In the Nation's Interest

What Makes for a Satisfying Job? (Apparently, It’s Not All About the Money.)

Today, our colleagues at The Conference Board (TCB) released the latest edition of their Job Satisfaction report—based on a Nielsen survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted last fall.  TCB summarizes their findings (emphasis added):

Buoyed by a rapidly tightening labor market, job satisfaction among American workers rose slightly for the fourth consecutive year in 2014, and now stands at the highest level since 2008…Nevertheless, satisfaction remains stubbornly low in historical terms, with the majority still not satisfied at work.

[The TCB report] Job Satisfaction: 2015 Edition found 48.3 percent of Americans satisfied with their jobs, up from 47.7 percent in 2013 and 42.6 percent in 2010 (an all-time low). As unemployment plummeted over recent years—from 9.1 percent in April 2011 to 5.1 percent in August 2015—job satisfaction has risen in kind, reflecting heightened competition for talent and the perception of expanded opportunities for turnover and advancement. In fact, absent workers’ sense of growing job availability, overall satisfaction would have actually fallen slightly since 2012. This negative underlying trend mirrors the long-term picture: While job satisfaction topped 60 percent in the late 1980s and stood at 58.6 percent in 1995, a majority of Americans hasn’t been satisfied at work since 2005.

So, happiness at one’s job seems to follow along with the crowd of the rest of the labor market indicators in the current economic recovery, and as labor markets have (slowly) “tightened” and wages have (slowly) risen, so has satisfaction.  Money helps, but apparently money isn’t everything.  TCB goes on to highlight (again, emphasis added):

Satisfaction among workers making over $125,000 stood at 61.6 percent in 2014, the highest of any group. More surprisingly, those making under $15,000 were, at 41.8 percent satisfaction, not the least satisfied group: Only 36.3 percent of those earning $15,000–25,000 and 41.2 percent of those earning $35,000–50,000 were satisfied in 2014.

Among some other factors that affect job satisfaction and that according to TCB a majority of respondents say they are happy with: “their coworkers, commutes, supervisors, and office environments.”  It could very well be that the lowest income category is not the least satisfied group largely because many of those people hold the part-time, freelance, or “gig” type jobs that offer the most flexible work arrangements, where (as I have pointed out before and discussed the good and the bad of that trend) people are choosing to work fewer hours and/or for lower wages in exchange for other qualities of the job they care about more.  Even among those of us who want to work full time, we often have the choice between working a high-pay, high-hours, high-stress, low-flexibility job and one that provides lower pay, fewer hours, lower stress, greater flexibility—and just nicer colleagues and happier workplaces in general.

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