical context.

    I would like to add another potentially explanatory theory to the discussion... Recurrent Generation Theory proposed by Strauss and Howe. It postulates there is a four generation cycle that drives history. Each generation of kids is profoundly (and predictably) affected by the way they are raised by parents of the previous generation.

    My proposition based on the line of thinking of this theory is this: The low levels of happiness about work and the moralistic drive to save the earth are predominantly being espoused and led by self-focused, and ultimately unable to be satisfied, baby boomers who were overprotected as children from all of the harsh realities of life that their parents had to endure during the Great Depression, and who are unwittingly creating their own crisis, now that they lead most of the influential public and private institutions in the U.S.
    • Akhil Aggarwal
    • IT & Telecom Consultant
    Allow me to provide a perspective from the East, where most development owes gratitude to the cost cutting efforts by companies in the West.

    American companies are by far the leaders in setting standards globally on how organizations work. Therefore, approaches such as "Go Green" have become fancy terms (/ways of working) for many organizations around the world, which most certainly also include the international centers of the US companies.

    Employee satisfaction takes a hit not because of such initiatives. On the contrary, workers the world over support such efforts - well for environmental and/or glamour reasons. Instead employee satisfaction is mostly on the decline only in large organizations. The reason? Lack of personalized focus on employees and more on business and profitability. Unfortunately, due to the madness for increasing business and improving the bottom-line, organizations end up ignoring to look at the day to day working conditions of the employees.

    No organization will deny that its employees are its biggest assets. But then as "Freakonomics" has so very rightly stated that everything is driven by some or the other incentive, organizations claim to consider their employees as key/critical assets because of the need for these assets to attain sustainability.

    However, these very biggest assets (read employees) lose their criticality due to another, even simpler, economic principal of demand and supply. In today's internet-and-handheld-device-driven-world, it is not difficult to find resources to work. And that is where the organizations shift their focus from Employees to Brand management.

    The organizations "will" not do anything to resolve this situation. There is plenty of talent available.

    The employees, however, will continue to be tempted to work for smaller companies for the advantage of the "personalized focus".
    • Anonymous
    Satisfaction from one's work is derived from the individual's inner conscious--that inner voice that whispers "Am I 'truly' adding 'value' to the Cause", whatever that cause may be, or "Am I simply grinding through this 'monkey work' for a better opportunity in the future." Inner peace and an overarching emphasis on self-worth and self-esteem are crucial to survive the vicissitudes of the current US job market. It is not about how hard you can get hit, but rather about how hard you can get hit and still keep yourself moving forward.

    Complacency against the backdrop of years of economic prosperity is the essential culprit in answering the question of why fewer US employees are satisfied with their jobs. Along with personal unfulfillment, misery experienced by others can be a contagious disease it spreads like a virus that blankets entire workforces. I say to those who are dissatisfied with their jobs hold true
    to their "inner light," or seek to create that "inner light"--for it is only here will true happiness be found against the backdrop of economic turmoil.
    • Sherpa
    Not until we become again a purveyor of goods, as well as services, will our souls be at peace with our efforts. Providing advice alone does not fill the voids that we have created for ourselves over the past century.
    • Ajay Kumar Gupta
    • Management Professional
    I think the most probable reason for dissatisfaction is the fear and insecurity created by external environment and second is the failure of the regulatory mechanism/Government to check and balance the environment. Lay off, sub prime crisis, failure of Lehman brothers has led global financial meltdown and economic recession and people have experienced that no one is safe and secure. People have lost their faith in the systems, their confidence has been shaken up and peoples' confidence has negatively impacted the satisfaction level.

    Therefore creation of an environment that is devoid of fear and insecurity will tremendously improve the satisfaction level.

    The question - why companies emphasize more on the issue of green initiatives rather than the issue of sustainability of workers? What are their motives? I think there may be two motives behind this, either Compulsion or passion. Passion always has balanced and positive impact whereas compulsion has lop sided development. Here companies do it more as a compulsion, because the true CSR cannot neglect its people and focus externally to create positive impression and gain popularity. They do so because lack of accountability in CSR.

    Instead, companies should encourage its employees to involve in CSR activities that may create a far bigger impact on green initiative and have multiplier effect on the environment. The remedy to this problem probably lies in strengthening CSR audit and regulatory intervention, which will take CSR initiatives and internal measures like safety, wages, and benefits of employees into account. In fact, organizations need cognitive alignment in decision and actions.

    I strongly believe that organization's practices play a major role in creating better health for people and organizations. The gap between policies and practices creates inequality. The more the gap, the more the inequality and vise versa. Therefore, the policies that address all the people in the hierarchy equally has greater degree of sustainability. This will definitely create good culture, better morale, lesser stress, among the employees.

    I agree that today organizations reward people for profitability and economic outcome and for them end justifies means. This is the reason why corporate corruptions and failures crop up, and well established and reputed institutions fail. Organizations often fail to reward the decisions that have moral and ethical integrity. These dimensions are often unappreciated and less valued. I think organizations need to change the practices and perceptions in reward system and place more value on decision making capabilities that have moral and ethical integrity to foster more transparency in organizations.
    • Marko Stefan
    • Marketing Manager and MBA Distance Learning Student
    Exploring the true meaning of sustainability, as an over used term, and matching it with green washing, is truly a low profile marketing approach which has no long-lasting value.

    Green incentives and improvements are part of the sustainability of the organisation. They could be regarded as entry level of organisational sustainability behaviour.

    However, the true meaning of the word/term sustainability is highly ignored of its fullest potential. The issue today is: are strategies truly sustainable? In the end the organisations are "in the game because of the money". So, valuable strategy directions cannot be accomplished without truly perceiving the people's roles (among others).

    One interesting notion is: how well aware are employees of company's strategy, and do they own the strategy?

    If employees understand sustainability principles and strategy direction as two faces of one coin, then we can say that the company is truly acting sustainably.
    The problem of today is the balance in adjusting current work/force/environments with organisational goals. This balance will be even more fragile in the future as new generations enter the workforce. These correlations are matters of future investigation and organisational development.
    • Forrest Christian
    • Associate, The Manasclerk Company
    Our values are changing and we expect different things from work. Knowledge workers / Creative class are part of the Disciplinary work domain, and these people expect a collegial environment. Their peers are spread across a discipline, rather than across a silo. They expect a different work environment to be happy. Unfortunately, most executives do not understand these Disciplinary workers because they simply cannot think at the same level of abstraction. This leads to a frustration of the Disciplinary workers' expectations.

    Other workers are increasingly marginalized and treated more and more like easily replaced cogs, just as they are beginning to adopt these more collegial values championed by the Disciplinary workers.

    Add that most executives believe (and are taught at business school) that employees are their biggest cost rather than asset, and you have the makings for today's work environment.
    • Narasimhan Gopalan
    • VP, Oracle Financial Services Software
    I don't think there are (m)any who would dispute that programs that contribute to environment sustainability and employee sustainability are essential for a corporate's success in the long run. I believe that these need to be the core values of a well run organization. Of course, with the looming threats to the environment due to various factors including an increased awareness amongst the larger sections of community and the environmental activism from many groups, it has become a business imperative as well as a potential marketing strategy to invest in the environment programs.

    Ecological sustainability and green initiatives have a great marketing appeal while providing for employee welfare is definitely not so; or worse, customers would feel that they are bearing the brunt of the company staff having fun (read - staff welfare programs) for which they pay the price.

    Coming to the aspect of lower satisfaction levels among the employees, I can think of some factors that play a role: an increasing uncertainty and instability of jobs as well as organizations, severe competitive situations and the resulting pressure to perform every day all through the year, increased pressure and expectations to learn and constantly upgrade one's knowledge and skills, and technology and information overload that is changing the nature of the jobs.

    I have seen some innovative organizations combining the two viz., employee and environment, wherein they have designed some special programs to engage the employees to contribute towards green initiatives at different levels. While this creates a sense of contribution in the employees, the organization also thereby creates a good impact in the community through such programs.

    Considering the global economic turbulence and increasing anxiety among the employees, HR has a crucial role to play to sustain employee engagement through innovative programs that not only contribute to staff welfare but also to organizational sustainability.
    • Anonymous
    In the latest HBR IdeaCast, Susan Cantrell points out that most workers feel that HR practices are not relevant to them (6%). She mentions that organizations need to set up standards and modules, broad and simple rules, and employee defined personalization.
    Here's the link: http://traffic.libsyn.com/hbsp/190__How_to_Make_HR_Relevant.mp3

    After listening to this interview, I wonder if workers can see how organizations are able to personalize offers for customers, yet do not/will not customize what HR offers to workers.
    • Anonymous
    This year, I did not receive a raise, did not receive a bonus, but DID receive an increase in my health insurance and parking costs. I was told by my direct supervisor that I was lucky to have a job and would be lucky to have one next year. OK, in this economy, fair enough. But then don't expect me to be "satisfied."
    • Kamal Gupta
    • CEO, Edseva Software
    Tough times come every few years, recessions and slow downs are part of business cycles as much as booms and upturns. I find it almost silly to put the brunt on employees and yet expect them to be loyal and productive.

    It is tough times that test the leadership of the company. The way is to communicate, one on one and one to many, but communication should be honest.

    I have managed through one really tough time when I was working in the cement industry. My employees approached me and volunteered to take a pay cut for the sake of the company, especially since we were in a terrible cash crunch. We finally decided that all of us, except the C level, will draw 75% of the pay, the rest will remain as deposit with the company. C level guys will take 50% pay.

    Things turned around in six months, and we repaid the retained pay. But can you imagine the team and camaraderie it created? There were a thousand hugs.
    • Anonymous
    The Health Plan on Wal-Mart's web site doesn't seem so bad to me. Maybe, instead of waiting for everything to be handed to you - go out and make a better life..

    Corporations need to make money to pay employees - even in bad economies. They can keep all their employees, never laying anyone off - but then the company goes out of business and everyone loses a job.

    I agree, no job is 100% perfect, but then sitting at home with nothing to do and no income isn't a picnic either. And a lot of companies don't seem to be considerate to their employees, I agree. So, technology or not - academic articles like this never solved a problem. What is your solution?

    Maybe people are dissatisfied with their jobs because they never took the time or effort to figure out what they really wanted to do. Why not start the business that runs the way they want to be treated. Become the perfect employer; make a difference rather than complaining about how bad someone else's efforts are.

    But that requires initiative, hard work and possibly failure! No longer American traits.
    • Mark Isaac
    • President, Gorman Business Consultants
    Managers and supervisors lose sight of the big picture; and when they do, their staff does too. They feel their efforts are not meaningful, so they lose faith. Succession plans, open communication, and knowing that the company cares, create a learning environment. Executive effectiveness is directly related to the engaged employee. The fewer they have will result in high turnover, property loss, and higher health care costs.
    • Harold Cypress
    • Learning Director
    Too bad there isn't enough competition between "work" and "not work" that could challenge the "work" employers to compete for the limited supply of labor workers.
    • David Cawlfield
    • Principal Engineer, Olin Corporation
    Are company's "Green" initiatives honestly making a positive impact on the world? If employees identify with the value of the initiatives and see real changes taking place, this should be a strong motivator for retention. On the other hand, employees are keenly sensitive to hypocrisy. Also, some may feel that a company's commitment to its employees is weakened by a focus on the environment.

    I am concerned that way too many of today's "Green" initiatives are spin without substance, or misdirected effort that "saves" the polar bear while harming the environment in some larger way. Such a situation is good cause for employees to be highly dissatisfied.

    Even more disconcerting is that the environmentalist movement appears to be, at its roots, an anti-industrial perspective. This view sees economic growth as the enemy of mother earth. How can a corporate vision pander to such views and not undermine employee morale?
    • Anonymous
    Employers are using the economic conditions--whether legitimately or deceptively--as an excuse to pay less and expect more work. Lower-level workers are being forced to learn more skills and handle more tasks, things that were handled by superiors in the past. So, now they're doing more work and have more knowledge, but are compensated the same as before. This inevitably leads to feelings of being "used" and undervalued.

    When a company seemingly takes on a "just be glad you still have a job" attitude, workers will invariably end up feeling ripped off.
    • Roy Bhikharie
    • Managing-director, Papaya Media Counseling
    Despite the increasing body of knowledge on how to achieve employee satisfaction/engagement in order to raise productivity, researchers keep finding adverse effects: even HRM-practices are experienced as not relevant to employee's well-being. Thus, the causes must be much deeper.

    About a century ago, Carl Jung concluded that people in industrialized countries were captured by the social consciousness and, thus, the mass psyche; protecting the self against the collective unconscious this way, civilized people sacrificed creativity and became social worthless, which could end in self-injury. Erich Fromm ascribed this to authoritarian ethics, which imposed rules and laws that were adhered to without questioning their validity; as a result, the authoritarian conscience consisted of internalized authority, hindering inner growth. The German philosophers Horkheimer and Adorno observed that animism breathed life into businesses and industrialism commercialized the soul.

    All this seems to suggest that management studies have painfully omitted to incorporate the art of gaining self-knowledge: Maslow said that everyone had a vocation or work, not just for its own sake, but to fulfill meta-needs or realize potentials with a brotherly attitude. According to Carl Rogers, integrating all elements of unconsciousness and consciousness, one experienced a sense of inner freedom or self-determination, making him or her trustworthy, constructive and creative in behavior. In other words, without authentic self-knowledge, the inability to internalize and apply relevant knowledge in the interest of one's self and humankind manifests itself. For more info, please see:
    • Anonymous
    As job security is no longer defined by performance, morale drops as peers leave a few at a time. Increased use of contractors and offshoring of jobs adds to concerns. Those that remain have to pick up extra workload, and increased use of automation eliminates jobs permanently. Economic factors and increasing government regulation and control are reshaping the face of business. Employees don't know what to expect.
    • Anonymous
    People are just fodder to the corporate machines!
    • Ulrich Nettesheim
    • Co-Founder, Passages Consulting
    I resonate with the question both Heskett and Pfeffer are asking about "sustainability" of employees. I see a lot of organizations where what makes it fun to be an employee is getting squeezed out of the equation. To understand an organization fully, I find it helpful to consider 4 domains of enterprise activity- the technical enterprise that focuses on solving some problem, the commercial activity of providing offerings in such a way that sufficient surplus value can be captured by the organization, the social/environmental activities that ensure positive social and environmental contributions and then finally the human enterprise, namely the aspects of the work and the organization's culture that nurture the human being performing the work.

    It is here, in this fourth domain, that most organizations and their leaders have under-invested time and effort to fully understand what human nature requires for the job to be satisfying and "sustainable" for the employee.

    As long as transactions trump relationships and efficiency becomes the primary measure of success, then what human beings need to experience satisfying work will keep getting ignored. Expect further drops in national job satisfaction levels as long as management sees the human enterprise as an afterthought.
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures
    This article from April's Workforce Management magazine says it all:

    The Last Word: Worker 'Deal' Is Off

    The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study--depending on how you look at it--is either eye-opening news or simply a reconfirmation of what we have all known to be true about employer-employee relations for a long time.

    By John Hollon

    I've been traveling a bit recently, so I'm a little late in getting to this survey from the good people over at Towers Watson, the global HR consultancy.

    Late or not, this survey--depending on how you look at it--is either eye-opening news or simply a reconfirmation of what we have all known to be true about employer-employee relations for a long time.

    Here's how the firm's press release puts it:

    "The 'Great Recession' may have ended, but its impact on the U.S. workforce and employment itself looks to be deep and long lasting, according to the results of new research from global professional services company Towers Watson. The Global Workforce Study (GWS)--a biennial survey of employee attitudes and workplace trends--confirms that the recession has fundamentally altered the way U.S. employees view their work and leaders today, while dramatically accelerating changes to the basic social contract that underpins employment here. In stark contrast to earlier Global Workforce Studies, the 2010 results indicate that U.S. employees have dramatically lowered their career and retirement expectations for the foreseeable future. On-the-job advancement now takes a back seat to a growing desire for workplace security and stability--at the very point in time when traditional employment safety nets are eroding."

    Here are some of the findings:

    The long recession and jobless recovery have soured workers on the concept of the "free-agent nation." Some eight out of 10 respondents say they want to settle into a job. Roughly half say they want to work for a single company their entire career, while the rest say they want to work for no more than two or three companies.

    Some 56 percent of the U.S. workers expect little change in the job market over the next year. Twenty-eight percent anticipate a continued deterioration in the employment picture.

    More than half (51 percent) of those surveyed said there are no career advancement opportunities in their current roles. An additional 43 percent believe they would need to leave their current organization in order to advance to a higher-level job.

    Despite these obstacles to career advancement, 81 percent of respondents said they are not actively looking for another job.

    When asked about the most important factors in a job, more workers chose a "secure and stable position" (86 percent) than "substantially higher levels of compensation" (74 percent).

    "For many employers, the recession has put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional 'deal' that once existed between employees and employers," says Max Caldwell, a leader of Towers Watson's talent and rewards business.

    "Not only have people seen many co-workers, friends and family members laid off, but they know they are increasingly on their own for everything from health care, to managing their career, to planning for a secure retirement. This represents a profound shift for employees and employers alike."

    I think Caldwell is 100 percent correct, and if anything, is understating this a little. Workers have been beaten, battered and bloodied in this big, bad recession. Not only are many of them terribly angry and unhappy, but their job satisfaction is gradually eroding as well.

    This survey is worth looking at because some of the other findings--that workers are planning to hang around on the job until their late 60s and that they desperately want leaders they can connect with on an emotional level--are equally telling. They paint a picture of an American workforce that is hunkered down, risk-averse and hanging on as long as they can--until, they hope, they can afford to retire.

    "The recession has clearly prompted many employees to rethink their priorities and focus on a longer-term commitment to their employer in return for some semblance of job security--despite the cuts or elimination of many programs, from bonuses to training, traditionally used as retention tools," says Laura Sejen, who also works in Towers Watson's talent and rewards practice. "Where once employers fretted over a 'war for talent,' they must now plan for a workforce that appears ready to settle in for years--perhaps even decades."

    This doesn't sound like a recipe for cooking up greater global competitiveness for the U.S. workforce. Only time, and more inroads by the thriving economies in China, India and elsewhere, will tell. Wake me up when American business leadership figures this out.
    • Virginia Byrd
    • Owner, Career Balance
    The Conference Board and Families and Work Institute have done studies of this for many years. The findings are that employees want some autonomy in the workplace.They want flexibility in benefits and working hours and many othe work-life benefits.

    Employers who respond to that are rewarded with more productivity, better morale and better retention records.
    Employers such as Best Buy and Deloitte have programs in place that offer very different work opportunities.
    Those who do micro managing are the employers that are losing out and will continue to have unhappy employees.
    • Anonymous
    The workplace unhappiness is simply due to one thing, the lack of adequate compensation. End of story.
    • Annabelle
    • Director, EF
    We are used to having options, both within our existing roles and externally with the ability to leave at our discretion for a better opportunity. Our current economic reality no longer provides that kind of independence and we feel strangled by the restrictions within our jobs and the greater job market.

    Who wants their boss in their business every day because he/she feels like they need to eek out every penny of savings and revenue or to manage risk to the point they feel they need to micro-manage? Who wants to feel like all we do is manage down-side risk instead of personal and market potential?

    What risk-taker or innovator wants to feel like they have to stay within ever-confining specialized roles with more and more restrictions, fewer benefits and less security?

    As for green initiatives, they seem like a distraction of time and funds when people are losing their jobs. Although I don't think it's a significant reason for the job satisfaction trend, it would stand to reason that people in a company that is tightening its belt, but investing in "green initiatives" might think: have a little loyalty and save an employee before a tree.
    • Philippe Gouamba
    • Vice President of Human Resources, Skyline Windows, LLC
    A job is a complex thing that has an ebb and flow to it. It is almost a living thing. In a job, an individual receives stuff (information) and transforms it into something that upper management can use in the furtherance of the business. Some jobs require no supervision while others require constant supervision. The quality and style of the supervision needs to be considered, the overall stress levels within the organization needs to be examined. A firm that is on the brink of insolvency will have a different type of internal stress compared to a firm that is thriving and achieving its goals.

    The question you pose is an interesting one because there are so many variables that contribute or detract from job satisfaction. Personally I get the least job satisfaction in situations where I am being dictated to. I get the greatest level of job satisfaction in situations where I achieve a positive outcome by using my creativity and with no supervision.

    Jobs pay money because inherently we all want to be doing something else such as spending time with family and loved ones or enjoying a hobby or a favorite pastime. Some 32 years ago at my Columbia College freshman orientation, Professor Fred Friendly told us, and I dare paraphrase: "when you choose a career, choose one that you enjoy so much that you would be willing to do it for free". His statement struck me as strange when I was 18 years old but now it makes perfect sense and truly blessed are those who have managed to find such a profession.

    I believe that the keys to lasting job satisfaction are passion for what the job entails, freedom to innovate and to create, seeing the positive results that ones work brings about and lastly recognition for that work. Please note that recognition is not always financial. Companies whose goal is to survive these difficult economic times are placing tough demands on their employees. There is less and less room for creativity or risk-taking and more need for strict supervision hence more dissatisfied workers.
    • Anonymous
    In response to:

    "The workplace unhappiness is simply due to one thing, the lack of adequate compensation. End of story."

    Some people are over-paid, thus unhappiness may be derived from some level of inadequacy and insecurity of the "kind of work" being performed. "Am I really adding value to this task and job?"
    • Saurabh Dwivedy
    Haven't read all the comments - but lack of adequate compensation and "am i really adding value to this task?" are eye-catchers inasmuch as they portray very basic fundamentals of the workplace dynamic.

    Only addition I'd like to make to the other two is this - Workplace politics is no less a contributor to workplace stress. 'Dog eat dog' might be an apt expression for it.
    • David Physick
    • Principal Consultant, Glowinkowski International Limited
    From our work over the past 25 years, we know that unhappy organisations possess poor climate, by which we mean "how it feels to work here". Climate is different to culture, which tends to receive more focus. This is mis-guided. Climate is an outcome of culture, which concerns "how we do things around here". When leaders effect culture change programmes without thinking about the consequences on climate, their change programmes don't deliver. There might be a short-term uplift but no more.

    Climate embraces a number of factors including clarity, i.e. knowing what your organisation is trying to achieve and how you contribute through your role; autonomy, i.e. feeling able to make decisions; feeling you work in a meritocracy; feeling able to express ones views knowing they will be heard and listened to. Professor Heskett, in his seminal work concerning the customer service profit chain, recognised this by virtue of identifying the dependence of external service upon internal service. If Climate is lousy, internal service is poor, as will be external service, with all the consequences on brand, sales and bottom line performance.

    Climate is driven by having an effective organisational design, efficient processes and leaders behaving authentically. Great behaviours beget great behaviours. So do bad behaviours such as greed and bullying. We would well to remember Greenslade's concept of 'servant leadership'.

    As for sustainability, then leaders must set some 'big, hairy, audacious goals' that will galvanize their people's imagination and commitment. If you think this is impossible, read Ray Anderson's awesome book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. Ray is not a 'tree-hugger' but a successful businessman.

    Overall, we need leaders to start to recognise and accept that their prime accountability is not the delivery of next quarter's numbers but creating and sustaining a high-performance climate in their organisations. If they work to improve climate, their organisation's performance will rise. Period. (We know, we have the data from our work around the world.)

    This is positive climate change and we should all be working to generate it, encapsulating within its overarching goal, far reaching objectives concerning sustainability.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC (India) Private Limited
    Over the years, the vision and mission of employers, in the public and more so in the private domain, has remained on paper only. Moreover, loyalty has taken a back seat at all levels. There is a cut-throat competition for receiving the best unmatched with giving the best. Final results alone matter and those who can manipulate get the best benefits. Every one is trying to save his position somehow in the "hire and fire" scenario.

    Mentoring and nurturing good employees, even where it seems to be prevalent, is not wholehearted. In this weird working atmosphere, common employees are just existing under a lurking fear of losing their jobs on any pretext. Many are threatened by being instructed to strike a choice between overwork or otherwise being shown the door; most prefer the former alternative leading to a work-life imbalance and health hazards. When the working environment is such, job-satisfaction cannot result.

    Lack of ethics and morality leads to various ills and one is unable to take guidace fron the inner self thereby contributing further to the job dissatisfaction.
    • Swan
    • CEO, http://twebevent.com
    re: the job satisfaction issue: two resources I recently experienced are helpful.

    1. Dan Pink's book "Drive" about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

    2. John Seely Brown's Stanford podcast: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/podcasts.html
    • Anonymous
    Fewer workers are satisfied because making more money is not a satisfactory or meaningful goal yet more and more businesses, especially large ones, are identifying this as their primary objective. People want to contribute something good to society, to help people, to solve problems and provide long term benefits.

    But businesses are increasingly focused on the bottom line to the exclusion of most other values such as customer service, providing a positive experience, or providing something people need as opposed to want.

    The continued focus on growing our economy by growing consumer demand is unsustainable. People sense this deep down and find it harder and harder to work in service to an empty goal.

    In addition, competition has its place but in excess is an unsatisfactory way to go through life. People have a natural drive towards collaboration, yet the directive to compete with businesses as well as with departments within our organizations and with each other for limited resources is demoralizing.

    Also, not everyone wants to work long hours and give up their personal life for the organization. It is one thing to choose to overwork to build something of your own. It is entirely different to be made to overwork to build something for others who in turn do not appreciate one's effort.
    • Basu Sharma
    • Professor, University of New Brunswick
    Workplace unhappiness is the result of "filthy lucres" of corporate America. It is more than adequately reflected in CEO compensation. And redemption requires reorganization of capitalism.
    • Anonymous
    The New Corporation: Save a tree, a whale, a baby seal... but, woe to the poor employee.
    • Anonymous
    I think there are two significant factors that have lowered the "feel good" aspect of jobs:

    First, The blind pursuit of profit. Don't get me wrong, profit is a good thing. But many companies have become so obsessed with getting every penny possible that the pursuit of profit has become more important than offering a good product, providing quality service and treating people fairly.

    It's hard to feel good about yourself, or your company, if you don't feel the work you do has some positive result beyond just churning profit.

    The same goes with a company's relationship with its employees. Everyone knows that you can be fired if you don't perform on the job. But when companies arbitrarily do layoffs to pump up the quarterly numbers or to give the CEO a bigger bonus; it's hard to maintain respect for your employer. People feel good when they have control over their circumstances -- i.e., if I show up on time, do my job and behave appropriately I'll have a job tomorrow, next week, next year. But when good people are being laid off for no apparent reason, you lose control of the situation and happiness declines.

    Second, the transition from a manufacturing to service economy. There is pride in making something (or being part of a team that makes something). There is also usually some specific skill involved with making something -- a skill that gives the employee some feeling of worth.

    There is less emotional reward associated with providing a service. Add to that the fact that service-oriented jobs are more prone to management by spreadsheet syndrome it makes for a generally lower feeling of reward. And services are generally easier to outsource, hence less job stability/security.
    • Bill Smith
    • Director, Publishing
    Another point for consideration is the continuing fragmentation of the office environment brought about by the age of mergers and acquisitions AND the de-emphasis of the role of human resources as any meaningful promoter of corporate culture.

    Like many, I work for a company with a dozen different offices on two continents. The majority of employees I interact with on a daily basis I know in name - and email address - only. The company's CEO has not traveled to our office in three years. The office of 30 in which I work is a tight knit group, but because of the alienation inherent in such a multi-office corporate set-up there is a circle-the-wagons, us-vs.-them interoffice dissonance that has developed.

    I believe these "pod" work environments lead to the type of job dissatisfaction revealed in your study. The buzz word a few years back was "corporate culture", but in truth it is difficult to develop any sense of corporate identity with such a scatter shot approach.

    It takes a strong leader and concerted human resources effort to mold such diverse environments into any true and meaningful team. Yet as is typical of many corporate administrations, the human resources department in my compay falls under the supervision of the CFO of the organization - an arrangement I've always found analagous to the fox guarding the hen house.

    Though it may seem counter intuitive in a down economy where the Employer has the power in the hiring and retention game, creating a strong human resources department and allowing it the autonomy to truly work on behalf of the employees could turn these numbers around.
    • Susan Chipman
    • retired
    Many have commented on the ways in which conditions of employment have deteriorated. But relatively few have commented on your naive assumption that the presence of information technology should be making jobs better or more interesting. You should read Thomas Landauer's "The trouble with computers." This book was a sort of minority report emerging from a National Research Council study. Landauer is one of our most distinguished researchers of human computer interaction, who worked at Bell Labs for many years. With only a few exceptions (phone companies), information technology has not even delivered a good return on the economic investment.

    Computer systems that employees must use are often very poorly designed, making work more difficult. Often people have to adapt to the machines, rather than being assisted by them. It may be necessary to memorize information that people find difficult to memorize and to do things that computers are better suited to do if only the software were better designed. This situation is stultifying. Furthermore, I myself experienced situations in which later generation software was actually worse in this respect, rather than improved. Landauer's book actually underestimates the trouble with computers because he does not give enough attention to the burden of having to learn new computer systems while also trying to do one's job. It can be substantial.

    An additional factor is the reduction in human interaction that tends to go along with the computerization of jobs. Most people (computer and other engineers perhaps being an exception) need considerable interaction with other human beings in order to be happy. Research, much of it done at Carnegie-Mellon University, has shown that the more time people spend on computers, even if ostensibly communicating with others, the less happy they are.

    Susan Chipman, MBA and PhD in research psychology.
    • Jamie Heller
    • Hellerworx, Inc.
    There is one link between green initiatives and job satisfaction that might be worth exploring. To the extent that workers feel that their jobs are linked to something more meaningful than the daily tasks, this in my experience can materially improve job satisfaction. It doesn't overcome a lousy boss, or a threat of job loss, but when the basics are working well it can enhance the feeling of job satisfaction. Green initiatives are just one vehicle among many to create the link to something more meaningful. Leading companies with younger workers seems to have made the leap to providing an opportunity for spending paid time in endeavors that have traditionally been associated more with the realm of non-profits or charitable institutions.
    • Zulfiqar Deo
    I think the focus here has been on the larger companies (LSE's) where these trends tend to very common. I feel the SME sector where companies tend to have a much more personal relationship with their employees this may not be as wide spread as commonly thought.

    Another reason not mentioned may be to do with the lack of emotional satisfaction that the work environment provides for. Here the emphasis on the quantitative measures that define our performance and don't allow us to use our initiative, for instance. Further, the systems and structures do not allow the company to behave as a social organisation as much as an economic unit.
    • Anonymous
    An overlooked denominator could be the fact that lack of physical motion causes discontent, mental fatigue, downright grumpy attitudes. We've become machines using machines, assembly lines of information and productivity. I'm all for progress with meaning.
    • Anonymous
    It is interesting that the focus in the comments is on the FAILURES of COMPANIES (and bosses). My 20th century ancestors (great grandparents and grandparents, relatives of that generation) had much harsher working conditions than we do -- but I do not remember them as being as unhappy and dissatisfed as the workers I see today.

    Is it possible that the problem is with the individual --with wildly inflated notions of what is "due" us by others, with delusioanl expectations of the happiness and satisfaction that life, and work, are supposed to give us? I happen to believe that our media feed these delusions, every day, and in many ways.

    But, the point of my comment is simply that we must also look at the individual, at us as individuals, and whether or not our expectations of the world and of work are within the realm of "reasonable."
    • Janice Maffei
    • Partner, VisionFirst
    People want to see how their work connects to something meaningful, some purpose beyond filing the quarterly return or resolving a claim. So little is done to connect individual effort to the overarching - and hopefully inspiring - goal of the firm. To know you are manufacturing a widget that will be part of a space mission is one thing, to see your work as the humdrum of machines and transactions all day long - is something else entirely.
    The Invisible Bumper Sticker on Your Employee's Car: Life's too short to do work that doesn't matter.
    • Anonymous
    The workers dissatisfied with their jobs were never prepared to work in today's economy. I wasn't. We were encouraged to choose a vocation based on earning potential and maybe our skills; we were led to believe it would be a 30 year run at most; and we were taught to choose a 'career', a job we could keep as long as we worked. None of the assumptions that brought anyone over 35 into the workforce are any longer true.

    Today, we know we will work longer and therefore need to choose based on our aptitude and personality. We need to choose areas of interest and work, because the technical skills needed in that area will need constant upgrading and change for us to remain relevant. We need to choose to be intellectually curious and to keep learning. Employers who have large numbers of these employees in their workforce are faced with the constant challenge of dissatisfied workers and reduced productivity or acting as a 'bridge' to the employee of tomorrow by valuing learning, supporting re-education with dollars and time, incentivizing learning through internal promotions and rewards, and most importantly hiring those individuals who 'get' the future of work and will help redefine the culture from inside.

    Hopefully the students in our schools today are being taught that learning is forever, and the job they want after graduation will, at the very least, change many times if not completely disappear and be replaced.
    • V Leung
    While money seems to be the focus of this discussion, I will like to explore some potential factors from both the employees and the employers.

    1) employees are less competent. there is a massive shortage of tech talent which our current education system and teachers fail to address. our students lag behind in international competitions on average as well.

    2) more competition. potential employees now have to compete globally with strong candidates who demand less compensation.

    3) employees are less entrepreneurial. As pointed out in response #60, people prefer stability over higher salary and therefore violate the underlying assumption of the efficiency market theory. as a result, the inefficient distribution of human resources depresses the market value of able workers who can probably receive higher pay elsewhere.

    1) companies choose people through academic performance instead of aptitude, which leads to recruitment of strong candidates who may or may not love the positions.

    2) private company managers tend to have more control over company policies. In a public company, the shareholders and analysts tend to focus on profit since company morale is difficult to measure.

    3) increase in structural and functional complexity of modern businesses demands a high level of specialization. as a result, workers become less versatile and have less options for outside growth.

    wall st actually provides a great example of an efficient market for human resources. top talents are actively sought after and laggards are quickly disposed. it should be left to the free market to decide whether the take-care-of-your-employee mentality or the every-man-for-himself approach should prevail. as potential employees, however, we should simply focus on making ourselves indispensable and only work for those who share our values.
    • J. Mezier
    • Consultant, J. Mezier, LLC
    I recently retired from an Edducational Administrative position where medical benefits were fully paid by the school district and I earned "years credit" toward a comfortable pension. However, I retired not because I was ready to retire, rather financial issues in school districts that continued to have employees do more with less, the amount of work assigned that was unrelated to my assignment, unsupportive management, and a lack of challenging projects did not sustain my interest in doing "work" that was technology infused and added value to the process of educating students.

    I became a "paper pusher" and not an educator. Clearly there was a wealth of experience lost, as I was promptly offered a consulting position in another district that allows me to set my own bar "high", take on projects that promote student achievement, and make my own rules. In my case, I took on the responsibility of sustaining my job satisfaction by being my own boss.
    • Nelson Norman
    • Emeritus Prof of History, San Diego State University
    My six kids and 18 grandkids offer these ideas: Too many young workers are under employed. Job security is too often missing. Benefits are always decreased. Even teachers (many in my brood) are facing a market mentality in their profession -- sad. Employers will fire a seasoned worker to replace him/her with a cheaper version. Enough already.
    • Anonymous
    Fascinating responses. In regards to the response:

    "The workplace unhappiness is simply due to one thing, the lack of adequate compensation. End of story."

    I agree with the counter-argument provided in response #65:

    "Some people are over-paid, thus unhappiness may be derived from some level of inadequacy and insecurity of the "kind of work" being performed. "Am I really adding value to this task and job?"

    Some people are indeed overpaid and I would only replace the last sentence with the following:

    "Am I really adding value to the WORLD with my work?"
    • Dave
    Job dissatisfaction has two people to blame: One, I think we need to ask if we are contributing to our own unhappiness by taking a position not very well suited to our skills because it pays more. Then we endebt ourselves up to that salary level (with homes, cars, cable TV, etc) and leave ourselves no out if we want to move around to different careers that might be more satisfying but pay less to start.

    Two, executive greed seems to be spiraling to an all time high because the pay inequity is so out of whack top to bottom. When the carrot at the top is plated in 24K gold, no wonder people climb over, around, and squash anyone to get a taste. Whether you want to admit it or not, it's the devil in every living organism's DNA. The amount of sheer exertion doing this leaves no time for thinking about other people. The only counterbalance to that DNA is a society - a group of people that live and create laws for the greater good of all. If we are unhappy with our society, then we need change this as well.

    So who is to blame? Ourselves, and ourselves. Let's all step it up and create what we want.
    • Gaurav Goel
    • Asst. General Manager, Reliance Communications
    As organizations are growing in size, the organization structure is designed to minimize uncertainties and to make life easier for the executives sitting in HQ. This means that people down the line have specific roles with limited responsibilities. The ownership and need for innovation declines rapidly as you move down the organizational hierarchy. This means the emotional connect with the organization not as strong as it used to be. Employment has become a mean to meet financial commitments and not a factor that defines one's relevance in the society.

    Today, organizations treat an employee as "resource" and function with an intention to optimize the resource utilization. This is bound to put the "resources" under stress.

    Organizations should consider their employees as important stakeholders. The purpose should not be to squeeze maximum profits but to earn decent margins after providing due compensation to its employees.
    • Kevin Sheridan
    • CEO, HR Solutions, Inc.
    The workplace is extremely stressful these days and most, if not all, employees are on edge. It is not one simple component creating unsatisfied employees throughout the United States, rather "The Perfect Storm" of components consisting of, but not limited to, the following points. Our society is continually taking on a massive shift regarding Employee Engagement and Employee Satisfaction. Before the recession hit our society, employees were passionate about their job, company, and took pride in promoting their company brand and services and/or products. Unfortunately, every employee deals with change differently; when the level of change increases in the job world Employee Satisfaction decreases. Place yourself in the shoes of employees who: lose their closest colleague as a result of downsizing, are delegated a larger workload, and face a financial crisis after salaries are frozen and benefits are lost. The state
    of employment throughout the United States truly is in a collapse of Employee Engagement - The Perfect Storm.
    • George Beardsley
    • Owner, QualityEarnings
    After more than 20 years of observing the environment in which employees are said to be dissatisfied my conclusion is that it is a leadership issue. Leaders can not be responsible for whether or not someone is satisfied about their job or not. Too much of satisfaction and dissatisfaction happens as a consequence of thoughts that go on between an employees ears. Leaders can only create an environment where an employee can become satisfied if they so choose, good-times or not. Why is it that great companies, even in bad times, are composed of highly motivated team members who go home every day extremely satisfied with what they did that day? The environment in which team members like this exist is intentional - created by a strong leadership team from the top down.
    • Adam Cohen
    • President, Accelerant Performance Solutions
    I appreciate many of the comments made thus far, focusing on leadership, organizational stress, and other elements. My experience in 20+ years in private industry and as a guide to organizations seeking high performance produces a few observations:

    1) In most organizations, a near/short-term focus trumps long-range vision. This is wholly uninspiring for most employees and contributes to disengagement.

    2) Employee knowledge, passion, and capabilities are underutilized. How many of you, your employees, co-workers, etc. feel that their organization uses all of their talents and enables them to achieve their potential?

    3) Most organizational leaders achieved their positions through operational excellence and, typically, revert to that expertise because it's easier than leading people.

    So what to do? A few thoughts:

    1) Commitment. Leaders have to express their commitment to the organization, its customers, and its employees. Then they have to back it up with their actions. (Talk is cheap.)

    2) Courage. Leaders have to have moral courage, especially when faced with adversity. That means being honest and ethical, making the tough right decision, and taking smart risks. Being fearful and "battening down the hatches" in this economic environment is a foundation for future failure (say that three times fast...).

    3) Constancy. Leaders have to stay true to their stated beliefs and, particularly, the values of the organization. An organization can't make the common claim that "people are our most important asset" then mistreat them. When reductions in force are needed, they can be done humanely, transparently, and with concern for people. Long after a person forgets HOW MUCH was in the separation package, they will remember HOW they were treated before, during, and after separation.

    4) Communication. Leaders must share good and bad news. Let people know what might be on the horizon. Ask people for their thoughts and feelings. Ask people to contribute ideas for improvement. Keep an open door and be present. Leaders with closed office doors and closed meetings, in this economic environment, set the rumor mill in motion.
    • Anonymous
    In 40 years I've noticed that the situation of a wage slave mainly depends on whether you are perceived as a revenue accelerator or as a cost factor.

    Obviously, in a recession with excess capacity many people are just a cost factor that a company wants to get rid of.
    In an extremely growing environment however such as Indian consulting firms a huge inhibitor of growth is attrition. Companies are competing for employees who are true revenue accelerators, and therefore for instance HCL Technologies even has the motto "Employee first!", then customers and shareholders.

    Beyond recession the U.S. is facing an additional factor: They have lost most of their innovative power, as evidenced by the very bad export/import balance. Most industries are mature and near the end of the life cycle. The extreme degree of outsourcing everything to Asia has brought short-term cost-relief at the expense of losing long-term innovative power and competitiveness. In this state companies compete on cost, and revenue generation depends mainly on seamless and highly automated processes. The key success factor is the process, not the employee.

    Employees are just like workers at the assembly line 100 years ago, treated as a cost factor that the company wants to get rid of as fast as possible. What else can you get in this situation than dissatisfaction?
    • Anonymous
    Here's my reason: I'm embarrassed by the choices of the corporation I work for and the constant harrassment that somehow I (I alone!) should have been able to prevent the enconomic collapse. I'm sure many others in the big financial institutions feel the same way. We have no ability to impact the things the company engages in, but we are punished as if we do.

    I was laid off immediately after returning from medical leave (cancer). Then arguing with the medical insurance fiends to pay the bills (no! it was NOT a preexisting condition!) and then came the financial fiasco. So now, it's just keep your head down and your mouth shut.

    I doubt I'll ever feel the same way about work as I did earlier in my career. I think we all feel that we want to leave the world better than we found it, and are now finding out that that is pretty naive. Boomers disillusioned. That's what our parents were trying to prevent. It's just not possible to do so.
    • Joe E. Long
    • Managing Director, Solomon Joseph, LLC
    Although I agree that there is merit to the dissatisfaction people have towards their current compensation and benefits, I believe today's level of discontent is based on an overwhelming sense of feeling trapped in a "good job." In many cases, people have designed their lifestyles around the level of income that they receive individually or as a family. When times are good in the general economy (e.g. low interest rates, decent stock market returns, easy credit), people feel much better about their current and future prospects. Under an adverse economic climate, the opposite is true. One day you are riding high after a solid performance review, then the next day you are saddled with the news that the firm's business model is changing, and your services are no longer needed. Unfortunately, this is the current reality that plays out almost daily across the country. As a result, employees begin to feel that they have
    no choice but to stay in an unfulfilling job until "things get better" - whatever that means.

    To avoid this self-limiting position, I believe that everyone should invest the time to develop their own contingency strategy. Just as businesses plan for the unexpected, employees need to think through their own "personal continuity strategy" or (PCS) to deal with the odd catastrophes that may arise in ones career. By taking control and executing a few well thought through steps to reduce the dependency on an employer or job, employees will be much better positioned to deal with the day-to-day pressures of their work. This, in turn, will ultimately lessen the stifling, trapped sensation that has so many people stressed out in the current work environment. In addition, by channeling your brain power towards their own future, employees may find that they have an opportunity to leave an unfulfilling role at their on volition instead of on the company's timeline.
    • Anonymous
    I agree with Joe E. Long on the importance of a personal continuity strategy, or Plan B and would even take it a step further to say the employees should interview at least once a year to keep their personal sales skills fresh.

    I also agree with the thought that we need to define our self-worth by more than the position we hold, the dollar we take home or the job we do.

    However, there is more to the story. As the real estate market starts to turn the corner and as more people become eligible for health insurance without the worry about pre-existing conditions, employers may be startled to discover the number of "loyal" employees who were not really "loyal" but only captive employees. Those once captive and go-to employees unbridled by concerns about being under water on their residence and concerns about how they might acquire needed health care, will start to leave. The best and brightest will leave first.

    In all of the webinars and discussion of health care reform, painfully little attention has given to the impact of health care reform on employee mobility and retention.
    • Stanley Anemelu, MBA
    Folks are not satisfied because they are over-worked and in most cases, the compensation does not match the output.