Do you think that the co-worker who’s usually smiling is a happier employee than the one who seems distant or neutral? You might just be wrong if you chose the smiling employee.
Job satisfaction measures more than outward appearances. One employee may be better at hiding distress than another, so what you see doesn’t ring true with how satisfied that employee is in his or her career. Maybe the smile is daydreaming about the next job interview!
According to the National Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, 86 % of Americans surveyed were satisfied with their jobs (2006). If you think younger workers are the most enthusiastic and nearly retired workers are ready to ditch the 9-5 routine, think again. Older workers are happier at work, with job satisfaction peaking at age 65 and over.
In the United Kingdom, slightly fewer or about 75% of workers were satisfied with their jobs, reports the Work Foundations’ 2006 Study of Good Work. As in the US, older workers in the UK have the highest job satisfaction, with the over 55 workers arriving at work with much better attitudes than the 16-34 year olds.
As for job duties, it’s no surprise that workers in US and UK whose jobs are in menial labor (including unskilled occupations) are far less satisfied than workers in positions with the highest pay, status and education levels.
In the US, the level of job satisfaction among higher status workers was also influenced by geographic location. Managerial and professional level workers in Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas had the highest level of satisfaction with their jobs.
Regardless of pay scale, half of the survey respondents in the UK see their jobs as “a means to an end” yet only 9% thought of their work as “meaningless.” So while there may be the Monday morning temptation to hit the snooze alarm, once they get to work, their outlook seems to improve.
What does it take for an employer to create job satisfaction at work? The answer to that question varies by job type and work environment. One employee group might feel a renewed dedication to work if they only had a working kitchen in the break room to prepare lunch. For workers in manufacturing plants, their needs might be more serious safety concerns or more frequent breaks from long hours of repetitive motion work.
Perhaps the best way to determine job satisfaction is to simply ask the workers in a given environment. The old “suggestion box” can be a bit tired. A more effective way to get this information is to post an online survey so that each worker has enough privacy and anonymity to give a candid response.
At all job levels, workers tend to be more satisfied when they are heard and their needs given genuine consideration. Making even a few changes based on employee recommendations sends a wave of confidence that shows the employer is response to workers and that makes a notable increase in job satisfaction on both sides of the “big pond.”